Of Rab’a and Gaza

The Gaza conflict of 2014 and the clearing of the Rab’a Al Adawiya encampment in 2013 may seem to have little in common. In fact, a comparison of the two events, without belaboring the analogy, can give insight into the current torment in the region.

The first thing we notice is the utter disregard for life on all sides. Life in today’s Middle East is cheap; few regard the death of friends or opponents as cause for pause. Let us pause at this thought and leave it at that.

Beyond that, both events share a wide mismatch between goals and means. A six-week fetid gathering in a Cairo square was no more likely to bring President Morsi back to office than Hamas’  feeble rockets are to bring down Israel or establish a Palestinian state.  The Egyptian security forces blunt and brutal clearing of the square is as effective in swaying the Brotherhood as Israel’s attacks in altering Gazan perceptions.

Both events feature cynical leaders who put their followers in harm’s way for purely political or even organizational goals. Did the Brotherhood leaders not know of the habitual use of force by Egyptian police, or of the long standing animosity among them toward the Brotherhood? Did Hamas think that placing rockets in the middle of civilian facilities will tie Israel’s hands? The reader can guess both answers easily.

Then there is the wide-spread habitual mendacity. Hamas labels its stand “resistance”, while the Brotherhood claimed the sit-in was for “legitimacy”. Of course, Hamas has its first and foremost goal  the survival of its organization and the spread of its ideology. The Brotherhood wanted to grab the Egyptian state and use it for its ideological ends; “legitimacy” be damned.

Both events also feature brave words and foolish actions that can easily backfire. Some of the participants in Rab’a carried improvised or antiquated weapons, not enough to repel an attack by security forces, but enough to give them cause. Similarly, Hamas’s rockets are just enough to feed the perception that Israel needs to “deal” with the threat, but not come to terms with its root issues.

Both summers saw attempts by outsiders to “mediate” the conflict. Some were well-meaning, others foolish, and more than a few self-important. None saw that mediation was pointless as both sides wanted conflict. There is a conviction, especially in the West, that peace makers are blessed even when they are demonstrably useless and foolish.

The reaction of “spectators” was similar in both cases. Many found the suffering to be in a good cause, or justified the killing as something nobler than bloodletting.  Even governments engaged in the pornography of publicizing images of death and suffering.

We are, in the end, left with death and noise amid spectacular and wide-spread refusal to accept reality or even causality. We are in the dreamland of nightmares. Neither kinship nor affection can make us forgive those who wear their errors as medals.

 

— Maged Atiya

 



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