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Amnesia Breaks Out in Egypt

If there is one underappreciated aspect of the chaos in Egypt, it is the startling amnesia with which the country's majority has greeted this month's coup. Most of the media commentary over the last several weeks has described a battle between Islamists and the military, with the country's secularists embracing the latter. Whether this strategy will actually bring forth the results that the protesters want remains to be seen. But it's nearly impossible to read about the subject without feeling astonished by the history the protesters have chosen to either ignore or repress. (I am not a psychologist). From today's New York Times:

A hypernationalist euphoria unleashed in Egypt by the toppling of Mr. Morsi has swept up even liberals and leftists who spent years struggling against the country’s previous military-backed governments.

An unpopular few among them have begun to raise alarms about what they are calling signs of “fascism”: the fervor in the streets, the glorification of the military as it tightens its grip and the enthusiastic cheers for the suppression of the Islamists. But the vast majority of liberals, leftists and intellectuals in Egypt have joined in the jubilation at the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, slamming any dissenters.

“We are moving from the bearded, chauvinistic right to the clean-shaven, chauvinistic right,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a left-leaning scholar at the American University in Cairo.

There are two separate issues here. The first is whether the liberals have made the right strategic decision, and the second is what accounts for their complete lack of historical memory. Perhaps, er, the second fact suggests that the first decision was incorrect? Here's more from the NYT report:

In the turbulent period of military rule after Mr. Mubarak was ousted, many liberals and leftists stood shoulder to shoulder with Islamists to demand that the generals relinquish power to elected civilians. Now the liberals appear to have joined in a public amnesia about the abuses and scandals of that period — the forced virginity tests of female protesters; Coptic Christian demonstrators shot by soldiers or run over with armored vehicles; the videotaped stripping and kicking of a female demonstrator who became known as the Blue Bra Woman.

The activist Hassan Shaheen was captured in the same video, bleeding from the head as a soldier stomped on his chest. But this spring he helped lead the petition drive asking the military to remove Mr. Morsi. And he joined in the rejection of Mr. Maher, saying that by calling the ouster of Mr. Morsi a “coup” he was “following the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

And this is only to discuss the most recent period of military rule. (Although, if other news stories are to be believed, the military had more power during Morsi's "reign" than was commonly believed at the time). The plain fact is that the military has directly or indirectly controlled the country since 1952, thanks to its economic clout, and to the power it allowed leaders such as Hosni Mubarak to wield. (Mubarak himself was in the Egyptian Air Force). Yet, despite all this, the blame for the current state of affairs is placed on...Morsi! Certainly Morsi was no liberal democrat, but the idea that he is responsible for a stalled economy, a civil society that has been degraded by decades of authoritarianism, and the general state of disconent in the country is laughable.

The New York Times piece is excellent but largely anecdotal. There is data, however. In a somewhat astonishing poll take last month, ninety-four percent of Egyptians expressed confidence in the military. Ninety-four percent! That is Kim Jong-Un territory. The Egyptian people may want more freedom, but if they don't wake up to how the country has actually been run for the past six decades, they aren't likely to get it.

Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.