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Opinion: Why the West misread Egypt | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi participate in a protest in Cairo, Egypt, 02 July 2013.
(EPA/Mohammed Saber)

One of the problems the West has faced with the Arab world during the Arab Spring era has been its misinterpretation of the situation in Egypt. The scenario in that country has strayed off the path Western think-tanks hoped, or at least predicted, it would follow based on the findings of a new generation of researchers whose approach differs from that of past scholars whose love for the region led them to closely study its culture and live among its people for considerable periods of time, something which enabled them to adequately comprehend the countries of the region.

Most of the modern-day researchers, whose advice Western foreign ministries and decision-making centers seek, draw on the Internet as a source for their information, and thus fall captive to the views of social media activists who, although they represent a considerable segment of society, do not speak for all Egyptians. Therefore, their research is often limited in terms of the conclusions it reaches and the analysis it offers. This is similar to what happened during Egypt’s January 25 revolution and the subsequent events that led to the toppling of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi on June 30, 2013. In the first event, the West failed to realize that bringing about change in any given society is a tough job and that it was natural for opportunist, well-organized powers to hijack the scene. Those researchers also failed to realize that the deep-rooted old powers would fight back in a bid to maintain their interests, and that the ensuing conflict would see the dreamy, revolutionary powers emerging empty-handed, simply for lacking the tools for bringing about change.

The same mistakes were repeated when the West misinterpreted the public mood in Egypt during the events in June 30, 2013. During the January 25 revolution the public was in a state of confusion in terms of its stance towards the regime of Hosni Mubarak, a longtime friend of the West. At the beginning, the public mood was in favor of introducing reforms in Egypt rather than mounting an uprising against the government. But things developed into a revolution after a series of fatal mistakes the Mubarak regime committed during the 18-day uprising. However, even before June 30 the public felt antagonism towards the Muslim Brotherhood, something which Western decision-making centers failed to realize. What the Egyptian army did was that it correctly interpreted, or accurately predicted, the public mood. The army ran out of patience when the public made its decision to rise up against the Islamist-led government. It is not possible to question what happened on June 30 given that those who took to the streets were ordinary Egyptian people; even entire families were among those who protested.

Why did Western analysts fail to see this reality? The reason is that their sources of information are limited to a group of activists based within an area of one or two square miles of Cairo, stretching from the upscale Zamalek district to Tahrir square, one which does not represent the majority of ordinary Egyptians.