Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Plagues of Egypt

One of Egypt’s nicknames, along with ‘mother of the world’, is al-mahroussa, « the protected », as if the Almighty keeps a special eye on the country. Lately, though, Providence seems to have cast a malevolent eye on Egypt, raining down plague after plague. Most recently there was an actual plague of locusts sweeping in from Africa and decimating crops before moving on to Egypt’s biblical neighbor, Israel. That same week, the terrible accident of the hot air balloon going up in flames over Luxor made sure to drive away the last diehard tourists who had braved endless revolution and instability to visit the unique monuments of the country.
But acts of God or ineptness of Man are not the worst plagues of Egypt: the worst wounds are self-inflicted. Egypt today has turned into a Tower of Babel where no one understands the language of the other. Islamist and secular, army and police, leftist and rightist, each group speaks its own language and neither hears nor is heard by the other. In a country that long prided itself on its cohesiveness and its sense of historical unity, artificial schisms are breaking out along the fault lines of religion, sect, ideology, and even, unbelievably, regionalism. That the Suez Canal cities of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez are in open revolt against the central authority of Cairo is mind-boggling. Even more so is the cause of that civil disobedience: the trial and sentencing of Port Said football fans who are accused of causing the deaths of seventy plus fans of the rival, Cairo-based team Ahli during the horrific ‘soccer massacre’ in Port Said in February of 2012.  
Today, the court sentenced 21 Port Said fans to death, and also sentenced the two top generals responsible for security and police to fifteen-year jail sentences. Wherever the responsibility lies for the terrible events of the soccer massacre, the truth is now the victim of political football and tug of war between ‘Cairo’ and the Suez province.
Even the last bastions of national solidarity and security, the army and the police, have now turned into power centers and special interest groups who stage ‘million-man’ marches of their own to support their ‘cause.’
Yet this terrible state of affairs is not enough in the eyes of many who wish to see the Muslim Brotherhood dislodged from the positions of power they are grabbing hand over fist, often illegitimately in the eyes of their opponents. Today, a broad coalition of opposition to the Brotherhood sees no alternative to defeat their encroaching monopoly of power but for there to be even greater turmoil, greater civil disobedience, more bloodshed in the streets, and complete collapse of the economy. When will the plagues of Egypt end?