• 12:48
  • Friday ,07 March 2014

Ukraine is Egypt – well, not really

By-Dr H.A. Hellyer



Friday ,07 March 2014

Ukraine is Egypt – well, not really

Egyptians know now what it was like to watch the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011 from outside of the country – because the same kind of media attention was recently projected on Ukraine. This country, which hasn’t been the subject of monthly breaking news for a while – let alone daily breaking news – has been constantly in the media for the last few weeks. The similarities to Egypt’s situation do not stop at international interest. No, they abound, tremendously, and are shown in so many different aspects of the revolutionary fervour that has swept Ukraine. Well, not really.

OK – there are a few similarities and connections between the two sets of events. But a plethora of headlines and analysis pieces in various parts of the international media would seem to indicate that both countries were almost inextricably joined at the hip in terms of their struggles. It is, as always, more complicated than that. If Egypt is not, say, Libya or Tunisia (by the way, it isn’t), Ukraine is also not Egypt.
For example – some are now wont to claim that Ukraine was “inspired” by Egypt’s revolution. From the outset, it’s not altogether clear why, after the various dramatic and embattled turns the Egyptian revolution has taken, it would be considered an inspiration for people outside of Egypt. Indeed, it might be construed as a warning. (Tunisia, you really ought to pay thanks to Egypt for giving you advance warning as to how disastrous it can be for any political force in a revolutionary transition to ignore the need for consensus, by the way.). Beyond that, however, one might stop to consider that Ukrainians were inspired by, just possibly, their own revolutionary uprising during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Just a thought.
(Egypt, you really ought to apologise to Tunisia – how come you get to steal all the revolutionary thunder when Tunisia started all of this?)
OK – it is true that some Ukrainians in mid-January watched The Square, an Oscar-nominated documentary about Egypt’s revolution, in their own “Euro-Maidan”. I suppose there is a connection there – in addition to the ironic one that thus far, The Square has not been shown in Tahrir Square to revolutionary protestors. Indeed – it still does not have a licence to even be shown in cinemas in Egypt, and Naguib Sawiris seems not to have yet made good on his offer to have the film aired on ONTV.
Yes, both Egyptian protestors and Ukrainian protestors protested in squares that had the word “Maidan” in it. You got me on this one – of course they did, because the word for “square” in both languages is Arabic.
Another similarity between Egypt and Ukraine, perhaps, is that it seems different sides are arguing that protests gave rise to a coup or a revolution. Obviously, most of the 30 June camp argue that Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster was a “revolution” (a minority that supported 30 June do not characterise 3 July in that fashion), while the opponents of 3 July generally describe it as a “coup” (with a minority admitting that it was popularly supported). In Ukraine, although there was no military intervention to speak of in support of the protesters (stand by on that one – there will be one later), the ousted president considered his ouster “coup”. The protesters obviously disagree – but why bring logic into any of this.
Both squares had somewhat unsavoury characters in their midst as supporters at one point or another. There were far-right wing ultranationalists in the EuroMaidan – how many, and what proportion of the protesters? I do not know – but I imagine that in the years to come, they will argue they were fundamental to the protest movement, and others will point out they simply played a role. In Egypt, at least in 2011, a similar force was not immediately evident in Tahrir – the Muslim Brotherhood is rightly called to account in terms of sectarianism, but still.  One can legitimately argue that manifests differently later on – as one can argue that another type of “ultra nationalism” came to be seen in Tahrir Square, but not in 2011 to be sure.
The words “foreign intervention” certainly make their appearances in both countries –particularly throughout the last few months. In Egypt, foreign intervention is a particularly strange phenomenon. It is horrendous when any country comments on Egyptian politics, it seems. But when Vladimir Putin endorses a presidential run by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, it appears that is not foreign intervention at all. Ironically, Putin’s latest move in the Ukraine, where he has essentially invaded the country, is also not considered foreign intervention (at least to the Kremlin), but rather a humanitarian intervention. It’s annoying to students of history that a number of Western countries are decrying “invasions on the basis of false pretexts”. Irony and hypocrisy are just so inconvenient.
“Democracy is more than the ballot box!” So said the pro-uprising Ukrainians to their adversaries – as did critics of the Muslim Brotherhood in the run-up to the 30 June protests. (The Brotherhood now, ironically, use a similar argument in criticism of the current government). “You’re an unelected government!” So says the opposition to the new regime in Kiev, and the opponents to the military backed authorities in Egypt. OK – a marginal similarity there.
I have news for observers – there was 6 April moment in Egypt, just as there was in Ukraine(Of course, the 6 April rally in the Ukraine was an ultranationalist one, while the 6 April group was a pro-democracy gathering – but again, who needs facts.).
But here is the most striking similarity of all – the creation, seemingly overnight, of “experts” on both countries. Out of nowhere, people who neither know the languages of the countries in question, nor have spent much time there, are writing incessantly to provide “insights”. Alas, if only it were that easy. The truth is – it’s often better to just say “I do not know”, but it seems that is poison in our modern world. Egypt already suffered – and suffers – from that malaise. Ukraine, welcome.