Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Egypt: Egypt’s Ongoing Revolution: On Violence and the Path Ahead

By Ismail Serageldin* | IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

ALEXANDIRA (IDN) - The Egyptian Revolution is ongoing. It got its second wind and corrected its path on June 30, 2013 when millions and millions took to the streets and said “No” to the rule of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Then after the first few days from June 30 to July 3, after President Morsi was toppled and the interim government was installed, vast numbers of the people began to abandon the streets, and were ready to turn the page, and start a new chapter. But the escalation in the rhetoric of the Islamist supporters of Morsi continued and calls were issued for fighting, violence and attacking the enemies of Islam, the enemies of Morsi.

Basically that definition of enemies included all those who did not agree with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including large factions of other Islamist groups. The talk was inciting to public violence and in some cases even called for “Shihada” (martyrdom) in fighting for the return of Morsi. The Brotherhood having lost their bid to entrench themselves in power, tried to argue that the people were split and the army had taken the side of their opponents in a brazen coup, and was using violence against the supporters of Morsi to quell their demands for his return.

Having failed to mass the larger numbers this time, the MB wanted to turn to violence instead. They tried to provoke others by sending some toughs to Tahrir square (where they were repelled) and continued to incite their people to hold on to the squares where they were camped and to fight the non-believers in order to restore Morsi to power.

The Morsi supporters remained in the streets after the rest of the crowds went home, and continued to hold the same two squares (Raba’a Adawiya and Nahda in Cairo) and their orators in the squares and on their TV channels continued to try to incite violence.

The general view is that the MB have chosen to escalate into violence while maintaining demonstrations in order to show the outside world, especially the USA, that it is a case of the Military using force against the civilians. They have now activated full blast their allies in Sinai, where the tunnels that served Hamas in Gaza work both ways. Violence in Sinai is serious as the military presence is limited by the Camp David Treaty. But a full scale military operation there is probable and is likely to succeed, at least in checking the rampant lawlessness there, even if some terrorist acts are still possible after that.

The army in Egypt has so far been reasonably well-behaved, and refused to fire on demonstrators (on either side) during the June 30 events. Then came the terrible news of the 51 people killed in front of the Presidential Guards complex. The MB claims that they were shot while praying the morning prayers. The army claims that they were shot trying to attack the complex, where they think Morsi was being held. The complex is defined and defended as a military installation.

Investigation needed

We need a full investigation with proper forensics to settle this, although by far most people believe the army. It is important to have a full investigation of this and all the other acts of violence that have occurred since January 25, 2011 and any additional incidents that may happen. Every attack, every death, has to be accounted for professionally, transparently and in the context of the law. The guilty must be brought to justice. Cover-ups of any kind are not acceptable.

In the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary, I myself tend to believe the army story. The primary reason is that the average Egyptian soldier is very devout. I cannot imagine that these soldiers could fire at people praying and massacre them. Such an act would generate enormous revulsion among all Egyptians, even more than the general Egyptian revulsion at blood-letting of any type. Despite decrying the loss of blood, the public is eager to move on, and look with annoyance at the traffic and other delays that are caused by the actions of the MB, and with concern that they will try a campaign of terrorist attacks soon.

It is against that background that General Sisi asked the crowds that came out on June 30 to return to the public squares and places in Egypt to demonstrate that the MB crowds do NOT represent the majority of the Egyptian people, and to give the armed forces and the police a clear “mandate to fight terrorism and violence”. The people responded enthusiastically, but I doubt that the MB will accept that show of support and withdraw.

The army, however, has said that by the massive demonstration on July 26 they have a mandate to start putting order back in Egypt. Putting order may include further confrontation with the Morsi supporters who are seeking his reinstatement. But most people hope that this will mean that we are turning a page and will restore order in our streets and normality in our lives in keeping with the wishes of the vast majority of the Egyptian people.

In general, I am of course very concerned about all this. I decry all loss of life, and I warn that the censorship of TV channels and the arrest of announcers on the charge that they are fomenting hatred and calling for violence (which they are) is still a breach of free speech that should be resisted. I have called for national reconciliation of all, repeat all, Egyptians, and starting a new page. But emotions are running high and few are willing to listen to this appeal at present. But my faith in Egyptian youth is enormous. I believe that they will be able to build the bridges that their elders have not.

General Sisi everyone's hero

July 26 was the big day of demonstrations, the largest ever, larger than the crowds of June 30. It was a historic day as ever more Egyptians came out into the streets everywhere in the cities and towns of Egypt, while the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters remained entrenched in the two squares in Cairo, in the Qaid Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria, and some scattered in other cities. The mood at these enormous demonstrations was generally quite festive. General Sisi is suddenly everyone’s hero, and many comments are comparing him to Nasser.

But soon violence reared its ugly head, and exchange of gunfire started in several places. Casualties fell from both sides, as well as from the Police. As the fighting spilled out of the Qaid Ibrahim Area it came near the Library, and stray bullets struck the Library breaking two of the glass panels of the facade and one of the panels that serve as guardrail for the bridge that runs over Port Said street between the Library and the University. One of the police officers who help guard the library was wounded and the police and the army broke up the street fight and arrested a dozen people and confiscated their weapons.

For the first time bullets hit the glass of the façade and the blood of a man was spilled in the Plaza of the Library. Although the Library was not a target, and the bullets were stray bullets from the street gunfights, it is still a sorry day for all of us.

A historic and largely joyful day for most Egyptians has been marred by the horror of the violence, the agony of the wounded, and the shock and grief in the presence of death. 70 people were killed of whom 7 in Alexandria. It does not matter which side they were on, for there is really nothing that justifies the taking of human life except self-defence under extreme danger. The casualties were, as usual, the misguided, the innocent and the dutiful. They are the ones who die.

Egypt has turned a page and is writing a new chapter in the history of its second revolution. Sadly part of that is now written in blood. But the amazing spirit of the Egyptian people will transcend that moment, and in the largely non-violent way that has been distinctively theirs, they will find a path towards national reconciliation. The path has been made more difficult by the emergence of violence and the likely acts of terrorism that will follow. But terrorism is criminalized and pursued in all societies. It is not a reason to abandon democratic ideals and the rule of law, nor is it necessarily a prelude to civil war. Our nation will ultimately find its unity and its strength in openness, freedom and the rule of law.

*The writer is Director of Egypt’s centre of excellence, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria). He is a member of IDN’s Editorial Advisory Committee. He was a former Vice President of the World Bank and Chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. He has published over 60 books and monographs and over 200 papers on a variety of topics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cairo University and a Master's degree and a PhD from Harvard University and has received 33 honorary doctorates. [IDN-InDepthNews – July 29, 2013]