By Philip Whitfield
If you twitch a nostril near a cop in Cairo, you risk being beaten up, arrested, thrown in jail, raped, held in isolation and sentenced to five years’ hard labour.
If you kidnap a military patrol in the Sinai, tie up thousands of troops in tanks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters for days on end, engage the president’s office and half the government you won’t even get a wigging for wasting police time.
Was anyone arrested? Was Al-Qaeda or Hamas given a free pass?
If it had been havoc such as an earthquake, a volcano or a tornado, there’d be floods of numbing, excruciating information. Revolutionary times knit together uproar and terror, elation, segregation, merriment and melancholy.
We’re fed fibs.
Morsi et al say they lied to the media deliberately to confuse the kidnappers. Did Morsi imagine them squatting round a campfire in the desert browsing the morning papers? Us? We’re chopped liver, apparently, gawking at newscasters peddling pabulum off censored teleprompts.
The prestige of the state is standing and no one can degrade it, Morsi announced pompously at the outset. All that is being said about differences between me and the military are evil, baseless rumours. We do not negotiate with criminals. These are criminals, not jihadists, Morsi said.
Now they’re nabbed where were they arraigned? What are the charges?
Whose truth do you want? Morsi’s or the military’s? We got neither. Despite promises to reveal all when it was over nothing was forthcoming. Instead the Salafis stole the show. They brokered the settlement.
The kidnappers walked away without being pursued by the military. Which begs the question: Were the kidnappers’ cohorts released from jail as well?
If your eyes aren’t blinkered you see an Egypt inured to everyday circumlocution, insanity held at bay by the skin of its teeth. After a terrorist attack in Mubarak’s day his intelligence chief would slink behind the lines to parley a get out. Morsi’s Sinai surrogates vaporised wordlessly.
Security sources named the kidnappers as Palestinians belonging to the Tawhid wal-Jihad gang. They have form, outing themselves in Gaza on 6 November 2008 in a communiqué pledging loyalty to Al-Qaeda.
Twenty-five were rounded up after five security officers and a civilian were killed in a string of attacks in Al Arish in June and July 2011. After the firestorm Israel eliminated the group’s leader Abu Al-Walid Al-Maqdisi in an airstrike. Tawhid retaliated with shelling from Gaza. Israel fired back. Tit for tat, Tawhid cowardly murdered an Italian journalist blogger.
Hamas was gobsmacked. Tawhid was wielding clout in Gaza. Five Tawhid were convicted and jailed – the prisoners sought for the seven Egyptians hauled out of their vehicles in Sinai last week.
Criminals or jihadists? With Morsi it depends when you’re asked. They were criminals first. Then they weren’t after they let the cops go.
Morsi is the jihadists’ bête noire. The Muslim Brotherhood was established to objurgate Judaism. Morsi lost what remains of any popular support twisting in the winds of office, bending over backwards to reassure the US the Camp David Accords are sacrosanct.
Salafi shenanigans seriously sunder sanguine solidarity scaring shaky sacerdotal supporters.
Yasser Borhami, vice president of the Al-Da’wa Al-Salafia (the Salafi Calling) lambasted the Brotherhood. They don’t represent Islam in any way, he said. The liberation of Jerusalem is what’s important. That will only be achieved by implementing Sharia, he said.
Fat chance the Brothers and the Salafis will see eye to eye this side of Arcadia. How sad, remarked Einstein that it’s easier to smash an atom than prejudice.
Noxious religion skulks in the minds of bigots.
Another setaceous Salafi punctures Morsi’s balloon. Ahmed Farid is hung up over the Shi’a-Sunni split, which is as relevant in Cairo as choosing strawberry ice cream over vanilla. Getting close to Iran is a betrayal of the state, Farid trumpeted, adding: Whoever does that is selling his religion for a bunch of dollars.
Iraq is mired in intolerance. Scores are killed in sectarian strife almost every day. Death is so commonplace it’s a mere newspaper slug, hardly a radio spot.
Take heed of Afghanistan, the Stone Age story. Men deciding when women can lose their virginity, what to learn, what to wear, what to say, where to pray, and when to keep their mouths shut, arrogant sanctimony blurted out by kids hardly grown out of short pants.
Did the Sinai kidnappers get away with it? If they did they’ll likely try again. Remember Taba (31 killed, 159 injured 2004), Nuweiba (four killed, 12 wounded 2004), Sharm El-Sheikh (88 killed, more than 150 wounded 2005), Dahab (23 killed, at least 80 wounded, 2006), Al-Arish (dozens killed over the past decade).
Has Morsi allowed serial killers to peregrinate unchallenged? What if they choose to hijack half a dozen tourists? Are they criminals, or jihadists? Does that depend on who they are and their demands?
Does it matter when criminals can be confident pardons are on the table?
Shakespeare pieced bewilderment together: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/ To the last syllable of recorded time/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.
Egypt? The death of democracy is lacerated by a thousand cuts.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator