Shadi Hamid writes: I was in Egypt for two of the most important political moments of the Arab Spring: the day President Hosni Mubarak fell on February 11, 2011 and then the lead-up to the Rabaa massacre of August 14, 2013, which Human Rights Watch has called “the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history.” These two moments serve as appropriate bookends for understanding the recent trajectory of Egyptian politics.
February 11, 2011 was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. That night, I overheard an Egyptian woman telling her friend: “I’ve never seen Egyptians so happy in my life.” Neither had I. During those eighteen whirlwind days of protest in Tahrir Square, Islamists, liberals, and leftists fought and died together. They saved each other’s lives. This remarkably diverse movement of secularists, socialists, Muslim Brothers, Salafis, and hardcore soccer fans were drawn together by what they opposed. But if this was the opposition’s most impressive moment of unity, it would also prove to be one of the last. This wasn’t the end of ideology, as some had hoped, but the beginning of a long-running cold – and sometimes hot – war, with questions of religion and identity at its center.
President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s one year in power further polarized an already polarized country, pitting Islamists against non-Islamists in what was increasingly perceived, at least by liberal and secular elites, as an existential battle over the meaning, purpose, and nature of the Egyptian state. This was the context in which the military moved to oust Morsi on July 3, 2013. In the days leading up to the Rabaa massacre, a significant segment of the population cheered on the repression, encouraged by the nearly nonstop demonization of the Brotherhood in the state and private media.
I should say from the outset that the question here is not whether the Brotherhood was any good at governing. It wasn’t. President Morsi and Brotherhood officials failed to govern inclusively, managing to alienate old and new allies alike. They showed favoritism toward Islamist-aligned groups, harassed or threatened prominent opposition voices, and detained secular activists such as April 6th Movement co-founder Ahmed Maher. Reasonable people can disagree on what exactly happened and didn’t happen during Morsi’s short tenure in power. But the very real sins of the Morsi government – and the general illiberalism of the Brotherhood – have nothing to do with whether we, as Americans, should turn a blind eye to the unprecedented levels of violence and repression that have followed Morsi’s removal from power. Importantly, this campaign of repression has targeted not just Muslim Brotherhood members but also liberal, socialist, secular revolutionary activists as well as respected civil society organizations which have dared to speak out against the regime’s policies. [Continue reading…]