Shadi Hamid writes: Four years ago today, the Arab Spring—or what was left of it—ended with a massacre. There were only two countries with largely peaceful democratic transitions. One of them was Tunisia; one of them was Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation and a bellwether for the region. On August 14, 2013, six weeks after a military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, over 800 people were killed near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo. It was the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history.
By then, there had been two formative political moments in my life, the September 11th attacks and the Iraq War. And now there was a third. Friends who’ve known me both before the Arab Spring and after tell me that my writing has become darker. They’re probably right.
The first time I set foot in Rabaa, just a week before the massacre, I was surprised at how self-contained everything was. Along with tens of thousands of supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, there were kitchens, pharmacies, food stalls, sleeping quarters, and a “media center.” You couldn’t just casually stroll in. At the makeshift entrance, about 50 feet off the street, volunteer guards, standing next to piled-up sandbags, were hurriedly checking IDs. As I walked in, people sprayed me with water. This, apparently, was their way of welcoming me. It was the peak of the humid Egyptian summer. Like many Egyptian protests, this one teetered somewhere between panic and jubilation.
The killing hadn’t happened yet (although there had already been two “smaller” massacres on July 8 and July 27). Rabaa was where young Muslim Brotherhood members, some of them still in college, told me of that mix of adrenaline and dread they felt as they drafted their wills and bid their families goodbye. As Egyptians waited for a massacre, they debated just how many people the new regime would be willing to kill, and when it might do it. Beyond the personal stories of death, fear, and families torn apart, Rabaa, and the military coup that preceded it, told a remarkable, and a remarkably sad, story of a country that appeared intent on destroying itself. To the extent that Egyptians insist on feeling pride in their country, it is a pride tainted by the events that millions of them—including members of my own family—were complicit in. [Continue reading…]