The coverage of Ukraine would have us believe that the nation is united in moving closer towards the European Union and a corrupt political leadership is intent on dragging it down to its Soviet past, however is it really as simple as that? It has been compared to Egypt, a country where its nation took to the streets to remove their corrupt regime – and succeeded, or failed, depending on the narrative.
Similarities between Ukraine and Egypt – and at times differences – are already being drawn, however most analysts seem to be neglecting vital geopolitics and other dynamics.
The image parallels between Kyiv and Rabaa are shockingly similar – a stunning symmetry that resonated in many minds, how the brutal police/regime in power reacted in a deplorable manner to peaceful protesters.
However, the disparity between the two reactions also didn’t go amiss – read @fattysaid’s storify post here the day of the dispersal on how reactions differed and how suddenly, crimes against Egyptian protesters could be justified because of “differences” in each political story.
Ukraine, a country entering its 23rd birthday of independence, which didn’t exist as a separate entity before 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union, is still forging its way ahead and attributing a coherent national font to it and believing a united political aspiration exists is oversimplification.
Political identities that were created under imperialism are still very much in existence despite the borders disappearing. Depending on where you move geographically, you are likely to get a differing political thought as Eastern Ukraine fell under Russian imperial rule much earlier than its western counterpart which spent decades under control of European powers.
In November, President Victor Yanukovych (hailing from Eastern Ukraine) pulled out of an EU treaty in a sudden U-turn that signified the Russian influence was still very much alive in Ukrainian politics. The country can thus be seen to be majorly divided between those wishing to build closer relations with Europe, and those favouring a return to Russian influence, as some academics have called it, the Eastern-Western divide. “If you ask people in the west, they will say ‘We are Ukrainian.’ In the east, they are more likely to say, ‘We are Soviet,’ says Andy Hunder, the director of London’s Ukrainian Institute.
Protesters tell us that what started as a pro-EU movement however seemed to quickly become much larger than that, morphing into a fight against corruption, a movement to stand against a government believed to only represent the interests of the rich and wishing to remain friendly with Putin – a government ignoring its people.
Critics however will tell you that what we have in Ukraine, is a clear divide in ideologies, citing how those leading the protests are the political opposition who were in power a few years ago and are now attempting to remove the elected – corrupt but elected – government to bring themselves back into power.
It’s important to note that many polls in the past have indicated that despite the majority of Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, they have repeatedly expressed loyalty to Ukraine and not to Russia, and so that analogy isn’t completely accurate either.
Anti protest laws were introduced in Ukraine in an attempt to curb dissenting voices, if permission was not taken protesters could find themselves sentenced to ten years in prison. Hefty fines were also given to those wearing masks at demonstrations and the government went as far as imposing a driving ban for over five car convoys (goodbye car protests!).
Ukraine was not alone in the passing of draconian decrees. Egypt faced a similar backlash with protests being banned, gatherings exceeding a certain number requiring a permit and the arrest of a shocking twenty thousand figure.
Both countries have had deplorable acts of violence acted out on protesters, an imagery not lost on any. On August 14th, Egypt’s security forces stormed a sit in and in an attempt to quash the voices of opposition, led the worst massacre Egypt witnessed in its modern history. Bodies were torched and tents set alight. The mosque and make shift hospital that many took refuge in was also torched and burnt down. Bulldozers closed off exits and trampled over the dead as military forces fired tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd, not sparing young or old.
Imagine the cries of a child seeing his mother shot in front of him. Think of the women’s panic as exits were closed and armed men closed in on them. Feel the anguish of a father who took his wounded son to the hospital only for the army to set his body alight.
Two thousand and six hundred died that day. Two thousand and six hundred innocent lives taken for daring to question a military dictatorship.
Months later, on the 20th of February, we see the same images coming out of Kyiv. Bodies lined up, smoke curling above the buildings and tear gas so thick you couldn’t see in front of you.
But that is where similarities end. Whilst Ukrainian politics are being debated, the simple matter of Egypt, a people against Army rule, a corrupt military dictatorship that has been controlling them for over sixty years, has now been turned into a false justification, with democrats, liberals and others all finding a way to suddenly justify military dictatorships.
The political nuances of Ukraine were discarded and protesters hailed as rebelling against corruption, but in Egypt, political nuances were highlighted and at times created to ignore the atrocities. Egypt has moved from a story of one people struggling against a corrupt authoritarian military dictatorship to one where hundreds of excuses can be made – because somehow, some people are less deserving than others.
There are a few constants in life. State violence against peaceful protesters being deplorable is one.
Note: The author is not an expert in Ukrainian history or politics and welcomes all comments.