(Mildly) critical statements of impending Egyptian bloodbath

July 25, 2013

In Blog

The Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown to deepen the revolution, not to support the regime.


Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed against the people and against the Copts in defence of its power in the name of religion, we do not give army chief Al-Sisi our authority. We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres.


If Al-Sisi has the legal means to do what he wants, why is he calling people into the streets? What he wants is a popular referendum on assuming the role of Caesar and the law will not deter him.


Yes, the Brotherhood caused the masses to suffer during the period of their rule, and today we see the return of terrorist acts in Sinai, Al-Arish, and attacks against the people living in Maniyal and al-Nahda.


Yet the army does not need “permission” to deal with terrorist acts, it has the legal means to do that and more. But it does want more, it wants a popular mobilisation behind it in order to increase the cohesion of the state and the ruling class behind its leadership.


It wants to wipe out one of the most important features of the revolution so far, which is the masses’ consciousness of the repressive role of the state apparatus and its intense hostility to towards them. It wants to make true the lie that “the army, the police and the people are one hand.” The army wants the people to follow it into the streets, just a year after the masses were screaming “down, down with military rule”.


They want finally to restore “stability” – that is to say the return of order, the return of the regime. They want to finish off the revolution, and they will use the Brotherhood to do it. The Brotherhood in only one year of office alienated everyone: the old state, its army and police; the ruling class; the working class and the poor; the Copts; the revolutionary and political parties. The fall of the Brotherhood was inevitable, and people were celebrating the downfall of Morsi even before they went into the streets on 30 June.


The military establishment, which had allied itself with the Islamists over the previous two years, decided to break this alliance after the Islamists failed to contain the social mobilisation and rising anger in the streets. So it seized the opportunity to get rid of Morsi and cut off the development of a revolutionary movement and prevent it deepening.


They want tolead this movement in a “safer” direction by getting rid of the Brotherhood to restore the old order. This strategy has seen the old regime’s cronies, police and army being cleared in the courts, while their crimes are added to the charge sheet against the Brotherhood.


On top of this, they claim that they were responsible for the 25 January Revolution as well. We do not want to find Morsi on trial for the murder of the martyrs of Port Said, and others. It was Mubarak/Morsi’s police which was responsible. The most important thing is to open the door which was closed with Morsi’s agreement: justice for the martyrs.


The crimes that Morsi committed, he committed with the military, the police and Mubarak’s state. They should all be tried together. Giving the old state a mandate for its repressive institutions to do what they want to their partners-in-crime of yesterday will only give them a free hand to repress all opposition thereafter.


They will repress all protest movements, workers’ strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations. We cannot forget that the crimes which the Brotherhood committed around the country, took place under the noses of the police and army without them intervening at all to protect protesters or the people.

The masses going into the street on Friday is damaging to the revolution, whatever the participants in the protests might think.


Giving the army a popular mandate to finish off the Muslim Brotherhood will inevitably lead to the consolidation of the regime which the revolution arose to overthrow. We must use the downfall of the Brotherhood to deepen the revolution, not to support the regime.


We have to deal with the Brotherhood at a popular and political level, responding to their acts of violence with the utmost firmness.


We must build popular committees to defend ourselves against attacks by the Brotherhood and to protect our revolution which will not subside before it overthrows the regime, and before it wins bread, freedom and social justice, and retribution for all the killers of the martyrs.


Sarah Carr

Thursday, July 25, 2013 – 13:54

Today in Egypt, supporters of a deposed president who hasn’t been seen or heard from in 21 days spend some of their time holding “parliamentary” sessions in a small mosque events hall, while the leader of the Armed Forces, in all his medaled glory, calls on the general public to hold protests to authorize the army to fight violence and terrorism.

Slick in sunglasses and full dress uniform, Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in front of the nation on Wednesday night,  and in a speech that drove the people wild with delight, casually announced a war on terrorism.

His was a speech of facts and certainties, solid and robust like the tanks that are now lined up in parts of Cairo. Undeniable. At some point between the end of June and today, allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization stopped being allegations and became facts. It was a gradual process, like watching a photograph develop — the outlines slowly became clearer, and the picture emerged.

Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate.

Two groups laid the groundwork for all this: The Muslim Brotherhood, and the media. The Brotherhood, with its obstinate hubris and desperate attempts for attention, with its traffic-paralyzing marches and the inevitable confrontations they provoke. With every short-sighted and disastrous decision they make, the Brothers prove that, if they ever did anything of benefit to someone outside the sphere of their immediate circle while in power, it was purely by coincidence; and that the general public is mostly an encumbrance, to be fed at Ramadan charity tables, marched through or ignored when it suits them — and used when it doesn’t. Like all politicians; but a particularly acute case.

Most infuriatingly, they are painfully self-unaware, to the point of embarrassment. The Muslim Brotherhood — which for two years courted the army’s favors, failed to condemn its acts of dark violence and bolstered its powers in its precious constitution — is now recycling the same anti-military chants they themselves never chanted when they echoed round Tahrir Square. And the tragedy for the Brotherhood is that it has a good case: Former President Mohamed Morsi was stripped of power illegally in a military coup, even if this decision was backed by a large majority of the general public.  

It was mostly the privately owned satellite media and newspapers that became the army’s court jester, or at least did so with the most gusto. Logos appeared on screens insistently informing viewers that June 30 was a popular revolution, not a coup. Then the terrorism rhetoric began, and the pro-Morsi protesters were no longer just a bunch of skin-disease ridden, cult supporting lunatics, but also terrorists. Again, this happened almost seamlessly. Television presenters indulged themselves in the vilest xenophobia against Palestinians and Syrians, who they claimed were camped out in pro-Morsi sit-ins and meddling in Egyptian affairs.

Only the weakest of evidence was produced to support these claims, including a video of some men dancing dabke to this Palestinian pro-Morsi song. The aim, of course, was twofold: Firstly, to support the claim that the Brotherhood has links with Hamas and other foreign groups involved in acts of insurgency in Sinai, and secondly, to isolate the Brotherhood even further, turn it into a “them” separate from the rest of the population. The fastest and most foolproof way to do this in Egypt is to establish that a group has links with foreign powers. It works every time.

The media campaign has been disastrous for Syrian refugees, whether already in Egypt or seeking to cross its borders. Syrians who want to come to Egypt to flee the devastation in their country must now gain security authorization before doing so. Syrians already in Egypt are quietly being rounded up at army checkpoints and detained — even individuals registered with the United Nations.

The general public was sold. It ran stumbling and screaming into Sisi’s protective arms and nestled in his bosom. Almost overnight, people mutated into barrel-thumping nationalists celebrating a victory against a foreign enemy, when no battle has yet been won and their enemy is one of them. Hot air — lots of hot air — has been blown into former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s corpse. Perhaps they are trying to blow his spirit into Sisi. Three years after the heady independent days of January 25, and Egyptians are once again seeking out the army strongman to hold their hand, and an enemy — invented or real, it doesn’t matter — to define and shape their cause. Like all nationalist movements, this is sentiment partly informed by fear and hate. There is nothing of real ideological substance here, no long-term goal other than either containing the Brotherhood or crushing the Islamist movement.

The delight with which the general public received Sisi’s speech confirmed this. His speech was essentially nonsense, but delivered with a folksy populism and panache that to me suggests a man in the early days of a presidential campaign. Does it have to be stated out loud that armies don’t take mandates from the general public? Do we have to remind ourselves that a smiling army officer in shades and a uniform telling people to take to the streets against an enemy is nine times out of 10 an individual to be wary of? Should we not be asking ourselves why the interim president didn’t deliver this happy message?

(Aside: Sisi did, however, make one important point about Morsi’s recalcitrance in the lead up to June 30. More importantly, he said that he and Morsi “agreed” that Morsi would make certain points in his June 30 speech, and that Morsi reneged on that “agreement.” Sisi was calling the shots even then).

I find myself in an ever-shrinking minority. I still fail to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, where terrorism means terror used systematically as a means of coercion. Yes, the MB has “taken to the mattresses” as they say, and there are weapons in its sit-ins. We see these arms during clashes. The Brothers use them to shoot at the other side, which is also armed. What is also certain is that some sit-in members detain and torture people they capture in specially designated areas of the sit-ins, and that local residents have had enough of them — they marched to Dokki police station on Tuesday to demand that the Nahda Square sit-in be dispersed.

But I don’t think it has been established conclusively yet that the violence during Muslim Brotherhood marches is always initiated by the Brotherhood, and that it amounts to terrorism justifying an army-orchestrated crackdown cheered on by the general public. There was violence at the Nahda sit-in on Monday during which people on both sides were shot and injured. This is usually the case in all the pro- and anti-Morsi clashes. This is not to justify the Brotherhood’s reaction (the use of guns against civilians is not only immoral, but disastrous in PR terms), but merely to question the narrative being shoved down our throats.

It seems clear that in any case, the army and/or the police will use force to break up the Nahda and Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque sit-ins as part of its great war on terror, and there have been calls for security forces to do this even from leftist, vocally anti-police activists. They are correct in their assertion that a sit-in with arms and torture areas should not continue. I cannot, however, agree with a full on police assault.

If there are complaints about arms, then the police have a duty to search anyone going in and out of the camp. If protesters fail to cooperate with this, then the police can escalate. Detainees are being held under the stage at the Nahda protest, and if the police had any imagination, and if they cared, they would go in a small delegation to the sit-in during the day when it is virtually empty and demand to be taken there. Any resistance, any violent response, and an escalation would be justified.

Whatever security bodies do, they are bound by duty to use reasonable force; but this is an alien language to both the police and the army, and the general public is braying for blood. It was always going to end — or perhaps begin — like this.