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The guarded is no longer guarded - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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There is no definitive historical etymology to Egypt being known as “the guarded” [al-Mahrousa]. There are those who say that the reason lies in the country’s historic geographical position; a “guarded” large green oasis [along the Nile Delta] in the midst of a sea of desert. Whilst others claim that this term dates back to the era of the Fatimids, and the construction of the huge protective walls around Cairo, with this expression later extending to include all of Egypt.

In general, Egyptians who are known for their love of their country also love the term “the guarded”, and it has appeared in many works of literature. In fact, over many historical periods, “the guarded” [i.e. Egypt], has faced many crises, storms and occupations, but it has always remained protective over its well-known historic borders which have remained the same since the beginning of written history until today, with the exception of the short period of time – particularly In historical standards – when the Sinai Peninsula was lost following Egypt’s defeat [to Israel] in 1967 [Six-Day war], however Sinai was recovered via a peace agreement that was one of the fruits of the 1973 October War [Yom Kippur war].

These days, it seems that “the guarded” has entered a shaky period where it no longer seems “guarded” at all! True, there is no occupation or explicit external threat, but there are internal disputes which are plaguing the domestic political and economic scene. These have emerged as a result of the extreme state of polarization between the political forces, as well as between the key players on the scene with regards to the political powers and ruling Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], since the 25 January revolution. These disputes pose a huge danger. In many cases, the situation seems puzzling to outside observers, or even downright absurd or politically immature, particularly the incident that sparked the current situation or crisis, which threatens to set Cairo ablaze for a second time.

According to the accounts of various sources, this current situation was sparked when a football one of the protestors was playing with outside the Egyptian Cabinet – or according to other sources, the People’s Assembly building next door – was accidentally kicked into the compound. As the protestor tried to enter the compound to retrieve the ball, he was subjected to physical violence. Afterwards, some of his friends took to the streets, and the situation flared up as the street turned into a battlefield which continued until yesterday, during which 13 people died and hundreds were injured. The Egyptian Scientific Institute in Cairo was torched, including documents detailing important parts of Egypt’s history, whilst a military official spoke yesterday about a plot to set fire to the People’s Assembly. The conflict is still ongoing and the political sides are at a loss as to how to restore calm.

This is truly puzzling…but it seems that this is not a new phenomenon in the history of Egypt. We do not know – until today – who was responsible for the first Cairo Fire [also known as Black Saturday] which occurred on 26 January, 1952, and which was marked by the burning of some 700 buildings, and represents one of the greatest puzzles in the history of modern Egypt. It seems that there is a relationship between such “fires” and key historical dates, for the original Cairo Opera House [Khedivial Opera House] – complete with its original historical fixtures – was burnt to the ground in October 1971, a little over a century after it had been built. At the time, this was blamed on an electrical fault. Much of what has happened after 25 January this year in Egypt remains a mystery, such as the fires that engulfed police stations, the prisons that were opened, and the clashes that have led to dozens of deaths. No one knows the identity of the third party that everyone is talking about [as being responsible for this], but if there were investigative journalists [in Egypt], they would have conducted investigations to find out who this is. If there were investigations such as those at the “Washington Post” who uncovered the Watergate scandal, or those at the New York Times who exposed the case of Abu Ghraib prison, or the investigations that was published the day before yesterday about civilian deaths caused by NATO attacks in Libya, then this would have been revealed.

Politically speaking, Egypt needs to vent its frustration, and it also requires more wisdom in order to prevent a rift in the Egyptian people’s relationship with the army. Egypt must work to prevent a second Cairo Fire, which would not benefit anyone, and this requires the utmost professionalism on the part of the politicians who must rise to the occasion and sacrifice even their popularity in the search for national reconciliation, as has happened in Tunisia. They must focus on passing out of this transitional phase as soon as possible via the ballot box. Some may say that the ballot box has not done justice to the revolutionaries, and this is true. But the answer is that there is no other legitimate way to gain [political] legitimacy, for behind you is the ballot box, before you, the enemy! [A reference to Tariq Ibn Ziyad’s famous statement: Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy].

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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