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Egypt’s turmoil is the same old Arab story

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

A democrat sides with a member of the military to topple an elected president. A liberal lines up with the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood who wants to “Brotherhoodize” society. Well, what is the problem? In normal circumstances nobody is supposed to object or even show surprise because freedom of speech ensures that everyone has the right to say whatever they believe. However is it normal for the majority not to tolerate the minority? Or for the democrats and the liberals to clash with the nationalists, while the Islamists oppose them all?

There is another problem in Egypt, but we first must choose to acknowledge it, rather than turn a blind eye. This is the issue of so-called democrats appearing to have no problem whatsoever with the military measures. However there is a wider trend to deny this contradiction between the democratic system and military attempts to forcibly remove those who came to power via the ballot box. Furthermore, such democrats are rushing to defend the military, claiming that it did not stage a coup but rather answered the call of the people to save the revolution.

On the other hand, neither Egypt’s liberals nor nationalists seem to be better off. Even though such groups have expressed surprise, or even rejection, towards what happened, they deny support the politicization of religion or being sympathetic with the ideas of a group that publicly announced that it wants to implement Islamic Sharia law. These liberals and nationalists instead shelter under the umbrella of pan-Arabism and judge others in line with the attitudes they take on this subject.

The same story, replayed

All of this is well and good. It is not wrong to outline contradictions. What is wrong is to refuse to listen to the other side in a careful and respectful manner.

What is wrong is when the majority rejects the opinion of the minority, using uncivil discourse.

Ties between Arab countries continued to weaken decade by decade. From the Camp David accord and the Lebanese civil war to wars in Palestine, Libya, Syria and Iraq; nothing has changed, this is all a repetition of events.

Bakir Oweida

However this has been the case in the Arab world for thousands of years. Let us not go too far back in time, and instead focus on what happened in the Arab region following the eruption of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Until now, Arab thinkers and intellectuals continue to exchange accusations regarding this revolution. When the war between Iran and Iraq broke out, differences of opinion emerged amongst the Arabs. Some said: How can national secularist support the Khomeinist camp against our Iraqi brothers? While others asked: How can devout Muslims support a regime that endorses the separation of religion from state?

Hence, ties between Arab countries continued to weaken decade by decade. From the Camp David accord and the Lebanese civil war to wars in Palestine, Libya, Syria and Iraq; nothing has changed, this is all a repetition of events. Even with some pretending the opposite, the majority of decision-makers in the Arab world refuse to give the opposition the right to be right. Arab decision-makers have fallen short of putting personal issues aside in good faith, even if they pretend to do so.

As a result, Egypt is gradually entering into a tunnel of chaos, or shall we say, the quagmire of civil war. While others are hotly debating whether what happened is a military coup or an attempt to rescue the revolution, I again repeat that the problem is not in debating what happened, but looking at its consequences and repercussions. Will this widen the gap between Egyptians, not only between politicians and intellectuals? Or will it bridge the gap between them for the sake of Egypt’s present and future and the interests of the Egyptian people?

These are the questions that must be answered.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 13, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and wrote for several Arab publications based in London. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.