Four Common Misconceptions Egyptians Have

It’s the golden age of rumors in Egypt, especially with the lack of “unbiased” news sources. Add that to the nationalistic wave in the country, misconceptions get viewed as fact. Very few people will attempt to clear those misconceptions without risking to antagonize others, but it is a risk I am willing to take.

A photograph of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is burned outside the Ministry of Defense, Cairo, June 28, 2013. Keith Lane/MCT/Getty Images

It’s the golden age of rumors and misconceptions in Egypt these days, especially with the lack of credible “unbiased” news channels or sources for information. Add that to the nationalistic wave in the country, misconceptions do not only get viewed as fact, it actually leads to bad planning, policy and actions. Very few people will attempt to clear those misconceptions now without risking to antagonize others, but it is a risk I am willing to take, because I cannot take having the same discussions over and over. Let’s go.

1. The U.S. Is Not against June 30

There is a strong held belief in Egypt that the US is against the June 30 alliance and government, and is waging war against it for the sake of Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptians perceive the U.S. discussion about cutting military aid as an aggressive gesture and are meeting it with extreme hostility usually reserved to slave owners by their freed slaves. (It’s that level of intensity). They are complaining daily that the U.S. is against them and supports the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egyptian social media has made mocking and insulting President Barack Obama a national past time. Despite me being in favor of mocking Obama, the reality is that the U.S. is not against June 30 at all.

Here is what the U.S. cares about: for Egypt to be run by a ruler that can stabilize it, and will form a government that makes their relationship look good. The very contradictory reactions the U.S. regarding Egypt comes from two reasons: first, the lack of any real foreign policy regarding Egypt (and the Arab Spring for that matter); and second, the legal conundrum they are facing now because of us. U.S. law dictates when a military removes a democratically elected leader that is considered a coup, and any aid going its way must be stopped. In reflection of the facts, yes, the military did technically remove Morsi and is now holding him in a location even we, the people who revolted against him, do not know (you do not have him held captive in your basement, do you?), so the situation is meeting the legal definition.

The U.S. administration, which is required to uphold its laws, has no actual choice but to cut the aid, and in order to avoid doing so, it has done impressive political gymnastics in order not to call it that. Watching the new and impressive ways they use to avoid using the “C” word in its statements and press conferences has become my latest guilty pleasure. My favorite moment was when in a recent press conference, a State department spokesperson’s reply to the question if the U.S. has determined whether or not what happened in Egypt is a coup was, “we have determined we don’t need to make a determination.” Read that sentence again. Admire its beauty. It’s glorious.

Even after the violent disbursement of Rabaa El-Adawiya and the clashes that day with Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood supporters and its death toll, which surpasses the daily death toll in a country like Syria at its worse day, the U.S. still refuses to use the “C” word or cut the aid. The only thing they have been doing is push for a political solution to the problem, which would have to involve a reconciliation or truce deal with the Brotherhood, because it doesn’t want instability and would like us to help make the U.S. relationship with our country continue to make them look good or not embarrass them, which a) we are not doing at all, and b) doesn’t seem to be one of our priorities, and the worst thing they came up with as a response was to cancel a joint military exercise. What’s worse is that they are bending over backward for Egypt, despite facing media and political scrutiny for it, and they are not getting any leverage or credit for it. The friction we are seeing are simply the byproduct of a renegotiation of the terms of the special relationship Egypt has with the U.S. and the Egyptian government is initiating it. It’s that simple.

2. There Is No Giant Global Conspiracy Against Us

There really isn’t a global conspiracy against us; Europe is concerned because of the death and the overthrow and jailing of a “democratically elected” president, but they will not move beyond being concerned. Even in the United Nations Security Council’s special session on Egypt, the statement admitted that both sides of the conflict (i.e. government and Brotherhood) are using violence and called for mutual de-escalation. This means the UN is not buying the “peaceful warriors for democracy” narrative that the MB is producing, but also cannot condone the almost seven hundred dead in one day of conflict either, because it is a horrifying and indefensible number, so they went the route of balance. They are not happy with the high death toll and they will not condone it forever, which is important if you would like their tourists back, and you should: your economy needs it.

That being said, Turkey and Qatar are truly against us, so is any and every branch of the MB the world over, so you are not being completely paranoid here. I also hear that Iran and the Taliban are not pleased with us either. It is okay though, I think we can afford that.

3. The International Media Isn’t in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Pockets

Egyptian social media is filled with posts, pictures and videos that either a) hate the biased international coverage, or b) is comprised of videos or images with a message that we share this in order to “show the international media” the truth. The reason? The perception that international opinion provides excessive support for the MB, which develops at times to the belief that the international media is in the MB’s pocket. The proof? The lack of coverage of the MB’s violent acts and that they are portrayed as peaceful protesters getting killed by the state. “Why is no one supporting us?” They protest, in complete denial that this is primarily their own fault. Oh yes. It’s true.

You see, in order for the international media to showcase your side of the story, you actually have to have a side of the story. Your new state needs to have a solid case why it overthrew the old one, which, for the record, is not being made in anywhere. One local media outlet, instead of doing pieces that document and explain why the population revolted against Morsi and his rule, is airing a simplistic narrative of nationalism versus terrorism, and doing a remarkable job sensationalizing it. If they have zero intentions of being unbiased, which seems to be the case, they should try to explain and set in stone why the MB rule was undemocratic and criminal. It is not hard: An investigative piece on all the people arrested, killed and maimed by the police or MB during the Morsi reign; a five-minute video showcasing the attacks on Christians or the disdain for religion cases; a report on every single journalist or media personality that got persecuted by the Morsi presidency or their supporters; a short documentary stating all of the violations and crimes that the Morsi regimes committed, or maybe explaining the perils of theocracy and why we should never ever toy with its idea again. Hell, a simple YouTube video explaining how we got here and what are the lessons learned will do at this point. But no one is doing that locally. Imagine what effects it could have on the international level.

To make matters worse, we are naturally engaging in our favorite national pastime: xenophobia. Therefore Egyptians are becoming increasingly hostile to foreign journalists, who are getting harassed, beaten and killed while doing their job. And naturally they find that the safest place for them to operate is within the marches of the pro-Morsi protesters, because they actually want them to tell their side of the story, and are not projecting their own feelings of disappointment or anger towards them, like the June 30 crowd does. Also, foreign media journalists are more likely to cover protests in Cairo than cover what’s going on in the governorates, where Morsi supporters crimes are apparent, so all they see is clashes with protesters, from the side of the MB, and this is what they report.

Here is how you can remedy this. First, make your case clear, and it cannot simply be the MB are terrorists or criminals- detailed concise arguments would be nice. Second, utilize every chance you get to make the case, and don’t waste an opportunity to do so. The Mostafa Hegazy presser on August 18 was a perfect example of a wasted opportunity: he had all the media’s attention, and instead of making the case against the MB using videos, images, details, names and facts, he opted for generalized narrative. The man is an excellent speaker and handedly survived a very hostile press conference, but he should ‘have made the case and provided proof. Someone has to.

Third and finally, be nice to foreign journalists. If you keep attacking or insulting them, they have every incentive to not listen to you. Stop your xenophobia and embrace them as people who are simply trying to do their job in a very dangerous situation, instead of being part of the danger against them. If the people won’t do it, then the state should. Why aren’t foreign journalists being embedded with security forces during dangerous situation? This way they can finally tell if a) the police started the attack or the Morsi supporters and b) if the other side is armed, because it will be shooting in their direction. Simple things, really, but they will make a difference. It ‘is a war of narrative, and the MB are helping the narrative writers in every way they can, and you are either insulting them, demonizing them or attacking them. Not very smart, no?

4. The War on Terror Will Not End This Way

There is a reason why everyone is wary of the “war on terror” narrative, for a very simple reason: Wars on concepts cannot be called wars, because wars end. You see, wars on concepts or ideas definitely do not end with bullets, they end with a counter idea that exposes or defeats the idea. What is your counter idea to Islamism/MB ideology? Whoever does not agree with you is a traitor and should be killed? Yeah, not a very good one, especially against Islamists, who are generally okay with dying for their beliefs.

So you can go ahead and think you can kill your way out of this conflict, and you may succeed to end all major confrontations with a high body count within the month (and become known as butchers for it). However, sooner rather than later you will start facing incidents that pop up everywhere, with a few dying here in an explosion, and a few dying there in a drive-by shooting, and it will not stop and you will never be safe. It will not always be the MB behind the killings, but rather the family members/friends of the non-MB Morsi supporter who got killed in one of the clashes, or jailed for wanting to defend his vote, and sees you stealing it and persecuting him for it.

The danger of what is happening is not the MB going underground and starting a terror campaign, but that those supporters or their family members get radicalized to such a degree that they will resort to random violence. And in case you haven’t noticed, the Ministy of Interior, besides being indefensibly ruthless in its actions, is not in the best to fight this. It can scantly provide the minimum semblance of security. Exhibit a) the burnt churches. Exhibit b) the burnt museums. Exhibit c) Their own police stations that they can’t defend. Exhibit d) your neighborhood where you no longer feel secure.

So please, start demanding a clear strategy to manage this conflict and the security situation, and don’t feel ashamed to do so, since this is your life and future we are talking about. Also, if people tell you the strategy is to eradicate them, please remind them that if the MB are only 80,000 people. Not only will it take a genocide to kill them all, you will also have to kill their friends and relatives, which is a whole lot of killing, and that is if we discount that there is the internet, where ideas can live forever. So, while it’s prudent to face those who use violence against you with violence, it is imperative not to help them recruit or win supporters. While many of the police are engaging in life or death battles and heroics to protect you, many of them act in a criminal manner and we should be able to hold them to account. Your best weapon against the Muslim Brotherhood is to create the state that they could not create, one of diversity, accountability, human rights, civilian rule and against corruption and nepotism. Only such an idea can one day end this war.

Mahmoud Salem writes the award-winning Rantings of a Sandmonkey blog and is a columnist for the Daily News Egypt. This article was originally published on his blog. On Twitter: @Sandmonkey.