Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Civil war in Egypt?

Despite some irresponsible speculation in the press, fundamental aspects of Egypt’s history and character rule out any prospect of civil war in the country, writes Mohamed Mustafa Orfy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Over recent days, some politicians, academics, activists and even ordinary people have warned against the possibility of civil war breaking out in Egypt as a result of the tense atmosphere prevailing on the heels of the controversial constitutional declaration issued by President Mohamed Morsi. Society has been divided into Islamists and non-Islamists, and Morsi’s supporters have been placed facing his opponents as well as those who do not accept the creation of a new dictatorship in Egypt, the essence, as they see it, of Morsi’s shocking move.
However, Egyptians should not allow themselves to be held captive by this unprecedented possibility, since, if they do, it could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply put, the more repetition of this idea there is, the more fear it creates. As a result, that fear multiplies, bringing with it the need for readiness in the two opposing camps. Once this spiral has been allowed to get under way, it could only take one wrong move to drag the country into a vicious circle that could lead to more than throwing stones in demonstrations or setting fire to buildings.
Yet, a fully-fledged civil war could never happen in Egypt for a number of fundamental reasons, among them those set out below.
Firstly, the Egyptian army, according to some reports the tenth-largest worldwide and one of the strongest in the Middle East, has for long been a professional army that depends on compulsory conscription. The advantage in this respect is that it has been a “melting pot” for Egyptian youths from the length and breadth of the country, including every city, village and street in Egypt. Throughout its history, the army has been indivisible, disciplined, and committed to the whole country and its population. As seen in numerous crises and on occasions over recent decades, the army has always maintained its cohesion and balance as the steadfast and indispensable backbone of the national security of Egypt.
Doubtless, the army, backed by the security agencies and the police, would intervene whenever and wherever necessary to suppress any tendency towards the alarming possibility of civil war. This red line is visible to everyone, and it would be unrealistic or idiotic for any party or group to antagonise the army, regardless of the improper political performance of its ruling council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), during the transitional period.
Secondly, there has been no precedent in Egyptian history that might inspire some to repeat the experience of civil war. During the 1919 Revolution, the British occupation forces used excessive force in some areas of Egypt, and as a result acts of violent resistance erupted and continued for years. But the country as a whole did not fall apart. Moreover, following the 1967 defeat, Egyptians stood united, hand-in-hand, behind their defeated president, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, in order to strengthen the bonds of the country and help it overcome this unprecedented tragedy. There was not the slightest thought of civil revolt at this time of national crisis.
Thirdly, the conditions that might serve as the catalyst for civil war do not exist in Egypt. Civil war is often based on or inspired by some historical grievance between people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, or some demand for geographical independence or diversity. However, for many long centuries, Muslims and non-Muslims, mainly Copts, have been living together side-by-side in every street and lane in Egypt, ever since, in fact, the advent of Islam in the country. Some sectarian violence might occur from time to time, due to ignorance or for socio-economic reasons, but this has always remained within non-alarming lines, and it has been very speedily contained by those concerned.
Since the dawn of history, Egypt has been a veritable melting pot of human diversity, including Arabs, Turks, Circassians and Bedouins, Nubians and Copts, etc. The result has been a unique and visible national character that can be easily identified in any corner of the country, no matter its different features or social and economic differences. The topography of Egypt also rules out the possibility of civil war: it is sufficient to refer to the fact that some 95 per cent of the population lives along the River Nile. In other words, it would be madness to try to push the country towards unpredictable violence, because all would lose by it, perhaps on an equal footing.
Once started, the fire could reach the unstoppable and could act indiscriminately. As a result, anyone would think many thousands of times before adopting such a scenario. It is true that some acts or incidents of violence occur from time to time in Egypt, but they do not exceed a certain limit.
Fourthly, Egyptians have a great sense of belonging to their country, perhaps more than many other nationalities. Since they belong by nature, race and birth to one of the oldest and greatest civilisations worldwide, Egyptians have a deeply rooted sense of pride and patriotism. This explains why Egyptian people have in the past seemed to tolerate injustice, oppression and tyranny, since they have always been happy to live and let live and love their country. Sometimes, this aspect of Egyptian people has been mistaken for chauvinism, as Egyptians consider Egypt to be the most beautiful and the greatest country on earth.
There is a large element of cultural inheritance in the core of their personalities, even if this might not always appear in their daily actions. During the revolution, there was almost no security or police, but people lived together in the absence of order in a spirit of mutual consent and solidarity. Only a limited number of incidents took place, this being incomparable smaller than what has happened in many other countries during comparable events.
It is worth referring in this context to a view expressed by an Italian academic specialising in international relations and security to the effect that despite the severe problems and the presence of certain manifestations of backwardness, the civilised component of the Egyptian character will always appear at times of crisis. This was evident when people spontaneously rushed to form human shields to protect the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square on the most violent day of the revolution on 28 January 2011.
It is for all these reasons that the possibility of civil war in Egypt should be ruled out in the minds of all and should not be used as a dishonest method to attract the unjustified attention of an internal and external audience.

The writer is a political commentator.

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