Egypt had a great fall. President Obama and his administration were naive enough to believe at first that it was this Arab “spring,” until they realized what was really happening in Egypt.
A little over one week ago on the two-year anniversary of the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, protests in Tahrir Square quickly escalated into violence that left seven dead. Many in Egypt feel betrayed by current president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who quickly gained power once Mubarak was deposed. The protesters are furious at what they see as the betrayal of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. They believe the Islamist regime has trampled their country’s constitution and ruined any chance for democracy.
That Saturday, further violence that left 38 dead followed when a judge handed down death sentences for 21 soccer fans involved in the Port Said soccer riots of Feb. 1, 2012. On that day, Port Said’s Al Masry soccer team beat rival Cairo’s Al Ahly 3-1. Fans on both sides began bashing each other with rocks and chairs, leaving 74 people dead and 1,000 injured. To this day, it remains unclear if the violence was due to intense sports rivalry or political strife. Reports indicate exit gates at the stadium were welded shut and police did not subject fans to the usual security checks before the game. The judge’s ruling is seen as political, given Al Ahly’s threats for violence and retribution if guilty verdicts were not handed down. On Mar. 9, the remaining 54 individuals charged with involvement in the riots will be sentenced. Sixty years of resentment have been brewing in Port Said against Cairo. Residents claim Egyptian security forces did not adequately defend them during the Suez War in 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition with Israel from 1968-1970 and the 1973 Arab Israeli war. Cairo is thought to be hostile toward Port Said for its role in a failed assassination attempt of Mubarak in 1999.
Morsi’s response was to declare a state of emergency and curfew in three cities along the Suez Canal: Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. Port Said has openly defied this order and residents from Ismailia and Suez have been bussed in to join in the dissent. Fire has been set to government buildings and the military has called in tanks to police the situation. The military has responded with greater force than necessary, killing and injuring dissidents without remorse. To date, no violent pro-regime demonstrators have been arrested.
This prompted Egypt’s Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah al-Sissi to issue the following statement: “The ongoing conflict among various political forces may lead to the collapse of the state and threaten the future of our coming generations.”
This past Friday, yet another protester died in Cairo. Mohammed Hussein Qurni, 23, was shot in the chest and forehead during demonstrations against Morsi’s government. Protesters in Egypt gathered outside the presidential palace in Egypt, hurling rocks and firebombs through the gates and the police once again responded with unequal force.
There are accusations of voter fraud in the elections that brought Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Salafist groups were close runners-up in the elections, and they hold the same Islamist views as the current regime. However, they are now at odds with the Morsi government because they believe the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to hoard power. Morsi gave himself unchecked power in November and the hotly contested pro-Islam constitution passed with a two-thirds majority vote.
The United States claim that it could not support a dictator whose policies placed America’s (and Israel’s) best interest at heart, but that somehow we can support a dictator who doesn’t have our best interests (or Israel’s) at heart, is ludicrous. Mubarak was a brutal dictator, no doubt. But he kept peace in the region and honored the country’s treaty with Israel. He also allowed women to vote and be educated. Morsi has employed brutal tactics to keep the country under his thumb. In November, he gave himself sweeping powers, causing the majority of Egyptians to question their ruler. The rewriting of the country’s constitution has included Sharia law and will punish anyone who is considered to be speaking out against Islam.
Of course, the United States has participated in the “Istanbul Process,” Hillary Clinton’s major transitional law initiative, undertaken in partnership with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which seeks to implement measures against speech and expression that negatively “stereotype” Islam or Muslims. This is yet another ingredient to add to the disaster that is the United States foreign policy under our current president.
The situation in Egypt will continue to unravel.
In contrast, the victorious Islamists, who despise democracy, made little effort to conceal their electoral success through fraud. Some of them went so far as proudly and unapologetically to assert that it’s their Islamic duty to be dishonest. Tal’at Zahran, a leading Salafi, called the democratic system “infidel,” “criminal,” and “out of the Elders of Zion.” He cynically observed that “it is our duty to forge elections; God will reward us for this.”
The voting follows a violent crackdown by security forces on week-long anti-military demonstrations. Some said they were boycotting the elections because, according to 27-year-old activist Ganzeer, “they’re a sham”until the army gives back the power to civilians. Photos shared on Twitter Tuesday showed that many polling stations were empty.
Egypt has no constitution in place, though military rulers have vowed to appoint a 100-person panel to craft such a document. And a court ruling just days before the runoff appeared to invalidate an Islamist-dominated legislative body and then saw the military swiftly move to dissolve that parliament ahead of the election.
“If I give this country for the Brotherhood hands, there is not going to be any more Egypt, it will be destroyed,” he told CNN. “And if I give it to someone from the old system, it looks like we did nothing.”
If you look at the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and the way in which it has controlled the press (punishing people who write exposés, for example) it’s a very disturbing sign. And it shows you how important it will be not just to have elections in Egypt, but to have the other parts of a liberal democracy: the guarantees and rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association. Let’s not forget — these are the inner stuffings of democracy.
The fury has been further fanned by reports that the police in Port Said at the northern tip of the Suez Canal randomly fired at protesters, killing innocent bystanders. In Cairo, protesters are seething over what they call the excessive use of tear gas and birdshot in clashes that have left three dead and hundreds injured.
“A failed state? I see much more than that on the horizon. There could be a revolution by the hungry,” he said near Tahrir Square as fellow protesters hurled stones at police firing tear gas.
Violence has spiraled after first erupting in Cairo on eve of last Friday’s second anniversary of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. It since spread around the country, with the worst violence in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which has virtually declared itself in revolt against Morsi’s government. Nile Delta provinces have also witnessed street clashes and riots in front of state institutions, but no deaths reported.
Youth groups have called for mass rallies on Friday to march to the presidential palace in Cairo to demand an end to Morsi’s rule.
“Al-Azhar’s initiative talks too broadly about violence as if it’s the same to kill a person or break a window and makes no difference between defensive violence and aggressive violence, offering a political cover to expand the repression, detention, killing and torture by the hands of police for the authority’s benefit,” read a joint statement by 70 activists, liberal politicians, actors and writers.
We will continue to watch and wait. “King Obama” doesn’t seem to be able to use his horses and men to put Egypt back together again. The modern-day Humpty-Dumpty, indeed, with Obama right at the helm.
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- Egypt Army chief warns state could “collapse” (cbsnews.com)
- Egypt’s leader imposes curfew (triblive.com)
- Groundhog Day in Cairo: A Brutal Video Raises the Political Stakes in Egypt (world.time.com)
- At palace, Egypt protesters, police clash (cnsnews.com)
- Egypt in show of defiance against Islamist leader (cnsnews.com)
- Thousands in Egypt defy curfews, protest Morsi (cbsnews.com)
- Revolt of Egypt’s Canal Cities: An Ill Omen for Morsi (world.time.com)
- Destiny and Defiance in Port Said (therevealer.org)
- Egypt riot over soccer verdict turns deadly (triblive.com)
- Deadly violence grips Egypt on revolution anniversary (guardian.co.uk)