What is going in Egypt?

Is this Egypt’s second revolution, a military coup, or an agglomeration of both (“Democratic Coup”, anyone)? And then there's the media noise.

Tahrir Square in November 2011. Image by Gigi Ibrahim.

On Monday at least 51 people were killed around Nasr City in Cairo. What followed were gruesome images of the wounded and killed, and speculation about who bore responsibility for the deaths. It was reported that the armed forces and police had opened fire on Brotherhood supporters in the wee hours of July 8. While many unequivocally accused the military of a massacre, the army has blamed pro-Morsi protestors for inciting the violence.

The tragedy that took place on Monday is a grim representation of the events that have unfolded in Egypt over the last week and a half. It has been twelve days since the most recent wave of large-scale unrest began in Egypt, ten days since the one-year anniversary of the election of former president Mohammed Morsi, and one week since he was deposed. Some have called this Egypt’s second revolution, some have called it a military coup, and some have called it an agglomeration of both (“Democratic Coup”, anyone?) Whatever it is, it is complex, and much like the events unfolding; the media coverage has been changing rapidly.

This of course is hardly surprising. New developments emerge with each passing hour, as the unrest and violence continues, and stakeholders shift their positions according to the evolving climate. Most recently this has manifested in the suspension by the Salafist Al Nour party of their participation in forming an interim government following Monday’s killings. This was quickly followed by renewed glimmers of hope for collaboration yesterday.  The military has also announced a new prime minister, confirming the role had been granted to  former Finance Minister Hazen el-Beblawi, after shooting down speculation of Mohamed ElBaradei’s appointment, who appears to have taken up the post of Vice President for Foreign Relations. Despite this, contributing to the quickly evolving narrative is the rampant speculation that has come to characterize the 24-hour news cycle. This has resulted in critiques of the misrepresentation and oversimplification of the variables at play, including the repeated “two camp”, “three camp” narrative that initially encompassed “Pro-Morsi” and “Anti-Morsi” protests. The military was soon included, completing the triad of media generalization.

Perhaps most alarming was the almost immediate conjecture of Egypt’s impending decent into civil war. The current unrest and uncertainty should not be understated, and as already reflected upon above, representing it accurately – whatever that means – seems all but impossible given the complexity of the situation, and its perpetual permutations. Despite this, using civil-war rhetoric in this context is both irresponsible, and at present, inaccurate. Egypt is not Syria. And with the current unrest in the Arab World’s largest nation, the absence of coverage on the increasingly alarming humanitarian crisis in Syria has not gone unnoticed.  My point here is not to detract from the urgency of the situation in Egypt; rather, it is to reflect upon the relative absence of context and qualification in much of the mainstream coverage.

In the last week there has been significant debate, both within and outside Egypt, as to whether Morsi’s ouster was in fact a military coup. For many among the opposition in Egypt, the labeling of the military-led removal of Morsi as a coup by the Western media, along with the assumption of democratic failure, has caused outrage. The hashtag #mindyourbusinessUS was all over the twittersphere in the days following Morsi’s ouster, reflective both of people’s discontent with the American administration and media’s response to events unfolding in Egypt.

On this matter one question in particular is perhaps worth asking. Why do so many of the events unfolding seem to make so little sense? The answer, in my view, is found at least in part in the oversimplification of the many multifaceted problems plaguing the country. Arguably a phenomenon taking place both in newsrooms across the globe, and on the ground in Egypt. One such conundrum that has caught my attention recently has been the question of why some opposition protestors have taken to carrying signs that both accuse Obama of supporting a fascist regime, and express love for the Egyptian Army, the direct recipient of the majority of said aid?

Even if at times misguided, the anger toward the coverage of events in Egypt, like the coverage itself, has broader implications. For now, it is worth making note that many Egyptians are taking great offense to what they see as skewed representations of the history unfolding on their streets. With the growing death toll and the uncertainty that lies ahead, let us hope the civil war discourse does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Further Reading

Resonant music

The film “Africa Mia” (2019), directed by Richard Minier and Edouard Salier, explores the musical connections between Cuba and Mali.

Wyuyata’s story

While Sierra Leone has come very far in its fight against sexual violence the question of safeguarding victims especially children needs urgent attention.

The politics of elegance

German historian Daniel Tödt wrote a history of the Congolese évolués. In this interview, he talks about the historiographical interventions of his book and the role of Patrice Lumumba in the history of évolués.

Bring Patrice Lumumba home

The return of Patrice Lumumba’s remains must not be an occasion for Belgium to congratulate itself, but for a full accounting of the colonial violence that led to the assassination and coverup.

Back from Safari

If you hadn’t noticed, we were on our annual break from just before Christmas 2021 until now. We are back, including with some inspiration.