If all you read is up-to-the-minute coverage of what’s been going on in Egypt over the past three days, you might be forgiven for assuming that what the Egyptian Army is doing somehow defies the wishes and desires of most Egyptians. With the caveat that the plural of anecdotes is not data, an article in the New York Times this afternoon provides a much more nuanced picture of how a substantial portion of Egyptian society may have understood the army’s actions yesterday:
In the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba on Thursday, a teacher, Mohamed Abdul Hafez, said the hundreds of Islamists who died the day before mattered little to him. “It’s about the security of the country,” Mr. Hafez said….“It was necessary,” Akmal William, standing in his auto-detailing shop on Talaat Harb Street, said of the raid by soldiers and police officers. “They had to be strict.”Witnesses described a disproportionate, ruthless attack. Condemnations came from human rights advocates, a few Egyptian political figures, and from abroad. But many Egyptians viewed things differently, focusing on what they said were continuing threats from Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who were frequently referred to as terrorists. In their view, the army was the only force standing in the Islamists’ way….In Imbaba, a neighborhood that seems to catch all the nation’s political currents in its congested alleyways, many people regretted the bloodshed. But they asserted that the alternative was worse. The Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi’s political party, was holding back the country with endless sit-ins and protests, many said. And the longer the army waited to act, the weaker Egypt seemed to them.
That last point is critical, and is often overlooked by Westerners trying to understand the Middle East. It’s a point ably elaborated by Adam Garfinkle in his guest post here at VM yesterday:
The Middle East lacks the warm, fuzzy affection for the underdog that many Americans take to be second nature. The dominant view of what is still a patriarchal, hierarchical and still clingingly pre-modern set of Muslim Middle Eastern societies is that the weak deserve whatever depredations they suffer. It’s a kind of ur-Social Darwinism that has been at work for many centuries before Darwin himself ever saw light of day.As I also said before, I think Egypt’s military leaders are right about this. And I suspect they recognized that the longer they waited to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood encampments the better prepared the MB would be to resist. And they have resisted, and are still doing so.
As the corpse count mounted further as a result of the Brotherhood’s “Day of Rage” today, Adam’s piece remains one of the more lucid pieces of analysis during this crisis. If you haven’t yet, go read the whole thing.[Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi gather in Cairo’s Abbassiya neighbourhood on August 16, 2013. Photo courtesy Getty Images.]