Friday, July 5, 2013

Mordechai Kedar: The Rhetoric of National Disaster

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

Note: this article was written before Mursi was dismissed.  An additional, updated article will be posted on Sunday's blog.

These days, when Egyptian spokesmen appear in the media - Mursi's supporters as well as those  demanding his resignation - there is new and disagreeable rhetoric that increasingly dominates the public discourse. It begins with the name of the opposition movement, called "tamrrud" - "rebellion". It is no longer a protest or demonstration, it is a rebellion. The rebels waved signs with the slogan "irhal" - "leave" or "get out" - exactly like the signs that the demonstrators in Tahrir Square ("Liberation", from the British) waved two and a half years ago, when the target was Mubarak. By using this slogan, the demonstrators are equating Mursi with Mubarak, and there can be no worse insult to the president, who won the first democratic elections ever held in Egypt. Another slogan that was brought out of the January 2011 demonstration storage bin is "al-sha'b yurid isqat al-nitham" - "the people want to topple the regime". The implicit message is that the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood is just as illegitimate as Mubarak's regime was.

Others yell "Mursi - Kursi", meaning  "Mursi, the chair", mocking Mursi for being stuck to his chair like Mubarak was, in his time. Mursi's supporters cling to the concept of the Shar'iyya - legitimacy - that the elections gave him, and assert that the demands for his resignation are illegitimate . His opposition calls out, "We will defend you, Egypt", implying that "the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to our homeland and our country", and some yell, "Free Egypt" (from the Brotherhood's occupation).

But the new and ominous factor is how both sides freely use radical expressions not used in the past, like "We will not yield", "red line", "blood will be spilled", "to the end", "we will fight with our spirits and our lives". These expressions clearly connote the tremendous amount of tension between the two camps: the opposition to Mursi in Tahrir Square, and his supporters in Rab'ia Al-Adawiyya Square. There was also tension regarding what the army would do when the period of the ultimatum elapsed, because the army imposed the ultimatum on both sides, but it was rejected by both sides. The Army has called on everyone "to act responsibly" because a descent into violence  - the beginning of which was marked by  more than twenty fatalities and hundreds of injured - would bring a national disaster upon Egypt, the beloved country of both sides.

However, too many people feel that it is "now or never": the rebels feel that if they go back home, Mursi and the Brotherhood will rule over them forever, and the Brotherhood is sure that if their victory is taken from them by force they will crash as an organization, which ultimately attained its goal and then failed to hold on to it. Each side wants absolute victory for itself, and total defeat for the other side. In post-Mubarak Egypt - unfortunately - a sense of collective consciousness where everyone can sit together and solve conflicts peacefully has not developed. The cultural polarization, political radicalization, the torrid summer, the economic collapse, the high unemployment, the hopelessness, the increasing violence, the approaching Ramadan and rhetoric of extremism all are jet fuel that is poured on the public conflagration in Egypt. These are the materials that national disaster is made of, and Egypt is surely capable of deteriorating into a situation similar to that in Syria.

Israel - surprisingly - is almost not mentioned at all in relation to the crisis, which is proof of both its seriousness and its severity. Nevertheless, Mursi - in an attempt to throw a bone to the masses - might cut off relations with Israel,  or send the army into Sinai to "regain sovereignty" of the peninsula, but the worst thing would be if millions of Egyptians begin marching toward Israel in search of two things: water and bread. The waves of the Egyptian disaster might arrive to our shores, and we must be prepared.


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper. 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

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