The 1967 Arab-Israeli War certainly was a transformative moment for the history of Egypt and the entire region. Yet somehow in the year 2017, the naksa[xiii] for Egypt is not merely a legacy of the past or a distant memory that reemerges as its anniversary nears. While regime forces initially coined the term naksa (setback) to minimize the defeat, in everyday practice and use it has come to mean a broad-ranging defeat. Today, the naksa in Egypt epitomizes a lived reality, one in which defeat is experienced daily. It also captures the state of fear that many Egyptians confront as they contemplate imminent threats that could affect their daily lives. In the Egypt of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, every day is 1967. Thus, we can take a cue from scholars who describe an ongoing Nakba in Palestine, and think through an ongoing naksa in Egypt.
As I write these lines, Egypt’s political leadership is recovering from the aftermath of a sectarian massacre in which armed militants, reportedly affiliated with ISIS, took the lives of twenty-eight Coptic Christian pilgrims in Minya, including several children. President Sisi responded by ordering air strikes against targets in Libya, where the militants who conducted the attacks were trained, as he alleged in a televised address. Interestingly, his speech coincided with a concerted effort by Egyptian authorities to block access to online news sites that offer alternatives to official narratives. The state’s reactions aptly reflect a political leadership that is in denial about the depth and seriousness of the problems it confronts and that is also desperate to conceal the extent of its failures.
What Sisi’s response eschews is the evident reality that Egypt is facing a serious domestic insurgency that security forces have failed to curtail. The recent Minya massacre was the latest of a series of attacks targeting Copts since last December. Some of these incidents exposed the incompetence of security agencies in protecting obvious targets of sectarian violence, while others have brought to light the sheer absence of the state and the rule of law in rural Egypt. That is to say, the road to the Minya massacre started in Egypt, not at militant camps in some distant location.
Most importantly, Sisi’s response to the attacks sidelines a key cause of the violence, namely the extreme politicization of national security agencies, whether inside the military or the domestic policing establishment. The deepening engagement of these agencies in civilian politics—whether in the form of intra-bureaucratic rivalries, competition over state resources and economic privileges, or repressive campaigns against political dissidents—continues to erode their national security responsibilities. No progress can be expected in preventing attacks such as the one witnessed in Minya in an environment in which national security has become synonymous with jailing activists and limiting political speech or with chasing after parochial bureaucratic interests.
With a leadership that sidelines national security imperatives in favor of battling dissent and opposition, and that employs “alternative facts” to conceal the realities of defeat, every day is 1967 in Egypt.