Sunday, March 20, 2016

Polarization in Egypt

The ISIS affiliate in Sinai known as Wilayat Sinai or Sinai Province launched a suicide attack on an Egyptian checkpoint followed by an ambush. The Egyptian security forces, made up mostly of conscripts, suffered their heaviest casualties in several months. The reaction of the Egyptian opposition, after the customary expression of sadness for the fallen, centered around attacking Sisi and his regime. How terrorism  is viewed is one manifestation of the sorry state of Today's Egypt.

Some from the Islamist camp clearly have more sympathy with those carrying out terrorist acts than they do with the victims of these acts be them civilian, conscripts or regular security personnel. However, the majority of Islamists appear to find justifications for terrorism. Conversations rapidly move to definitions of terrorism: USA and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and of course the violence of the Egyptian Government itself: "Isn't the government itself the bigger terrorist anyhow?" is a standard phrase. 

The so called Pro Democracy camp encompassing secular, leftists and liberal opponents of the Egyptian regime tend to blame all terrorism on the state itself. Many cogently discuss terrorism in Iraq, Syria or Libya and routinely condemn ISIS attacks in the west. But when it comes to Egypt, they absurdly blame the Egyptian Government for ISIS terrorism. The Egyptian Government, not the terrorists are blamed for the collapse of tourism. Admittedly, the Government inept handling of the downing of the Russian plane last year didn't help, but botching up PR is hardly to blame, terrorism is!

The hatred for the Sisi regime by its opponents is so intense that the opposition has lost its sense of balance. Most opposition of the regime can see before their very eyes the threat of terrorism but chose to blame Sisi for it when it comes to Egypt. The fact that the regime uses the threat of terrorism to suppress dissent is met by the opposition with denial of the the existence of the threat!

The George W. Bush doctrine of "you are with us or with them" dominates the discourse in Egypt on virtually all matters. The Egyptian Central Bank's long awaited currency devaluation and liberalization are viewed the same way. To the opposition: it is a disastrous set back, wrong move, badly timed and managed with lots of allegations of corruption and incompetence. The fact that the country's foreign reserves are growing and GDP growth is the highest in the region are dismissed because of an inability to see anything beyond their hatred for Sisi.

The net result is that the Egyptian regime which is essentially a junta that is establishing a totalitarian 60's style nationalist state operates without credible opposition. The popularity of the regime, even though has waned some, drives the opposition into an isolated angry zone. The opposition is angry at ordinary people for supporting the regime. Self hate and depression dominate the Pro Democracy camp. Meanwhile the regime goes on curtailing freedoms and sidelining competing Mubarak era apparatchiks who have become its only viable opposition. 

It's hard to think of places where there could be more polarization than the USA in 2016. Hard until you get to Egypt where polarization has become the normal theme of life. The center, or the middle ground, is nowhere to be found; some sort of a no man's land where few of us stand between angry warring factions. 

Ayman S. Ashour