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While we Scream and Shout, Egypt Sorts it Out


Sometimes, in this life, there’s nothing you can do. Say what you like, try what you like, you have no capacity to influence events. You are spectator, whether you like it or not. You’re in the stands, and even if you get no joy from the bloody events taking place down below, you have no choice but to sit and watch.

In this kind of situation, people go to great lengths to express how much they disapprove of the violence. They don’t want to watch this. They are here against their will. If they’re left to talk amongst themselves, they will convince one another that their statements of disapproval amount to political action. By saying they don’t approve, they imagine they are helping to stop the violence. But this chatter doesn’t stop the violence—it just makes the time go while the killing continues.

Even if you say you don’t like bloodsport, if you watch it long enough, you will discover you have favorites. Some of the warriors will begin to strike you as more honorable, more virtuous, more handsome. If you’re in the stands long enough, you’ll start to favor some over the others. Eventually, one of your favorites will be slain by one you didn’t particularly like. That’s when you’ll find there’s someone down there you hate. When you have finally been reduced to hating one of the participants, that is the moment in which you become a fan.

In recent weeks, we’ve been reminded that there are many fans of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These people justify their fandom by condemning the behavior of the side they despise. The warriors they don’t like are the cruel ones, the inhumane ones, the ones that hurt civilians and children and babies. Of course, that’s all of them—they all do that. But fans excuse anything their team does and condemn anything the other team does because this makes the game a more compelling watch for them.

All they succeed in doing is heightening the opposition between the “Israeli people” and the “Palestinian people,” two made-up nationalisms, trumped up as devices for dismembering the Ottoman Empire. Before the British, there were no Israelis or Palestinians—there were sultanates and caliphates and kingdoms and empires and all who lived between the river and the sea were the subjects thereof. “Palestina” was just a Roman province, nothing more.

What would it mean to actually try to stop the violence? The fans haven’t thought about this in many years. There can’t be a two-state solution. In the 90s, talks broke down in large part because Israel would not agree to allow a future Palestinian state the right to build an army. You can understand why the Israelis would not want Palestine to have an army. You can also understand why, for the Palestinians, a state that doesn’t have the right to build an army is no state at all. In the last 15 years, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has doubled to half a million. The current Israeli government encouraged settlement even over the objections of the United States. Will the citizens of Israel ever elect a government that will evict the settlers and return the land? I cannot see it. Can you?

The Palestinians could be given full Israeli citizenship rights. But do they want to be citizens of Israel? And will there ever be an Israeli government that would entertain such a thing? Israel was founded on an exclusive nationalism. It cannot fully incorporate Muslims as citizens with equal standing. There would need to be a whole new kind of state in the region to make such a thing possible. Such a state could only come into being if all concerned overcame the distinction between Israeli and Palestinian, a distinction western fans on both sides constantly reinforce.

Perhaps Gaza could be returned to Egypt. But does Egypt even want Gaza anymore? And would Israel ever consider returning it, given that Israel acquired Gaza after Egypt attacked Israel in 1967?

Israel could try to drive the Palestinians out of Gaza. But Israel can only do this if Egypt agrees to take on refugees. And if President Sisi does that, the citizens of Egypt will view him as a traitor to the Palestinians, an accessory to Israel. There is an election in Egypt scheduled for December. Sisi does not allow his opponents to field candidates. He remembers President Mubarak, deposed in 2011 after the young people of Egypt committed to drive him from office with general strikes. Sisi fears the citizens of Egypt. Many of them are young. What are they thinking? How do they feel? What might they do?

The fans in the stands don’t know. Their chatter is in English, not in Arabic. They are focused on their reputations, on keeping their jobs, on building their brands. They say they care about the children, but they care only about the warriors, in the way that fans do. They can do nothing to end the games.

It is the Egyptians who have proven they have the capacity to act. They are the ones who have shown they know how to bring down a government. The median age in Egypt is just 24. Only about 15% of Egyptians graduate from university. But they know more about how to get their way than we do. They aren’t just watching. This isn’t a game to them.

When I go on social media, I see piles upon piles of people capitalizing on the pain and suffering of those who live between the river and the sea. They are moral posers. And if you say something they don’t like, they try to censor you, to get you in trouble, to make themselves feel big. They are the real fanatics. That’s what a fan is, you know.

It makes me sad, but then I think of those Egyptians. They don’t need us. They don’t read us. They’ll figure it out on their own. And because this situation actually affects them, materially, they will think much more seriously about it than we do. And God bless them for that.