In a recent news conference held at the Journalists Syndicate, some of our Nubian brothers made a curious declaration. They said that what they wanted was not “secession” from Egypt but the implementation of their most pressing demands. The long list of demands they then proceeded to mention was followed by an accusation that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf failed to read the “Nubian file” with due attention.
It couldn’t have been negligence on Sharaf’s part, for he was busy at the time with another equally critical file, that of Sinai. He was in Sinai to discuss a way to address its numerous problems.
Sinai is the eastern gate of the country. It has been occupied twice and liberated twice, and with great difficulty. To honour Sinai, we’ve dedicated two national days to its liberation —25 April and 6 October. Occasionally, we add another celebration on 10 Ramadan as well. But little has been done to fulfil the promises the government made to the people of Sinai. In many cases, the government prevents them from owning or developing their land. We promised Sinai water, and dug a canal for that purpose. The former president was photographed next to the canal. Then the whole thing came to nothing.
The Sinai people have every right to be angry. I wrote about that before and I said that some of the problems in Sinai are caused by negligence but many more are caused by errors of judgement. As a result, we’ve seen several incidences of rebellion, which I will not dwell upon here. The Bedouin tribes of Sinai feel short-changed. They feel that we ask them to defend us in times of war and then forget all about them in times of peace. In short, they feel that they have been left out and that their views and demands have been ignored.
In Qena, the situation is no less tense. The choice of a new governor, a police general as well as a Christian, brought a backlash from the Salafis. With protestors cutting off roads and railways, the country was split in two halves. People and trade wishing to move north or south couldn’t proceed past Qena. It was as if a secessionist movement has broken the country in two. When the Salafis pulled out, having perhaps been appeased by the pleas of travellers from Cairo and Aswan, other Qena “tribes” stepped in, renewing the call for the governor to leave.
The issue here is not governors, although there is something basically wrong about their appointment. Governors, as I said in the past, must be elected rather than selected. The governor should be a spokesman for the people, not someone send by the central authority to impose law and order at any cost. But the point I am making here is that this is not the Egypt we know. This is another country.
The Egypt that we know, one of the oldest centralised states in the world, is ethnically homogenous and religiously tolerant. In the beginning of the 20th century, Lord Cromer once said that he could not tell Copts from Muslims until he sees them pray. He wasn’t just speaking for the record, or out of admiration. He was describing a reality that he found a bit exasperating.
But for the past three or four decades, especially since the 1971 events in Al-Khankah, the ground has been shifting. We can still speak about the amity between the “two elements of the nation” but we all know of the horrors that lie not too far underneath the surface.
For one fleeting moment during the 25 January Revolution, it seemed that the spirit of the 1919 Revolution was coming back. The Quran was carried aloft with a cross and Christians held a mass once Muslims were done with their prayers. Then the dream turned to a nightmare.
A church was burned down in Sol and Christians were threatened in the streets.
A Christian had his ear cut off by a group of fanatical Muslims masquerading as a morality police. Then, once again, we’ve seen the ineffectual act of cross-sectarian amity, with clerical figures sitting together and embracing in front of the cameras. True, some honourable Egyptians did the right thing and stood guard in front of churches, but the damage was done. Egyptians are no longer simply Egyptians. They are Muslims and Christians.
This is not the Egypt we know. This is an Egypt in which people cut off roads when they run out of bread. But cutting off roads doesn’t put bread on the table.
The worst thing is that the people no longer are focusing on dismantling the political regime. They are dismantling everything else. No governor, no president of a university, no president of a college, no board chairman of a public company, no director of a public institution is left alone. The entire system is being washed down the drain.
Meanwhile, Egyptians are reverting to the security of their clan, creed and race. The centralised and homogenous country that we know is no more. Is this what the revolution was really about?
A lot of the current turbulence is related to the errors of the old regime. A lot can be blamed on the counterrevolution and the tattered remains of the National Democratic Party. But at some point the revolution should take responsibility for what is going on. At some point, the revolution has to begin defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our national security is at stake.
The Egypt that we don’t know is the opposite of the Egypt we have known. It is the opposite of the Egypt for which we fought and are willing to fight again.
This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the problems or Sinai, Nubia, or the Copts. All of these are serious issues that need to be addressed in the framework of a modern, civilian and democratic state. Let’s have such a state first. Then everyone would be free to follow the ethical or philosophical line they wish to embrace.
The Egypt that we don’t know should go back to being the Egypt that we know. This country has survived because of the values it believes in. If we allow these values to disappear, our national security will be placed in doubt.