A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, December 18, 2011

SCAF Capitalizing on Growing Gulf Between Tahrir Revolutionaries and the Rest of Egypt

The bloody confrontations of the last three days in Cairo are disturbing, but public opinion outside the human rights community and the activists seems to be sympathizing with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rather than the demonstrators. Many are dismissing even the photo showing a girl beaten and stripped by military police to expose her bra (immediate previous post) as either photoshopped (though there is video) or as if it were somehow justifiable. There is outrage among the elites, but the rest of the country seems placid, unlike the story in January and February when workers in factories and in provincial cities were also up in arms.

That adds to the evidence that SCAF is calculating that the vast majority of ordinary Egyptians are tired of revolutionary confrontations, yearning for stability and normality after a year of change and disruption of the economy. Plenty of commentators have commented on the sharp contrasts between the "Tahrir bubble" where the demonstrations were occurring, and the rest of the country, where people enthusiastically voted in the elections. The widening gulf between the revolutionaries in the square and ibn al-balad, the ordinary Egyptian in the street and countryside, is apparently real, and the burning of the Institut d'Egypte played into SCAF's hands, allowing them to blame the demonstrators for the destruction of irreplaceable national treasures.

It is possible for SCAF to overplay this hand and miscalculate, especially the international reaction to photos like the "blue bra girl" as some are calling her. (Egyptian Twitter users have used #BlueBraGirl  but seem to have settled on #TahrirWoman as more dignified: she didn't do this to herself.) But the young revolutionaries may have been the ones who played into SCAF's hands tactically, though nothing can justify the relentless brutality and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this contest is not being fought in discussion seminars, but in blood. And the Parliament emerging from the elections may seek to define the New Egypt in very different ways than the young revolutionaries would prefer.

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