On Egypt

Egyptian Poet Amal Donqol (1940-1983)

It is true that there can be no comparison between the Egyptian Army and the Assad regime armed mafia and security apparatus, but in the end, the army in Egypt did a great harm. To begin with, the political crisis that was brewing in Egypt, deep as it is,  remains a classical political crisis for a developing country just about to join the free world. It is not uncommon  for a political party in such situation to believe that its ballot box victory, even with a slim margin, gives it license to launch major social and political engineering and starts to exclude everyone else, in the absence of firmly established democratic practices and institutions.

This of course is not to belittle the gravity of the MBs failure in Egypt.  And there are many Egyptians and perhaps Syrian refugees living in Egypt who can far better describe the failure and political suicide of the MBs over the past year than I could ever do. Yet, what the army has done is no less than an anti-democratic military coup despite of the fire-works, and the millions of cheering  people in the streets, on TV talk shows, or in living  rooms and coffee shops where trendy people tend to discuss the “islamists” threat and their inability to govern.

I always believed that islamists can not govern in a truly democratic and plural manner, and recent events be it in Turkey or Egypt, along with the abysmal despotic record of Hamas in Gaza, and topped with the  criminal, prehistoric, and stupid practices and decrees of self imposed illegal sharia courts in some  liberated areas of Syria did not reinforce my belief, but only gave me more illustrations of different flavors and degrees of bitterness.

Yet, in Egypt, there was a unique opportunity to solve a  brewing major political crisis through political process. The masses, gathering again in Tahrir square, and with no threat of regime use of military and security forces to squash their movement, had within reach many  peaceful and democratic political tools and actions that could have been taken to force the government and president to resign. This includes but not limited to continued protest, boycotts, and even wide scale nationwide extended civil disobedience.   The army’s rapid, and premeditated interference preempted a political process that would have given the people power even over the army itself. Perhaps that is exactly what the Generals feared.

Some may argue that the political leadership in Egypt failed miserably in establishing the political dialogue required to solve the crisis. But in my opinion, as a Syrian witnessing the catastrophic failure of political leadership within the traditional opposition, or better yet, the complete absence of such leadership, such failure is  the hidden silver lining of the tragedy for it gives the opportunity for the young generation to assume its natural leading role in politics especially in societies as young as those in the Arab region. I know that for fact, for I have met some of the real political leaders of future Syria. Those who are working on the inside, and are tuned to the pulse of their people with no slogans or long poisonous speeches. The military coup has just preempted the rise of the political youth in Egypt in no lesser way than the first military council did by turning a national conscious forming action and movement into a mere election campaign, which is merely a tool.

Then, there is the risk of turning the islamists, once more into the eternal martyrs and victims  and the demonstration, once again, that for Arab secularists, democracy is a relative term since this is the third time in the very recent memory when the islamists favorable ballot box results are thrown away in an Arab country. Echos from Algeria are humming, and knowing what we know today about the dirty role of the Algerian army in that civil war, and the many war crimes  committed by both sides of that conflict, the gravity of the military coup in Egypt begins to sink.

A sad song, a song sung in 1970 by a great poet called Amal Donqol seems very appropriate on this occasion. It is an Arabic warning shout about armies and soldiers. I could not find an appropriate translation, but I hope one day soon to translate this great poem. I hope I am wrong regarding the intention of the Egyptian national army, but nevertheless, damage to democracy has been done. I could not let the Fourth of July, such a great day of my beloved adoptive country; pass without shouting  a warning to the land where civilization was born.

قلت لكم مرارا
إن الطوابير التي تمر ..
في استعراض عيد الفطر والجلاءْ .
(فتهتف النساء في النوافذ انبهارا)
لا تصنع انتصارا.
إن المدافع التي تصطف على الحدود , في الصحاري
لا تطلق النيران .. إلا حين تستدير للوراء .
إن الرصاصة التي ندفع فيها .. ثمن الكسرة والدواء :
لا تقتل الأعداء
لكنها تقتلنا .. إذا ما رفعنا صوتنا جهارا
تقتلنا , وتقتل الصغارا

قلت لكم في السنة البعيدة
عن خطر الجنديّ
عن قلبه الأعمى , وعن همته القعيدة
يحرس من يمنحه راتبه الشهريّ
وزيه الرسميّ
ليٌرْهبَ الخصومُ بالجعجعة الجوفاء
والقعقعة الشديدة
لكنه .. إن يحن الموت ..
فداء الوطن المقهور والعقيدة :
فرَّ من الميدانْ
وحاصر السلطانْ
واغتصب الكرسيّ
وأعلن (( الثورة )) في المذياع والجريدة !

قلت لكم كثيرا
إن كان لابد من هذه الذريّة اللعينة
فليسكنوا الخنادقَ الحصينةْ
(متخذين من مخافر الحدود .. دورا )
لو دخل الواحدُ منهم هذه المدينة :
يدخلها .. حسيرا
يلقي سلاحه .. على أبوابها الأمينة
لأنه .. لا يستقيم مَرَحُ الطفل ..
وحكمة الأب الرزينة
مع المُسدّس المدلّى من حزام الخصر ..
في السوق
وفي مجالس الشورى


قلت لكم ..
لكنكم ..
لم تسمعوا هذا العبثْ
ففاضت النارُ على المخّيماتْ
وفاضت .. الجثثْ !
وفاضت الخُوذاتُ والمدرَّعات

أمل دنقل 1970

Just as I finished writing this post, i received the note of Amal Hanano’s first piece on her recent trip to Turkey and to Liberated Syria. As usual, my wonderful and inspiring friend Amal, thank you once more.



  1. Indeed, I am certain that IS exactly what the General’s feared. They obviously saw the writing on the wall and did not want to wait long enough for the evidence to appear that the people don’t in fact need them in order to assert their own organic power. The move was preemptive and almost totally self serving.


  2. ps… Robin…aka Qunfuz was writing pretty much the same as you yesterday and today… maybe thinks it is even more disastrous…


  3. Thanks for a great article and a wonderful and timely poem. Even at my age I am surprised and ashamed that there are so many fine Arab poets I don’t know and whose work I now read for the first time.

    Must say that with a bit of hindsight I am starting to believe that the readiness with which the military was willing to dump Mubarak was done according to an understanding where he and his sons would have to accept some public humiliation but still get to keep their billions and even be declared innocent and rehabilitated to re-join, if not political life, then at least the business and influential elite class of Egypt while someone else from the Nationalist Party would be sent to fill in for a while with the aid of the men in uniform entrusted with running the show.

    I think the plan was to try to disqualify all the candidates that had popularity and recognition and then slip in an old regime guy (Shafiq was it?) against someone from whichever opposition grouping left standing, an unknown who is unilkely to win . It did not quite work out to plan and the unknown (Morsi) won by a slim margin, so they went to plan B, which was to make it impossible for him to rule while also giving him more and more rope to hang himself with, which he and his power starved party and movement performed to every last little detail.

    Morsi should have given one last concession -on top of many he had to give during the last year- and should have announced a referendum on whether the people want him to continue as president. If he’d lost he could at least claim that he was never intransigent, always bowing to the will of the people. Playing the martyr now won’t do him or his movement any good. And I am afraid to say that it would be very difficult for any non old regime-supported person to get a clear majority in any election in the next decade or two, though I hope that my pessimism is proven wrong.

    Now I have to come up with an answer when Western friends and acquaintances turn around and say “see, we told you Arabs and Moslems are not able to deal with democracy!” 😦


  4. Dear Friends
    Thank you for visiting despite of the home owner’s negligence over the past 6 months.

    Dear Zenobia
    It is good to have the same thinking as Robin’s. Naturally, I would have loved to have my first come-back post be about Syria. But the changes in Egypt are rather significant on several levels. Fear of the organic power is not talked much about in the various blogs and on facebook. I can tell that the early reactions from friends who have for two and a half year to the army’s ultimatum from people who have been staunch supporters of the Syrian revolution, and strong advocates of liberty and civil society was rather disappointing. Only after the first stage of the coup was competed and religious leaders (Imam of Azhar, and the Pope of the Coptic Church) were used as props during the announcement of the coup that it sank. The dissonance between the jovial streets and the deadly determination of the Generals was shocking.

    Dear MGB
    Amal Donqol died very young. He is remembered for some great poems. You can read more of his wonderful poems on this site as well as the poetry of other great and not so great Arab poets.

    Back to topic, I do agree that the generals played it rather well. At the same time, the capacity of the Moslim Brothers of self destruction is unparalleled. Your comment about the missed opportunity is a very kind way of phrasing it. In reality, they did everything possible to intimidate, even their own “allies”.


  5. Zenobia’s return was worth the unintentional negligence! Missed you both..


  6. Would there be transparent and fair election in Egypt in the next six months? I doubt it, Parliamentary election would result in Islamists, there is no popular figure that could win the presidential election and fix Egypt’s problems, and the army will always threaten to interfere, Egypt is in for long time of crisis, I was hoping that Egypt regains its role in the Arabic decision making,so they can help Syrian revolution,this seems unlikely in the near future


  7. Myasaloon wrote a brilliant post presenting the complexity of the situation. If you haven’t read it, please do.

    I have added an RSS feed from . الجمهورية لدراسات الثوره السوريه To-date, the site has been one with the most thoughtful articles on the Syrian revolution.


  8. Looks like the “Organic” people’s movement is aware of the potential trickery of the army. The people remain on the streets, and it seems that they are intent on having their own road map. Let’s see the Generals’ response.

    In the meantime, assad regime media whores were kicked out from Tahrir square


  9. Great article dear friend, btw many Egyptian activists who were against Mursi are aware of the dirty game the generals played in the past 2 years and are already planning their next move … keep a close eye on Egypt I don’t think it’s not over yet!


  10. Happy to be reading OTW posts again!

    Poems, music and song can be turned into some of the best tools of defiance amid the bombs destruction and bullets. A bright and talented shami musician named Yousef Salem personifies this with this song:

    آمل أن يعلو صوتي على صوت الموت .. لتصل رسالتي …

    The hope is my voice overcomes the symphony of death… So my message can reach.


  11. Dear Nazir
    Welcome friend (again!). Sorry for the delay in getting your comment approved. From now on, you should be able to comment with no lag-time. This moderation is a must in order to filter out spams.

    I do agree that the protesters are already planning their next move. The Generals will always try, as Maysaloon put it well, but I think over time, they will have to yield power to where it belongs.

    Dear Sami
    It is uplifting to see such a talent singing in rejection of death and murder in in the midst of such madness. At the same time it makes ones blood boil in contempt and disgust at assad and his gangs and against anyone supporting them.


  12. it’s NK btw … just in case you didn’t recognize who I was lol


  13. thank you OTW for being here.
    This is from fb
    Robin Yassin-Kassab
    Egypt’s military coup (and the political arrests, and the standing by while people kill each other on the streets of Cairo) looks more worrying, more counter-revolutionary every day. Yet supporters of Morsi and the Brothers should stop considering the ousted government as an innocent victim. Its incompetence, arrogance and authoritarianism mobilised millions of opponents on the streets, bigger crowds than protested Mubarak. For Islamists, it’s time for introspection and humility, not for hooligan calls to jihad.


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