Returning to Cairo

Ursula Lindsey writes: The man across the aisle was reading an article headlined: “No Turning Back and No Surrender Before the Forces of Darkness.” As our plane descended over night-time Cairo, the streets were blurry in the weak city lights, and eerily empty because of a military curfew.

Coming home from a summer vacation on Wednesday evening filled me with dread. It was partly fear for my personal safety. But mostly I was worrying about whether I would recognize the place where I have lived for the past 10 years, or find it hollowed out by the latest viciousness.

I had spent the last week online, reading the essays, news reports and interviews, tweets and blog posts of colleagues and public figures, acquaintances and friends. I looked at the pictures and the videos and saw my Facebook page turn into, as one fellow-blogger put it, “an obituaries page.”

There were no lines at passport control at the Cairo airport. At customs, officials were on the look-out for journalists with satellite up-link equipment. They inspected my husband’s digital recorder. “The Western media are not telling the truth about what’s happening in Egypt,” one official told us.

That view is echoed by presidential advisers and every talking head on state television’s around-the-clock stream of “Egypt Fights Terrorism” coverage. International condemnation of the new Egyptian authorities is the product — so the argument here goes — not of shocking state violence against protesters, but of foreign journalists’ tendentious omission of the context that justifies that violence.

In truth, there has been plenty of criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its failure was made starkly clear on June 30, when millions called for President Mohamed Morsi to step down. The rot of the Islamist movement was on display in the days that led up to the massacre at Rabaa al-Adawiya — when Brotherhood leaders pushed their supporters toward “martyrdom,” and after that Islamists attacked churches and innocent bystanders across the country in retaliation.

With a few shining exceptions, Egypt’s cultural and political elite — which celebrated Morsi’s downfall — has also failed spectacularly.

There was their intellectual failure to recognize two parallel truths: That the Muslim Brotherhood was intolerant and authoritarian, but that cheering its liquidation by the police and the army would bring Egypt no closer to freedom and pluralism.

There was a moral failure: the unwillingness to acknowledge that fellow citizens, however misguided their beliefs or criminal their behavior, still have rights — foremost the right to live. [Continue reading…]

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