Recent events in Egypt are a good study in the art of the politics of the real. As usual, the media talking heads just run with the latest video out of Egypt without context. They cover it as a human tragedy rather than what it actually is, a power struggle between political and religious factions in Egypt that is tied to the ouster of Mubarak in January of 2011.
To understand what is going on in Egypt, you have to recognize the factions that affect the social situation on the ground. It’s fairly simple. On the one hand, you have the Nationalist movement begun by Col. Gamal Nasser in the 1950s, when he and the Army overthrew the Egyptian monarchy. The Nationalists embrace secularism (as it goes over there), resistance to Western Imperialism (lingering resentment for the UK’s occupation of the country for 25 years after granting it independence), economic progress and some latent anti-Israel sentiments which were ironed out by Jimmy Carter when he promised massive aid to Egypt in return for a peace agreement with Israel.
The secularism of the the Nationalist movement means it is inclusive of the Coptic Christians which make up 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people. Within the Nationalist Movement is also the military, which is politically conservative, religiously diverse and very well armed, if not well trained, by U.S. standards. The U.S. has trained most of the country’s officer corps and about 1,000 new officers train in the U.S. each year. It’s a part of our “aid” to Egypt.
The current ruler/Defense Minister of Egypt, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is a 2010 graduate of the Army War College in Pennsylvania. The Army has been generally popular with Egyptians since the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Israel. According to Egyptian history, the Army “won” that war after impressive early gains into the Sinai resulted in an Israeli counter-attack that encircled one Egyptian Army and had Israeli tanks driving into Egypt and pressing to within 65 miles of Cairo itself. The UN-brokered ceasefire basically saved Egypt from yet another humiliating military defeat.
The Egyptian military is also a capitalist enterprise. It ‘owns’ 20-30% of the Egyptian economy. It does not rely on the government for funding as much as it does on U.S. and foreign aid and the hotels, rental car agencies, car dealerships, factories and retail outlets that it operates with low-paid conscript manpower.
The other faction is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is Islamist rather than Nationalistic in outlook. It believes that their interpretation of Islam is the correct one (they are Sunni), and that it can be used to promote Muslim unity (as opposed to Egyptian unity), cultural preservation, public order and of course, death to Israel, the U.S. and the UK. It also holds that the Egyptians are destined to be the seat of the Caliphate for the Muslim world. Since taking power they have cracked down on the Shiite and Christian religious minorities.