Thursday 15 March 2012

The Price of Freedom

I’ve been keeping a close eye on political events in Egypt, an interest spurred by my visit to the country last November. Some news I get via email from people I met while I was there, people with hopes of a better future, mired ever deeper in doubt, especially now that the Islamists have come out of the parliamentary elections as the dominant force, commanding two-thirds of the representation.

A presidential election is scheduled for sometime this year but in the meantime the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remains in control. The generals may eventually slip into the background, but I don’t think the military will ever relinquish power; I don’t think it will ever give up its role as king maker, one that it has held ever since Nasser’s coup in 1952.

On the streets, still punctuated with violent discontent, the word is that the very models of modern major generals have struck up a clandestine deal with the Islamists. In parliament the liberals, those with the confidence of the street protesters, are fighting a kind of gallant rear guard action. Legislation has been proposed that that would exclude the army from oversight of any future elections. I guess it’s unlikely to succeed, unless the Freedom and Justice Party, the main Islamist force, decide to break their links with the soldiers

The real victim here in the complex game of political poker is Egypt’s ancient but vulnerable minority of Coptic Christians. Incidents of sectarian violence, in part encouraged by the military, have been steadily increasing since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year. Under attack from the extremist Salifist movement, with the army offering intermittent protection at best, the community is going through one of the most apprehensive stages of its history. There is little doubt that they are being singled out as a scapegoat. Thousands have left the country; millions have no choice but to remain.

Freedom is not for free, said one of the banners held up in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year. How ironic it is that the secularist dictatorships, the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Bashar al-Assad, the last still holding on, offered the greatest protection to the Christians of the Middle East. Now the Copts are indeed discovering that freedom is not for free. It has a price, one being negotiated at their expense.


  1. It is all part of the agenda in progress.

  2. Nothing but a defusing of Egypt's too-quickly growing, under-employed youth bomb will save that nation, regardless of who is nominally in charge. Too many people, too close together, without future prospects: that is a recipe for a bloody nightmare anywhere in the world.

    Egypt's current military rulers will need to adopt extreme measures to address the problem, or the problem will fix them. Meanwhile, extremists of every flavour will be hunting for scapegoats - other religions, other sects, other cultures, other classes. That will be nasty.

    The old gods held the Nile kingdoms together for thousands of years. These new gods just don't have what it takes.

    1. Calvin, that is so true. Egypt is going through what Egyptologists would refer to as yet another intermediate period.

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  4. A bit strange, those Copts at times but this is straight oppression. Unfortunately, I think this will get worse before better and the west isn't going to lift a finger. Eventually it will happen in this country too.