Egypt divided: 'Even at home, we’re arguing'
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As pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrations tear Egypt apart, FRANCE 24 met two members of the same family with clashing political opinions, in a bid to better assess the risks of radicalisation in the country.
It’s the story of two Egyptian brothers caught up in this country's revolutionary vortex. One is a long-time supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. The other openly supported the military coup that deposed the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.
Even though they grew up together and now work at the same construction company, the Massoud brothers have radically different political views. Their case underscores the extreme polarisation that prevails in Egypt today.
As the younger brother, 39-year-old Reda tirelessly criticised the supporters of the "police state" and their "blind hatred". The elder of the two, 50-year-old Mohammed, who opposes Morsi, denounced the Muslim Brotherhood’s "suicidal extremism".
The main cause for disagreement between the two brothers is the repression of the pro-Morsi encampments in Cairo on Aug. 14. According to Mohammed, there were just 120 deaths that day, but Reda thinks that over 2,600 demonstrators lost their lives when security forces took control.
The only thing they agree on is that the official death toll of 600 is inaccurate.
It was Egypt's first-ever free presidential poll that brought to light the brothers' ideological clash. But to hear their radically different interpretations of events, it is difficult to imagine that Reda and Mohammed at one point supported the same political party.
Now deeply anti-Morsi, the elder of the two admits that he voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the legislative elections of November 2011. "I said to myself that they were practising Muslims, good people. They made us promises, assured us that there would be investments and that they could rebuild the state," recalled Mohammed.
The construction manager quickly became disillusioned following the election victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies. "We were expecting the legislative council to debate subjects that are important for the country. Instead, we heard about a bill allowing nine-year-old girls to get married," he said. "These may seem like little details, but that’s what changed my view of the Islamists."
'Choosing between drinking blood and eating pork'
The political split between the two brothers was already sealed by the time of the presidential poll of June 2012. Horrified at the prospect of a return to a police state, Reda opted decisively for the Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, who then was relatively little-known, instead of Ahmed Chafik, the last prime minister of the Mubarak era.
The enthusiasm around the first free elections had already faded for Mohammed, who voted in the first round for Amr Moussa, former foreign minister and general secretary of the Arab League. Moussa, he said, had the “experience and the stature of a leader".
Shocked at his candidate’s elimination, Mohammed refused to take part in the second round. “It was like chosing between drinking blood and eating pork,” the elder of the two brothers explained.
The gulf between the brothers grew on the evening of June 24, 2012, as Mohammed Morsi officially became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, with 51.7% of the vote. Overjoyed, Reda went straight into the streets of his neighbourhood of Nassr City for an impromptu party. But as the fireworks and the music raged outside, Mohammed was glum, having begun to view the Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation greedy for power.
Reversal of the situation
The fits and starts of the Morsi presidency – from economic stagnation to the adoption of a controversial constitution – continued to pull the brothers apart. Mohammed went ahead and signed a petition from the Tamarrod opposition, not doubting for a minute that Morsi’s days in power were already numbered.
On the evening of June 30, 2013, the two brothers’ situations were once again completely reversed.
‘’On that day, I had the impression that a splinter had been taken out of my foot (….) It had been a year since I had seen such joy on people’s faces," Mohammed recalled.
Now it was Reda's turn to be worried, convinced as he was that the army was helping the opposition. His worst fears came true on July 3, when General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted the elected president on the pretext of fulfilling the people’s will.
The suspension of the constitution and the detention of the president at a secret location marked the beginning of a period of deadly unrest, which, the two brothers agree, has been a catastrophe.
"The whole of Egypt has been dragged down by what has happened," Mohammed said, despite supporting the new regime’s brutal repression of its opponents. “Even if there were thousands of deaths, it was sadly the only solution (….) We couldn’t let Morsi give Sinai to the Palestinians, the Suez Canal to Qatar and two governorates in the south of Egypt to Sudan,” he adds, citing rumours that he believes to be true.
This kind of view is no longer a surprise to Reda. “I’ve known my brother’s opinions for a long time. What wears me out is being stigmatised as a terrorist by the media even though television should be impartial," Reda explained with a disappointed look.
"Egyptians unfortunately have got into the habit of denigrating those they don’t agree with."
'The Muslim Brotherhood is dead anyway'
Mohammed says he is counting on the Egyptian army to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from coming back into politics, at least until some more moderate faction sweeps away the Brotherhood’s aging leadership.
When asked what he would do if a non-violent faction of the Brotherhood were to come to power in fresh elections, the elder brother, who supports Morsi’s removal from power, went quiet for a long moment.
“That won’t happen,’’ Mohammed asserted finally, provoking a fit of laughter from another pro-Morsi person present in the room.
“OK, let them win then, but they can’t govern in the same way,” he added.
As for Reda, he has no doubt about the Brotherhood’s determination – he says it is involved in a battle for survival. “Morally, we have been very much weakened by repression (…) but the Brothers don’t have any choice other than to protest. Whether they continue or stop, they’re dead anyway,” the younger brother said in a sombre manner. "The main problem, by the way, is not president Morsi himself; it’s that the election verdict hasn’t been respected."
Despite the current flare-up of violence, the two brothers have been able to remain on good terms.
“Even if we argue in our family, he’s still my brother,” Mohammed explained. “It’s true that we are a family divided between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and those who support the army, but we remain united because we are convinced that politics is, above all, too dirty a game."
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