InterviewEgypt's military 'isn't secular, it's Islamic... and racist towards Christians'

‘Egyptian Christians may face extinction,’ activist warns

The difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military isn’t as big as people think, says Maikel Nabil

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Egyptian activist Maikel Nabil during his visit to Jerusalem's Hebrew University, December 2012 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Egyptian activist Maikel Nabil during his visit to Jerusalem's Hebrew University, December 2012 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Egyptian activist jailed for 10 months by the military following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 said that his countrymen will likely take to the streets again soon to topple the forces that removed the Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi last month.

Speaking to The Times of Israel from Erfurt, Germany, where he is completing a master’s degree in public policy, Maikel Nabil said that, like the events of January 2011, Morsi’s ouster on July 3 was “both a revolution and a coup.” He voiced concern about the mounting atmosphere of fear Christian Copts have experienced during and after the Brotherhood era, which has caused scores of them to flee the country.

“Some estimate that one-third of Egypt’s 12 million Copts left the country over the past five decades, and that hundreds of thousands are leaving each year. They are being pushed out, and I fear they may even face a genocide and become extinct in Egypt,” Nabil said.

In this process, he asserted, the military has played as active a roll as the Muslim Brotherhood. As churches burned across Egypt in the wake of Morsi’s ouster, Nabil said the new regime opted for inaction in a bid to drive Christians out of Egypt.

“The military isn’t secular, it’s Islamic, though in a different way than the Brotherhood. It’s racist towards Christians, who are discriminated against within its ranks.

“People in Egypt have wishful thinking; they believe the army will implement democracy and separation of religion and state. But people have already started to become disillusioned and they will continue to be disappointed in the future,” continued Nabil.

The army has also failed the loyalty test with the United States, he added. Despite billions of dollars in American military aid over the years, the Egyptian army rushed to China and Russia in search of support at the first sound of American criticism over its violent crackdown of pro-Morsi protesters.

“The aid to Egypt’s army hasn’t created any kind of loyalty towards the US,” he said.

With his arrest in March 2011, Nabil — an active member of the grassroots movement No to Compulsory Military Service — became the first political activist to be detained by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt following Mubarak’s ouster the previous month. Charged with “insulting the military” on his blog (which, unusually, contained a Hebrew section), Nabil, 27, went on a four-month hunger strike and was finally pardoned by the military in January 2012 following international pressure.

Commenting on the release of Hosni Mubarak from prison on Thursday, Nabil said that the Egyptian uprising was not about Mubarak the person, but was rather a struggle for freedom and democracy.

Maikel Nabil in Cairo's Tahrir Square holding a sign saying "Refusing to let the army steal the people's revolution" (photo credit: courtesy)
Maikel Nabil in Cairo’s Tahrir Square holding a sign saying ‘Refusing to let the army steal the people’s revolution.’ (photo credit: Courtesy Maikel Nabil)

“The majority of Egyptians think about the future, not the past, so Mubarak is not the question,” he said. “Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Tantawi or Morsi are all essentially the same. The differences between them were very small in terms of the democratic freedoms they allowed.”

Nevertheless, a dramatic shift took place over the past year in Egyptian public opinion, Nabil opined. Egyptians moved from considering the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas legitimate political players to viewing them as “fascists and terrorists.”

Asked whether he feared the return of the Mubarak era, Nabil said he’s “not sure whether returning to that regime is good or bad.”

Spending the entire year of Morsi’s rule in Germany gave Nabil pause to consider the personal price he had paid for his principles. While he still hopes to return to Egypt next year following the completion of his studies, Nabil is pessimistic. Mostly, he is critical of Egypt’s revolutionary groups, including the April 6 Youth Movement, which, he says, “ignored his suffering” and cut political deals with the SCAF.

“They instrumentalized human rights, and I paid the price,” he said.

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