9.28.15 NEW YORK, NY - Tensions seethed outside Monday’s inaugural day of the United Nations General Assembly. Supporters of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi rubbed elbows with an anti-Sisi faction, who rejects the president’s call for coexistence.
A throbbing drum line echoed across the square, beating out a rhythmic cadence for each side’s clashing shouts. Only thin aluminum fencing – and disparate ideas – divided the opposing groups. Each gathering insisted theirs was the voice of peace, and the voice of the people.
President Sisi has held power in Egypt since 2013’s uprising, when he ousted President Morsi during a bloody crackdown. Controversial violence and citizen imprisonment has surrounded Sisi’s administration, though a 2014 Egyptian poll indicated only eight percent of the sample population were unhappy with El-Sisi’s rule.
At Monday’s U.N. rally, Pro-Sisi activists said they had come to combat anti-Sisi rhetoric, which they vow belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey and Qatar. They see anti-Sisi Egyptians as embarrassing extremists not representative of Egypt wholly, and seek to balance public opinion.
“They [anti-Sisi Egyptians] are the hidden, active souls of ISIL,” said Dr. Atef Abuelman, an interpreter with the pro-Sisi group. “These terrorists profit off this anarchy and violence.”
Anti-Sisi protestors arrived in fervent droves declaiming brutal sins of Sisi’s regime, calling for his immediate removal.
As chants grew louder, tensions mounted. “Sisi is a murderer!” one Anti-Sisi protestor exclaimed in angry English across the party line partition. “You can all go to hell!”
An arms race of shouting upped the volume, not the clarity, of each group’s message. Each employed their share of protest performers: scantily clad women on stilts danced at the vanguard of pro-Sisi crowds; graphic, bloody imagery and accusatory language smeared anti-Sisi protestor signs.
Chants grew unintelligible as rival voices come to be heard began to drown each other out. Protesters volleyed accusations of terrorism and impiety across the flimsy metal divide. Taut nerves began to snap: several demonstrators exchanged shoves and harsh swears.
“That [anti-Sisi] woman over there pushed me!” said Sara Essaway, 24, pro-Sisi. “She pushed me, and she cursed me! And said I am not a proper Muslim. But they are using Islam as weapon!”
Emotions laid fractious political fault lines bare, curbside to the very institution accountable for soothing friction, ensuring human rights, and uniting polar beliefs. Yet in the United Nations’ shadow, neither pro-Sisi, nor anti-Sisi activists saw – or sought – a path to common ground. Each group expressed not only belief of their own justice, but also of the United Nations’ responsibility to eventually coerce the opposition into submission. Each has come with expectations of mediation in their favor, not mutual reconciliation.
“It will be very hard for the Egyptian people to forgive the Muslim Brotherhood, said Dr. Abuelman. “To expect anything reasonable from such extremism is asking a viper to give birth to a dove.”