Egypt ripping herself apart

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Preparing for the worst at presidential palace in Cairo

Egypt is living through its worst sociopolitical crisis in modern history.  This is how a young woman who works as investment banker summed up the crisis :  “I had a discussion with a Salafi colleague the other day. It was exhausting. In short, the hatred is reciprocal and enormous. The gap runs deep, and I don’t know how we are going to live together. May God have mercy on this country”

Ideological difference has  congealed into  personal  resentment. The  vitriol the two sides hurl at one another in the media  speak of visceral hatred and not just political disagreement.

Egyptians like to pride themselves on being patient and mild-mannered people who don’t resort to violence easily. They compare their relatively peaceful uprising to the bloody one in Libya and the civil war in Syria. But two years of political turmoil and economic hardship are taking their toll on the social fabric of this society of 90 million people.  The reality behind that self-flattering image may soon be about to change.

Not a week goes by without reports of politically motivated violence, mainly in the countryside,   most of which goes unreported by foreign media.

The town of Desok (near  Alexandria) was recently the scene of “carnage”,  in the words of a young local doctor, Khaled El-Bohy.  The clashes erupted when shop owners objected to the Muslim Brothers setting up a stage for a political rally in the central square on Wednesday evening (19/6) According to Dr El-Bohy , some thirty MB youths descended upon the square armed with machetes, iron rods and guns. They were subsequently beaten up and chased away by the locals.   The result according to the young doctor : “tens  of  injuries, the least of which were concussion,  some may have to have their limbs amputated to survive.

Tension between the two sides has risen considerably with the launch of a  campaign  (Tamarrod,  Rebellion) calling for early presidential elections.  The success of Tamarrod  –  they say they have gathered some 15 million signatures, more than what President Mursi got in votes last year—has given new focus and momentum to the otherwise  fragmented opposition.  The campaign is to culminate in nationwide protests on 30th of June – the day Mr Mursi took office — with the aim of forcing an early presidential election.

Ominously, Mr Mursi’s supporters have vowed to crush his enemies, denouncing the opposition as “infidels”, enemies of Islam, who should be killed.

On Sunday, the chief of the army, General Abd-El-Fattah AL-Sissi  issued a stark warning to all politicians  : agree with one another or else. The army cannot stand idly by and watch the country descend into anarchy, he warned.

Whichever way this goes, it’s bad news for Egypt’s transition to democracy.

So who is to blame for this unprecedented and perilous polarisation ?

There are two competing narratives  about Egypt today . One is that the revolution ousted the old regime, free elections were held and won by the Muslim Brothers and that they are therefore  the legitimate expression of the will of the people;  those opposed to that outcome are either “bad losers” or “remnants” of the old regime”.  That’s the narrative the Islamists would like the whole world to believe.

The second narrative is that the revolution is far from over. The MB has usurped the uprising that toppled Mubarak, rigged or abused the rules to seize power and have tried to recreate Mubarak’s old regime,  but with an Islamic character.  Look at the youths languishing in detention for insulting Islam or Mr Mursi  on trumped-up charges.

Given this degree of  polarisation  everyone (except the Muslim Brothers)  agrees that the only way to shepherd to safety such a divided society is by forming a broad based coalition government.  But the Muslim Brothers have shown no interest  in  power-sharing with the opposition.

Egypt is dangerously  poised on the edge of a precipice.  Right across the country there is palpable fear that 30/6 could turn into a blood bath. The expectation is that it will see the biggest public protest against the Muslim Brothers ever , perhaps even bigger than the protests that toppled Mubarak.

President Mursi has asked has asked the army to deploy to ensure the protests passes off peacefully. No one expect them to,

Concrete blocks are going up around the presidential palace, tanks and armoured vehicles are back on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.  Ominously for Mursi and his Islamist backers,  the scene is beginning to look like  Mubark’s final days.

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