Ask Michael Hanna Anything: What The West Doesn’t Get About Egypt

In our latest video from the Arab world expert, Hanna notes how frequently the West oversimplifies Islamism:

Along these lines, H.A. Hellyer points out the overly binary way that last week’s violence has been interpreted, both in and outside of the Egypt:

Pro-Morsi campaigners insist that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-violent and has no weaponry, and they focus all attention on the killings that took place at the pro-Morsi sit-in in front of the Republican Guard, at the hands of state forces. On the other side, anti-Morsi commentators argue that the Brotherhood is essentially a militia; that the sit-in was armed; and that the Brotherhood tries to redirect attention to the deaths that have taken place elsewhere at the hands of pro-Morsi activists. The media in Egypt is primarily imbued with the latter, with little nuance — the international media and pro-Morsi outlets in the region are generally concerned only with the first narrative.

Again, reality lies in between, and with elements of both.

The Muslim Brotherhood undoubtedly has weaponry — such was evident when the headquarters was attacked during the uprising. However, there is really no evidence that heavy weaponry was at the sit-in — at best, according to eye-witnesses and civil rights groups, the weaponry was mediocre and much of it homemade. Certainly, it would be difficult for anyone to justify the break up of a sit-in, resulting in dozens of casualties, with the level of firepower used by the army. One suspects that privately the state agrees, and that this was a mistake arising from a tense situation and probably Morsi-supporters resisting arrest — but we will probably never hear that line in any state broadcast. At the same time, the reality is that on top of this tragedy, many civilians have been attacked, and killed, by pro-Morsi forces around the country in the past week — and the killings are often sectarian.

Of course, recognizing the truth of both narratives, at the moment, is unthinkable. Sins of omission, as well as commission, are rife — either due to unfamiliarity with Egypt altogether, or clearly partisan agendas. Objective media is, unfortunately, rare indeed. The importance of that kind of coverage and analysis cannot be overestimated at such a crucial time — not simply because good information is rare to come by, but because so much poor disinformation is so utterly common. On Egypt, right now, truth really is the greatest victim. It is a victim worth rescuing, and right now, it seems that the best source of information is going to be direct access to eyewitnesses of particular controversies, as well as civil rights and human rights organizations.

Michael Wahid Hanna is a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, where he works on issues of international security, international law, and US foreign policy in the broader Middle East and South Asia. He appears regularly on NPR, BBC, and al-Jazeera. Additionally, his Twitter feed is a must-read for anyone interested in Egyptian politics. Our ongoing coverage of the current events in Egypt is here. Michael’s previous answers are here. Our full Ask Anything archive is here.