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Egypt: it's not a zero-sum game

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by Ethar El-Katatney

Cairo - More than 1,200 dead in 72 hours. It's hard for that to sink in. It's hard to try and process, let alone analyze, the sheer volume of I-wish-they-were-scenes-from-a-movie events that Egyptians have been subjected to in the past week.

The police stormed my house. A cousin of mine was shot. A friend of mine said his farewells to his wife before heading to a protest. An acquaintance died two days before his engagement party.

The situation is no longer about being pro-former President Mohamed Morsi or pro-General Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi. It's not about Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters versus military supporters. The reasons Egyptians are killing each other and burning the country down are deeper and more complex than anything we've ever seen before, born of a fragmentation of the Egyptian population into numerous groups and a frightening apathy to the destruction of the country and of human life.

The greatest damage to the country is Egyptians seeing their fellow Egyptians as enemies and shrugging when they die, justifying their deaths as "necessary." There are no winners or losers here. We are all losers. To get through this crisis, we all need to realise it isn't a zero-sum political game. We need to remember that we aren't each other's enemies.

We are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. No one can predict what will happen in Egypt's near future, and how recent events will impact Egypt's long-term security and the now-stalled democratic political process. But what we do know is that we need to stop the violence now, and get everybody back to the table.

How media shapes perceptions is clearer than ever: one outlet shows a picture of a woman standing defiant in front of a tank, while another shows the same woman with an officer giving her water. One television station shows you protesters pushing a police truck off of a bridge, while another shows that the driver reversed off of it in panic.

For a large percentage of Egyptians, a quarter of whom are illiterate, their knowledge comes from what they see on their television screens. And who they're watching makes a big difference. The terrorist on one channel is the innocent unarmed victim on another. The murdering officer on one channel is the one beaten up by vicious mobs on another.

So much violence, you can no longer tell the person causing havoc from the peaceful protester, the thug from the plain-clothed officer, or the armed policeman from the civilian. You can no longer tell what it is, exactly, people are dying for.

To quote some old song lyrics: "nobody's right if everybody's wrong." No one is innocent.

We need to turn off our televisions and take a step back. While our ship is sinking, it's time for us to stop fighting hysterically over who the captain is, and who steered us in the wrong direction. It is not the time to debate the narrative being shaped by the media, who the "criminals" are and what foreign conspiracies are at play. Too much blood has been spilled, to the extent that it overshadows everything else. It doesn't matter if those who died and continue to die are for or against what you believe in--only that they did and that they are.

It's time for us to realise that Egypt is in danger of seeing days darker than anything we ever saw under former President Mubarak, and of losing everything we gained post 25 January.

Violence only begets more violence. Every side needs to realise it is only harming their cause further. We only need to look at our history, to our coups and revolutions, to see that both sides keep repeating the same mistakes. The MB burning down the country has only ever turned the rest of the country against them and given the state reason to exclude them from the political process. Cracking down on and banning political groups such as the MB only causes anger at injustice and leads to radicalisation.

Let's stop this violence before more trucks of rotting bodies sit outside morgues too overflowing to admit the corpses.

"Be careful when you fight monsters, lest you become one," said Friedrich Nietzsche. Egyptians are fighting a multitude of monsters. And if we're not careful the biggest monster of all may be within.

Ethar El-Katatney is an award-winning Egyptian journalist, and author of Forty Days and Forty Nights in Yemen. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 20 August 2013. Copyright permission is granted for publication.