07/29/2013 12:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Crocodile's Coup: Sobek Reincarnated

Crocodiles are known to have the strongest bite power ever measured. Once you are between the jaws of a crocodile, there's no prying yourself out. A crocodile would catch you by silently stalking you while you approach the water. It will attack you before you notice it is there. It is best not give crocodiles the chance to claim you as their own, whatever your circumstances may be.

The Nile crocodile is the second largest extant crocodile in the world. It is not surprising that it made its way into mythology. Sobek is an Ancient Egyptian deity with the head of a crocodile and a man's body. He was associated with Pharaonic power and martial prowess. Described as "slayer and eater of Gods," ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Unis, was considered the incarnation of Sobek.


King Making an Offering to the Crocodile-god Sobek (Photo by Steve Fernie, Flickr/Creative Commons 2006)

Sobek Reincarnated

With Egypt's first democratically elected president "kidnapped," General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces gave a speech, effectively calling for civil war, "I ask all honorable and faithful Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday, to mandate me to confront terrorism and violence. I did not ask of you anything before." Sisi's attempt to exchange favors with the Egyptian people is telling of more than SCAF's tyranny; it shows a glimpse of the dynamics of SCAF's relationship with the Egyptian people, and SCAF's perceived narrative of the revolution.

The narrative goes something like this: SCAF deposed Mubarak, delivering to the protesting masses in Tahrir what they long awaited. It was not long before the masses demanded the downfall of "military rule," and the initiation of free and fair civilian elections. SCAF succumbed, and allowed the Egyptian people a president from the very movement it has long oppressed, the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, when the masses changed their minds and called for the downfall of Morsi, SCAF staged a military coup, grabbing power for itself.

Sisi made clear what he requests of the Egyptian population, "I want you Egyptians to delegate the army and the police to confront violence in a suitable way. Please bear the responsibility with the army and the police." He is requesting popular support for cracking down on dissent. Yesterday it was the Morsi supporters massacred by the Republican Guard while they prayed, today it is anti-coup protesters, tomorrow it will be the liberal opposition itself. It is no secret what injustices the "war on terror" rhetoric can give rise to. Towards the end of his speech, Sisi foreshadows, "If violence or terrorism are resorted to, the military and the police are authorized to confront that violence and terrorism." Such rhetoric is what despotic "emergency laws" are made of.

Middle East scholar and political commentator Juan Cole commented on Sisi's 48-hour ultimatum for the MB to join SCAF's roadmap: "Dear General al-Sisi: In history, giving the other side a 48-hour ultimatum is typically the prelude to a war." As tragic as the past few weeks have been for Egypt, the worst is likely yet to come.

So far, the coup delivered a faux-government, unprecedented polarization, and claimed the lives of at least 100 Egyptians. Little indicates that Egypt's volatility or unrest will take a turn for the better.

There is no doubt that Egypt was heading in the wrong direction under Morsi's headship. After decades of tyranny, Egypt first embraced a ballot-box democracy that was sorely lacking on a constitutional and institutional level. Egypt's obstacles under Morsi's rule are widely known: the constitution was not representative, there was no functional separation of powers, and there was perceived nepotism on the Muslim Brotherhood's part. There is no question that Egypt was and, now more than ever, is in need of constitutional and institutional reform. What would have been ideal is for an interim government to assume power for a set period of time after Mubarak stepped down and oversee an independent commission of experts appointed to draft a non-partisan constitution and rough institutional framework.

That did not happen, and it is very unlikely that it will happen now that SCAF has dominated
Egypt. It would be surprising for SCAF to relinquish power and strive to erect a civil, democratic state. They have the upper hand, the tanks, the petro-dollars, the manpower, and a powerful narrative on their side.

Indeed, the right path toward a prosperous, democratic Egypt is a matter of contention and debate, but what is certain is that military rule is a leap in the wrong direction. Supporting SCAF is not the way to fix what Morsi broke. Winston Churchill once said, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."