The common Levantine image of Egypt depicts a country that is still united thanks to its ancient central authority and unprecedented governance styles in the east. This is true when compared Syria and Iraq where the disintegration has become even a form display.
However, this comparison is not enough to validate the Egyptian harmony, especially that Iraq has also possessed an ancient central authority, and here it is now breaking up like a mosaic.
Most probably, the ancient history does not serve much this purpose. The current Egyptian scene as it seems, is taking a Levantine aspect, and instead of its ancient wisdom, pulling together scattered Arab countries, it seems today as if we are witnessing totally the opposite.
Nonetheless, if any daily news observer can notice this growing aspect and the numerous conflicting forces that are reflecting it, this is somehow due to our tangled political modernity.
In the modern history, Egypt has suffered three major national offsets. The first was prompted by Sheikh Hassan al-Banna in 1928 when he founded the “Muslim Brotherhood” and moved the focus from the Egyptian nation-state to Islam and the Muslim group. Then came the second largest offset with Jamal Abdel Nasser and his officers, especially after 1956, when he moved the attention to the “Arab nation” and “Arab nationalism”. The Sadat policies, especially the Camp David treaty, have helped in restoring back the attention to Egypt and its issues, but the immigration to the Gulf at that time, weakened the national unity, because it caused a social imbalance. This has been ongoing more actively during the reign of Hosni Mubarak, along with the withdrawal of the foreign policy initiative, which is one of the most important elements of the national sovereignty.
Amid all these offsets, the Coptic problem was becoming worse, sometimes coming under the spotlight but often staying in the dark.
Today, the authority of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still, by the way, popular and powerful even after the split of the Salafists, forms the physical embodiment of this accumulated weakening of the Egyptian national unity. We can also say that the problem of the Egyptian revolution and the future development of Egypt lurk here: how does the freedom of escaping tyranny coexist with the freedom of the institutionalized and ideological dismantling, while exercising itself without restrictions?
In addition to bullying the Copts in major turning points, and the tendency to sacrifice them as scape goats, the rape phenomenon of female activists, which is widely spread and almost systematical, reflects the growing manipulation of the national fabric and its failure.
In general, this is similar to the Levantine direction, where we are witnessing in many countries today the inability to form a power block that would control and lead the countries in question. If this is also true in Egypt, we will have to revise many things that we had taken for granted. The initiative paved with good intention, whether it will be proposed by al-Azhar or not, will not be able to heal the ruptures, while the fear of the military “initiative” will freeze and suppress these contradictions for another generation or two.
This article was first published on Dar al-Hayat newspaper on Feb. 3, 2013.
Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war. Twitter: @HazemSaghieh