Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1161, (22 - 28 August 2013)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1161, (22 - 28 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Worst in memory

Al-Ahram Weekly

The violence during the dispersal of the pair of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo killed hundreds, triggering the deaths of hundreds more in just the few days that followed. It is modern Egypt’s worst violence in memory. The biggest fear is that the violence may spiral out of anyone’s control and escalate into the beginnings of civil war.

What triggered running street battles in the heart of Cairo was the government’s clearing of the sit-ins held in protest at Islamist Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as president. The government said its forces had done what it needed to do, and done it responsibly. But the incredibly high casualty toll — over 600 killed and close to 4,000 injured — shows that an investigation must be opened. It is true that the government issued repeated warnings to leave and had an obligation to evacuate the squares. After 48 days of camps infested with automatic weapons, and their occupants stopping traffic and intimidating civilians going to their homes, businesses and schools, something had to be done, for such gatherings would be unacceptable in any world capital. Still, there must be an independent, impartial, effective and credible investigation of the conduct of the security forces. Anyone found guilty of wrongdoing should be held to account.

Such an inquest would include those who killed 43 police officers in the operation. In the five days since the dispersals, 57 soldiers and police have also been killed. Were they killed by peaceful protesters? And what of the 24 Egyptian policemen killed on Sunday in an attack by militants in the Sinai Peninsula? Their hands tied behind their back, then shot in the back of the head, were they too killed by peaceful protesters?

The shooting in Sinai is part of the wider turmoil raging around the country; they are not independent of each other. The casualty figures during the clearing of the camps and the days that followed would never had been so high had the protesters truly been peaceful. But they are not. Many of them are armed and dangerous, as Sinai so graphically showed. This means it is official: Egypt is waging a war against extremist Islamists. This should be the main headline in all local and international forums, gatherings and media outlets discussing the issue. There are no two ways about it.

And if there is agreement that Egypt is now officially battling an Islamist insurgency, then it should do whatever is needed, whatever it takes, to put it down, as long as what it does conforms with the law. Egypt is doing nothing more than defending itself from a group who now want to destroy the country. The problem is that even though Egypt has the right to fight back, some countries do not agree Egypt has such a right. When the US was attacked by extremist Islamists in 2001, it did not hesitate to go after its attackers. Why, then, can’t Egypt go after its attackers, who are extremist Islamists as well? Why is it OK for the US but not OK for Egypt?

This is blatant double-standard racism being practised against Egypt. The attempt is crystal clear and should embarrass those behind it.

Those wanting to blacken Egypt’s image are also using foreign assistance as a pressure tool. By announcing that he would be reviewing all foreign assistance, to see what is useful and what is not and what aid is being used to pressure Egypt, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi has sought to pre-empt any attempt by the West to compel the interim authorities to back down. Financial aid could apparently be used to blackmail Egypt. Either the country does what is demanded of it... or else. Aid, whether financial or military, is being dangled in front of Egypt as if it were a piece of cheese in front of a mouse. And as the morsel swings before us, and as the hunters play the game “Should we give them or shouldn’t we”, the country’s eyes are supposed to water with desire. This is a despicable, wholly unacceptable way of dealing with Egypt or any other law-abiding country. To act as such is to degrade and shame a country into submission. This is deplorable.

As Brotherhood people terrorise citizens, and attack government institutions, hospitals and churches, there is no disputing the situation in Egypt is bad, with all the killings, a curfew and the emergency law now in place and a scorched earth policy being practised by the Brotherhood: destroy anything that might be useful to the opponent while withdrawing from an area. How ironic that scorched earth is originally a military strategy now being employed by people who oppose the military. But the situation in Egypt is hardly as bad as Iraq, where triple the number of people have been killed in mainly sectarian violence just this year, or Syria, where the numbers are astronomically higher. Certainly, Egypt, at all costs, must avoid becoming another Syria the way it is now, or Algeria in the 1990s.

Egypt’s government is currently reviewing its strategic relationships with the US and other Western governments critical of its crackdown, and the West is also reviewing its relationship regarding Egypt. Both sides are circling each other, waiting to see what steps will be taken.

Friday’s statement of support for the Egyptian government from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries has come at a crucial time as Egypt is buffeted by denunciations from other countries for the excessive killings. But there are deaths on both sides and it is imperative that both sides be looked at when you want to properly assess the situation.

These are still early days in the violence in Egypt and there is time to reach a settlement if the Brotherhood truly wants one. If there is a desire on the Brotherhood’s part to stop the violence, then the fighting will cease. But if Brotherhood members simply want to die so that more blood is shed and as a consequence, more criticism is levelled at the government, a solution will be hard to find.

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