Dialogue of the deaf

Nesreen Salem , Thursday 27 Jun 2013

The 'us and them' mentality will lead to a complete breakdown in Egypt if all parties to the present political showdown are not careful

According to popular mythology, after the events of the Great Flood, Noah and his newly rescued tribe, whom he saved from the wrath of God, were able to rebuild their civilisation. Generation after generation enjoyed the merits of a unified language, a shared humanity and a love for great architecture.

Together, they built a marvellous city and a great tower — the Tower of Babel (translated the Gate of God) — promising that it will rise to the heavens and their names will be written in the stars. However, according to the myth, God was displeased with the tower and the people’s desire to reach Him. He smote the people and confounded their speech and scattered them across the earth and the unfinished Tower of Babel was destroyed.

The myth is offered as an explanation for the multiplicity of languages and the resultant inability to communicate with one another and that often leads to bloodshed. After the destruction of the tower, people turned against each other, blaming each other for their curse and causing God’s wrath. 

"Confounded" accurately depicts the current mood. We no longer speak the same language, and spend much of the time talking to ourselves wondering how we got here after the unity we experienced during the 18 days that took Mubarak out of power.

Many of us feel alienated, even among our families and friends, unable to see eye to eye on sensitive and controversial matters. Words like "traitor", "infidel" and "enemy" are tossed around fast and loose. Everyone is eyeing the "other" as either an enemy of the state or an enemy of God.    

Advertised as a "Stand Against Violence," the Islamist protests exuded the usual level of murderous and savage intent. Safwat Hegazi renewed his mantra in front of thousands of jihadi enthusiasts: “If you throw water on Morsi we will repay in blood,” which was greeted with the usual blood-thirsty grunts.

What once was the politics of a country has become a fight for the gates of God. The words shareā — meaning legitimacy — and shariā — meaning Islamic law — have been fused in a baffling synonymousness, with threats flying left and right to declare Egypt an Islamic state. The audacity of their threats reveal the preciousness of their romanticism and the vulnerability they carry on their sleeves. The "chosen people" fear they may not have been chosen after all.

The fight for Egypt has reached head-to-head: Tamarod versus Tagarod; a tit-for-tat. A show of flexed muscles and a promise of blood. Each has dehumanised the other and seeks to keep them enslaved at arm's length.

However, these constantly renewed aggressions will not bring the "other" into submission. The country is divided beyond the boundaries of ideology, which serves no other purpose than to divert violence to false foes.

During Mubarak’s era, Islamists' slogans were mainly anti-US and anti-Israel. This week, US Ambassador in Cairo Anne Patterson reaffirmed the United States’ support for Morsi and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood. Suddenly the US has stripped Islamists of the right to call them the enemy. So who should they scream and raise their rusty swords against? Who else is the enemy but the so-called minorities in Egypt — the Copts, the liberals, the seculars, the communists, the Nasserites, the poor, the hungry, the rebels, the coach potatoes, the street children, the thugs, Mubarak’s advocates, etc. As if they’ve suddenly become an orchestrated band of misfits. But it is none other than the agents of the ruling government that speaks the language of pure force and brutality and the government does not seek to hide its domination. On the contrary (see the stadium 'protest' and Morsifirstyear.com for a comical account of the government’s achievements so far). But this show of upholding the peace yet bringing the violence into the minds and homes of the people is no longer fooling anyone. 

It is time to stop this nonsense. If Islam is the "solution" and the reason the January revolution succeeded (though it hasn’t), then why did change not happen sooner than 2011? And if the opposition was so patriotic, why are their actions defined by anti-actions?

If we continue defining good in terms of what is evil for "them", then we are all contributing to the breakdown of the nation. The ruling party’s slogan is, 'if we can’t rule we’ll burn it all down' while the opposition is willing to watch it burn in the hope they will rise from the ashes. But all is not hopeless. For amidst the smoke, a ray of light is breaking through. Tamarod (rebellion), a verb, invokes the name Nimrod, the king who ordered the building of the Tower of Babel to stand as a symbol for the power of the people.

The odium for the president and the ruling party has not appeared from thin air nor has it occurred overnight. Many who happily voted for Morsi have become disillusioned with the unacceptable actions of the Muslim Brotherhood, from hijacking the drafting process of the constitution to the unfair imprisonment of political activists, to the acquittal of the murderers of the protestors, including those who killed Khaled Said, the iconic symbol of the revolution.

The latest appointment of the founder and "prince" of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, who was responsible for one of the worst terrorist attacks in Luxor in 1997, as new governor of Luxor, shows the extent to which our ability to communicate as a nation has been confounded. Though many Islamists agree that the methods of the ruling party have not been on par with the people’s expectations, they still assert that all should be forgiven in the name of God. After all, it is He who decided to confound our tongues. 

Short link: