When Jason left Medea for another woman, she decided to get back at him by killing their two children. Thus goes the Greek myth that I first learnt about when I was a child. “How could she kill her own children? Isn’t this against nature?” I asked my father after he had told me the story. “Well, maybe she had a different nature,” he replied. It still did not make sense to me that a mother would kill her children to make her husband suffer since, presumably, she would suffer too and since she could have chosen any other revenge plan that would not hurt her as well.

The thought was so disturbing that I had to convince myself that it was just a myth and that nothing of the sort would happen in real life. As I grew older and knew more about the complexities of human nature, I realized that Medea was not as supernatural as I assumed her to be. She just lacked that instinct that rendered surviving one’s child, let alone killing it, the most tragic thing a woman can go through. She might have suffered from some severe psychological disorder, but she could have definitely lived in our world.

Revenge is apparently a typically human instinct which can take all sorts of shapes and yield an unimaginable variety of results. The extent of revenge largely depends on the power wielded by the avenger and that is why the most destructive of revenges are ones carried by withdrawing armies from occupied territories in what is known as the “scorched earth” strategy. As it is obvious from the name, this strategy aims at leveling to the ground any facilities that might be of use to the enemy. Although it can be applied to an army advancing into enemy territory, it is more commonly used upon withdrawal and that is why it is seen as an act of revenge. In this case, the whole purpose is not only making sure that the army of the enemy does not stand a chance of regaining part of its strength but also teaching this army a cruel lesson about playing with fire and opting for losing battles. I personally think it is not just about the balance of power, but also involves a violent outlet for the sense of loss that results from having to abandon a much-coveted booty and, therefore, admitting at least partial defeat. Among the most famous examples of the scorched earth strategy in the Arab region was the setting on fire of more than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells by retreating Iraqi forces.

The Nero decree

With the exception of few cases that involved leaders later going down in history as lunatics like Nero and Hitler—in fact Hitler’s order to destroy German infrastructure with the advance of the Allied forces was called the Nero Decree—the scorched earth strategy usually, and more logically so, is implemented in the enemy’s territory. Even when this is not the case, the purpose is usually to prevent the enemy’s army from utilizing the resources of the country it is invading and that was exactly Hilter’s aim. Yet as far as I am aware, it is not common to destroy one’s own country without any strategic urgency, although not even that renders this action by any means justifiable, but rather doing that out of pure spite and in gratification of a purely vindictive desire to see one’s own compatriots suffer. That is why the reactions of the Muslim Brotherhood following the ending of the pro-Mursi sit-ins are very difficult to explain in the light of any known examples from history.

The Muslim Brotherhood must be aware by now that the return of ousted president Mohammed Mursi, which was the purpose of the sit-ins, is out of the question and that their chances at being reintegrated into the Egyptian political scene, which was the subject of endless negotiations with the current government, is almost nil. It follows that the burning of churches, the killing of police and army officers, the destruction of state buildings, and the targeting of unarmed civilians do not in any way constitute an attempt at putting pressure on decision makers especially that the crackdown on the sit-ins signaled the failure of diplomacy and heralded a new era of fierce confrontations. It is also important to note that the violence which swept the country in the past week is not about one party defending itself against the attacks of another because if this had ever been true the clashes would have been confined to the places where the sit-ins were held. This is about a predetermined plan to wreak havoc in such an intense manner that would be likely to topple the state and undermine the institutions capable of maintaining its security, not of course for the purpose of ruling that state at any given point, since in all cases it would turn into a heap of debris if the plan works, but only for taking revenge on all its components, people and government alike.

Lacking love for one’s country

It is not revenge that is problematic here, but it is the fact that it is exacted by a group of people against their compatriots which demonstrates how, like Medea, the Muslim Brotherhood are lacking in one instinct that could have deterred them from embarking on such action and that is love for one’s country. Because the Muslim Brotherhood does not acknowledge national borders and prioritizes a caliphate-like Islamic state over patriotic affiliations, its members would not mind doing away with “a bunch of rotten dust,” as Sayyed Qotb, one of the group’s most prominent theorists, referred to Egypt and the idea of the homeland. Because the Muslim Brothers do not think of Egypt as their homeland, they have no scruples about inflicting fatal damage upon it and retaliating on its people as if they are the citizens of another country.

There would never be a more poignant proof of that utter national detachment than the words of a group of youth as they embarked on attacking and looting a thousand plus artifacts that spanned 3,500 years of Egypt’s history from the Malawi National Museum in Upper Egypt. “We are here to destroy the museum and set it on fire,” they yelled at reporters. “The government is killing us so we will level its museum to the ground.” Referring to the museum as a government property underlines an absolute lack of identification with the country’s history and cultural heritage and which renders the destruction of such priceless pieces of art totally devoid of any emotional impact on them and the same applies to the entire country. This takes the conflict to another level as it no longer revolves around clamping down on a bunch of rioters who can be disciplined through the rule of law or even an insurgent militia that can be pacified through a political settlement and, instead, involves battling an ideology under which national belonging recedes to the background and religion becomes the one and only reference.

“I would rather Egypt have a Muslim Malaysian president than an Egyptian Christian,” said the Muslim Brotherhood former general guide in the same statement that contained his notorious “To hell with Egypt!”