Divided we stand

Azza Radwan Sedky
Sunday 19 Feb 2017

In the age of social media, even small matters can become a source of bitter dispute. But when this affects the course of a nation, it's time to pause and reflect

We live in an era where polarisation rules. Outspoken and opinionated, people all over the world flaunt their views regarding significant and insignificant matters. This phenomenon is caused by social media and immediate access to news, but it becomes daunting and disconcerting if the way issues and public figures are evaluated affect the course that a country pursues.

Take President Obama’s tenure as an example. Some Americans and non-Americans, in particular Middle Easterners, counted the hours and minutes till Obama exited the Oval Office; this while others thanked their lucky stars that Obama occupied the Oval Office when he did. Besides being an articulate communicator and a scandal free family man, Obama lifted the US from the economic abyss that preceded his presidency; at least that is what some say. This while others, including former President George Bush Jr, as The New Yorker satirically mentioned, counted the days until Bush was no longer the worst president in history and was superseded by Obama.

Take President Trump as another example. President Trump received the worst approval ratings for a president-elect of all his recent predecessors, and yet he secured the presidency of the most powerful country in the world. During his presidential campaign, he aggravated many, including the disabled, the gay community, most minorities, NATO, and those south of the US border, but others hailed him as the needed game changer, the president who will make America great again. While some waited feverishly to see him enter the White House, anti-Trump protestors took to the streets and clashed with police leading to many arrests and injuries.

Trump inauguration protests were followed by the Women’s March that flooded American cities and others worldwide with approximately five million marchers, of which one million were in Washington, DC alone. Americans are deeply divided on this one, and the jury is still out thus far.

In Egypt we are no better; in fact, we may be in a worse state, polarised as in no other times — from Ahly Club to Zamalek Club's polarised fans, from the Abou Trieka to the Tiran and Sanafir court cases and, more importantly, from pro- to anti-Sisi views, Egyptians remain split.

Let’s start with what seems insignificant but is still proof of the existing polarisation. Ahly Club fans cheer their players and club all the way, as they should, but shouldn’t they cheer for Zamalek if it plays against an international club? Cutting off their noses to spite their faces, they don’t, and as convoluted as it is, Ahly fans forget that Zamalek is an Egyptian club after all.

The saying “My cousin and I against the stranger” should apply here, but it doesn’t.

Now to more pressing matters. Just about everyone in Egypt knows and is absolutely sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that the two islands Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian or Saudi depending on their allegiance. Proof, maps, documents, presidential speeches were utilised to prove one opinion or another.

Now that the courts ruled in favour of rejecting the transfer of the two islands to Saudi Arabia, some gloat with satisfaction. Chances are those in glee hardly heard of Tiran and Sanafir prior to the kerfuffle. Indeed, the uproar may have had little to do with sovereignty and more to do with proving one’s point and coming out as the winner.

Mohamed Abou Treika is another case in point. A person can be a football star and a Muslim Brotherhood member simultaneously, but Egyptians prefer to see him as one or the other. So now that the courts added Abou Treika’s name to the terror list, Egypt is divided yet again.

Some hail Abou Treika’s successes and stardom, and the fact that any international club would’ve paid a fortune to have him join its team. The “Magician,” as he was once dubbed, had others belittling such achievements, bringing up his support for ex-President Morsi, his commiseration of the mother of one of the Kerdassa killers, and his refusal to shake hands with Field Marshall El-Sisi as proof that he is pro-Muslim Brotherhood and, hence, not a loyal Egyptian but a terrorist.

The culmination of the division is in how Egyptians perceive President El-Sisi. From day one, while the majority of Egyptians stood beside El-Sisi, a group remained steadfast in its refusal of how ex-President Morsi was removed, the return of a military man to rule, and the method by which Rabaa Al-Adawiya was stormed. This set the stage for the ongoing and lasting critical views of anything President El-Sisi initiates and endorses.

President El-Sisi is blamed for the deep-rooted and ingrained shortcomings in Egyptian norms and the continuous flow of terrorism in Sinai. No matter how determined President El-Sisi is to take Egypt over the hump of demise, this group will forever focus on the underlying ills.

President El-Sisi is, in their eyes, accountable for all that befalls Egypt, unable to recognise that, in hindsight, Egypt had been ailing for decades.

Obama may have blundered and erred, especially towards the Middle East, but he served Americans well; similar blemishes and successes will apply to President Trump for no one is infallible, and nothing is black or white.

Abou Treika’s agile abilities have nothing to do with his allegiance and loyalty, and the courts should be where the ownership of Tiran and Sanafir is decided, not on Facebook and Twitter.

As for President El-Sisi, Egyptians should continue to expect the best from the man, ask him to work night and day for Egypt, and criticise his shortfalls; this while remaining fair and objective. While they should never overlook his failures, they should cite and appreciate his successes, recognising the mammoth obstacles he is working against.

It is quite acceptable to think differently, but it isn’t acceptable when attitudes break the bonding thread of a country. Better yet, be divided, but don’t be divided in loving Egypt. United we must stand in that.

The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.

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