The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Khaled Dawoud: Point of no return

Another entry in our In Translation series, courtesy of the great team over at Industry Arabic.Khaled Dawoud was the spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a coalition of Egyptian political forces created in 2012 in opposition to Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. Dawoud supported the June 30, 2013 protests against Morsi but resigned from his position after the police attack on Islamist protesters in Rabaa El Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013 that left hundreds dead. In October Dawoud was recognized by pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters, dragged out of his car and stabbed in the hand and chest. He is a critic of the Islamist group, but nonetheless continues to argue against its violent repression. 

Point of No Return

Khaled Dawoud, El Tahrir newspaper, December 28

On a daily basis and sometimes several times a day I receive the following question: "How can you defend the Muslim Brotherhood when they tried to kill you? Do they have to chop off your head for you to realize they're terrorists?" This is in response to my remaining committed to the belief that we must strive toward a broad national consensus and not just rely on security solutions. I consider consensus to be the sole means to bring about true stability in Egypt and to start achieving the real goals of the January 25 Revolution – most significantly fighting poverty, promoting education and health, achieving real development and building a democratic system where Egyptians enjoy rights and freedoms.

The most aggravating part of this charge that I'm defending the Brotherhood is that I have always been a stern opponent of them. I am opposed to their intellectual foundations and their medieval way of governing the organization. In particular, I am opposed to how they treat the Supreme Guide as the Shadow of God on Earth and swear loyalty and obedience to him, to the extent that violating his commands is akin to going against religion itself. I also disapprove of their views on women, of the way they bar them from leadership posts just for being women, and of their sectarian discourse that they can never seem to leave behind. To start with, in 1997 the previous Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhur made a statement to me in my capacity as a journalist to the effect that if the Islamic state that he desired were established, the jizya tax would be imposed on the Copts and they would be barred from joining the army. Then there was the statement made by Khairat al-Shater in the aftermath of the Presidential Palace protests on 5 December 2012, that "70% of those protesting against the Brotherhood were Christians." Finally, there is the latest statement by the Brotherhood that came out after the decision to shut down hundreds of their charitable associations, with the claim that "The door has been flung wide open for Christian missionary organizations to turn poor Muslims away from their religion."

The people who pose this question to me also ignore the fact that the Brotherhood supporters who attacked me and stabbed me with knives at a protest of theirs about three months ago certainly did not consider me to be one of their "defenders." Nothing occurred to them except that I was someone who "called for the coup" on June 30 after I had been working for nine whole months as spokesman for the National Salvation Front. This is the NSF that unified the opposition against former president Mohammed Morsi, after he broke all his promises to achieve national consensus, and just strove to empower his clan and his organization, thereby threatening to plunge the nation into civil war and real sectarianism.

However, my appeal for national consensus was based on my absolute faith that violence only begets more violence, and that handling the protests of the Brotherhood – who in their statements are claiming that they are fighting a war for Islam and not for their wealthy organization with affiliates worldwide – only from a security angle would increase the influence of more radical, militant organizations like al-Qaeda, as well as other groups who have unprecendented expertise in explosives and terrorism from recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and most lately Syria. They are able to claim that they are "taking revenge" for their Brothers who died in confrontations with the police and the army. My main concern is not to shed crocodile tears over the brutal attack they faced, but to consider how we can prevent such attacks and bloodshed in the future – by protecting all Egyptians: civilians, police officers and soldiers alike.

The current struggle between those who cling to the "Islamic identity" of Egypt and those who believe that Egypt has one of the most ancient identities in the world, while striving to build a modern state, has been going on for more than two hundred years and will not die out anytime soon. I was one of those who said that the Brotherhood's arrival in power was a chance to prove that their abuse of religion does not mean that they have preternatural abilities to solve Egypt's accumulated and intractable problems. Egyptians discovered this quickly and hit the streets in the millions on June 30 to call for an end to Morsi's failed rule. I had hoped that the integration of the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process would help put an end to their insularity and their claims that they are a "Godly organization" that does not err because God is helping them, and that they would acknowledge that they are a political organization that can co-exist with others if they would only give up their claim to possess absolute truth.

Now, after the government's announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood is a "terrorist organization" and the Brotherhood's reciprocal escalation by threatening to "string up" the "coup-plotters," it seems that any talk about national consensus has become a sort of delusion and the upper hand belongs to whichever of the two sides escalates and doesn't blink. The Brotherhood has the chance to reconsider its position and start on the path of reconciliation with the Egyptian people, if it recognizes that what happened on June 30 was an expression of real popular outrage and not just "Photoshop" and that the end of Morsi's presidency – even though he was elected – is not the end of the world. It certainly does not mean that the alternative is to destroy Egypt and burn it to the ground. This is taking into account that we are still making our first steps toward trying to build a democratic system after sixty continuous years of one-man and one-party rule.

We have fallen into a cycle where the Brotherhood keeps repeating specious claims that the terrorist bombing in Mansoura was in fact an inside job perpetrated by the "leaders of the coup" to justify more oppression. They have also crossed red lines by issuing a statement titled "Message to the Noble Soldiers of the Egyptian Army" where they blatantly call for disobedience and mutiny within the ranks of the armed forces, and threaten them with painful vengeance from God Almighty because they are the ones who hold the mandate in this matter. On the other hand, the government issued a statement that accused the Brotherhood of being responsible for the Mansoura bombing -- despite the fact that investigations have not yet concluded and that the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis organisation issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack -- and for all the terrorist attacks that Egypt has suffered since the 1940s, including the 1977 killing of Sheikh al-Zahabi by the Takfir wal-Hijra organization. This is a point of no return, and the price will be a lengthy period of violence, instability and moving further away from the goals of the January 25 Revolution.