Egyptian Struggles Continue
Contingency, unpredictability, and struggle between various groups continues to be the orders of the day in Egypt. I’ve been reading a lot of news, even if not posting on it, and a narrative seems to be emerging:
The liberal secular revolutionary groups, emboldened by the nearly two million strong showing on the anniversary of the revolution–in spite of military and Muslim Brotherhood efforts to keep it low key–have been protesting loudly against the Brotherhood as well as SCAF.
The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to avoid outright conflict with the secularists, while themselves standing confident in the Freedom and Justice Party’s ten million vote victory.
Pressure from the SCAF on one side and the liberals on the other are pushing the Brotherhood into a tighter alliance with the salafists, with whom they have shared the majority of cabinet posts. They are not natural allies, however, and too close cooperation between them can only help the salafists at the expense of the Brotherhood.
SCAF is reeling from the blow delivered in Washington. The seizure of the heads of several US pro-democracy NGOs was largely seen locally as an attempt to show Washington, DC who was still in charge in Egypt in the face of Washington’s overtures to the elected parliament. According to Al-Hayat newspaper, it backfired. The Obama administration supposedly told them that in the face of the illegal detention of the NGO leaders it could no longer resist pressure from Congress to cut the $1.3 million military allocation we have long given Egypt.
To add insult to injury (from SCAF’s point of view), Washington has apparently opened dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood as the legally elected representatives of the people of Egypt.
SCAF has responded by increasing its hold on the NGO leaders and scheduling them for trial, perhaps to demonstrate to Washington that the military is still the real power in Egypt and it must deal with them, not a bunch of elected civilians.
Copts continue, through protest and public displays of identity, to stress their integral role in the nation and to assert that justice for the Copts as equal citizens of Egypt will be the true measure of progress in Egypt.
And all of this takes place against a backdrop of continued economic decline, looming currency evaluation, a devastated tourism industry, escalating conflict in the Sinai, and continued lack of confidence in what the future holds for Egypt.
Even as I write this summary of what I am reading and hearing from multiple news sources–especially Al-Ahram, Al-Masry al-Youm and Al-Hayat–and from social media (blogs, Facebook, a couple of Twitter streams), I am uneasy because writing of “Copts,” “SCAF,” “the Muslim Brotherhood,” “the liberal, revolutionary secular groups,” and “salafists” in this way risks reifying what I take to be groups marked by considerable internal differences.
The fallacy of misplaced concreteness is a besetting sin of journalism. Where good ethnography opens up all the fascinating and frustrating contradictions of everyday life as lived by people, journalism summarizes and papers over these differences, subordinating them to the persuasive power of narrative.
There’s a place for both but having been a journalist, I prefer ethnography.
And yet, even after 15 years as an anthropologist, I still find it easier to write narrative like a journalist.