Rami G Khouri writes: In the past three years since the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak’s government, on my regular visits to Cairo I have watched with fascination, pride and hope the birth of Arab citizens and the sudden emergence of a public political sphere – an open, pluralistic space where people from different ideological and cultural perspectives could freely compete for political power and legitimate, democratic control of the government. I have witnessed very different things in Cairo this week, during and after the referendum on the new Egyptian constitution that was drawn up in recent months by the interim government that was installed by armed forces commander Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, and that also has led a tough campaign to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood.
The constitution was approved by an astounding, and totally expected, 98 percent of voters, for most of those who opposed it boycotted the process altogether, either from conviction or intimidation. The vast majority of international and local observers found almost nothing seriously wrong with the mechanics of the voting, so the 98 percent approval accurately reflects the sentiments of those who voted. Yet many observers criticized the wider political environment that did not permit a serious debate about the merits or the constitution or the unilateral political process that created it.
The frenzied mass support for Gen. Sisi and against the Muslim Brotherhood is genuine, and reflects a peculiar combination of Arab events and sentiments that are only found today in Egypt. This is why I suspect that what we witness these days in Egypt cannot be analyzed by using political criteria, but rather requires the tools of the anthropologist. There is no real political or ideology involved here. There is mainly biology driving events these days, primarily the anthropological need of tens of millions of Egyptians to get on with their lives and – as they see it – prevent the collapse of this society that has functioned without interruption for over 5,000 years. The citizen and public political sphere that were being born in the past three years have momentarily receded from modern history, for they have been overshadowed by the herd and its need for self-preservation, the biological cell’s need for water and protein, and Egyptian society’s need for order. [Continue reading…]