Coming to terms with Egypt’s Maspero massacre

The post-Mursi period in Egypt has been rife with historical revisionism

H.A. Hellyer

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The post-Mursi period in Egypt has been rife with historical revisionism about particularly that part of Egyptian history that begins with the January 25 revolutionary uprising. But it’s not a revisionism that discounts that uprising entirely – rather, it is one that co-opts the revolution for rather more stealthy ends. Yet, there are fault lines that will remain – such as the Maspero massacre – and which will frequently arise as long as the internal contradictions of this revisionism remain.

Many advocates of that revolutionary uprising – who still remain in Egypt despite the pressures – continually describe the emerging regime as opposed to the January 25 revolution. Yet, the new constitution, passed by the military backed government after the deposal of Mursi in July, mentions January 25 in fairly glowing terms. Over the past few months, a number of rather prolific, if disreputable, media personalities have been investigated by the state’s own public prosecutor for “insulting the January 25th revolution.” Do such instances mean the state’s official narrative is actually supportive of the revolutionaries’ own chronicle of the past few years?

As the years go on, it is clear that the January 25 uprising will indeed go down in Egyptian history books

H.A. Hellyer

In a word: no. It is not only political figures and physical elements that are co-opted in the midst of a political re-organization and the establishment of a new political dispensation. It is also events and histories themselves – even when those histories have only just happened and even in the age of social media when the recording of various public events is hardly secret. On the contrary, precisely what has happened in the past few years in Egypt has been exceedingly well documented. Certainly, there are aspects of what happens behind the scenes that remain blurry to the broader public. But what about actual events on the ground, where witnesses existed and has access to Twitter in real-time? The recording of their events hasn’t gone anywhere.

This is perhaps why, for example, when the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the 2011 Maspero massacre a few days ago, some were quick to remind that their leadership at the time hadn’t exactly been in the same state of mind.

That’s not to say there aren’t many who now support the emerging political dispensation, which is seeking to consolidate itself into a full-fledged governmental regime, who do oppose that very revolutionary uprising. They’re not embarrassed to say it either – there have been various figures across the political and social spectrum, whether religious leaders from the Azhar establishment or former Mubarak stalwarts (or both) that have been very clear on that point. They opposed the revolutionary uprising while it was actually happening – and they continue to delegitimize any suggestion the 18 days of uprising was a genuinely positive event. Rather, it was, depending on which external force they wish to emphasize, a Zionist-Qatari-American-Google-WhyNotSayMartian plot.

Establishment’s official account

Nevertheless, that assessment is not the establishment’s official account. Indeed, that would be rather awkward – because on February 11, the military establishment removed Hosni Mubarak, who was a common obstacle in front of the January 25 revolutionary uprising and – according to various reports – at least disliked by the military. Mubarak was certainly a military man – but he was also someone who was keen on passing his rule over to his son Gamal, someone who was not from the military establishment. Indeed, according to one account, the top brass of the military was already preparing for ways to avoid a Gamal Mubarak presidency and then the uprising happened, which the military took full advantage of.

To describe, therefore, the uprising as a conspiracy against Egypt, as many of these anti-revolutionary figures argue, would include a corresponding conclusion: that the military were complicit in a conspiracy (presumably, the January 25 revolution) against the homeland. That is, obviously, not a conclusion the establishment would entertain.

But there are certain elements of the counter-revolutionary narratives that fit quite well within the establishment’s account; particularly issues pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now considered on the wrong side within the state’s “War on Terror.” Those elements, therefore, are easy enough to include.

But there will, nevertheless, be fault-lines. Because while there is certainly a narrative about the 25th of January uprising that feeds into and against the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as a narrative that emboldens and reinforces the new political dispensation of the Sisi presidency and government, there’s something of a snag. The original revolutionary camp, which has grown in absolute numbers if still a small minority in Egypt, still exists. It remembers the last few years quite differently – and periodically, as Egyptians remember different events on their anniversaries, the differences are clear.

Last week, the massacre at Maspero was remembered. The civil rights and human rights groups’ reports on that awful day, where dozens of unarmed mostly Christian civilians were killed, are still out there. Those reports, as well as the numerous eyewitness testimonies from that day, remain the bedrock of the revolutionary camp’s view of the day. Resulting from those reports, they continue to call for accountability for what took place and they continue to have those calls ignored, rejected, or otherwise delegitimized. While those reports will blame the military for the events of the day, there will be forces that argue it was somehow the Muslim Brotherhood, or other supposed hidden forces. It’s only one fault-line that divides the revolutionary camp’s notion of what the January 25 revolution stood for and others forces that co-opt it for other purposes.

As the years go on, it is clear that the January 25 uprising will, indeed, go down in Egyptian history books. It won’t be declared as some sort of conspiracy – because if it had been a conspiracy, the strongest element of the Egyptian state would stand accused of collusion with it. But the accepted mainstream understanding of that uprising within Egypt will ironically still remain keenly at odds with the understanding of the revolutionary camp that brought that revolution into existence.

The biggest difference of all, though, has to do with one historic evaluation because for that revolutionary camp, the revolution didn’t succeed on February 11, when Mubarak was removed. Rather, that’s when it truly began.


Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

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