Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

One year on

The first anniversary of the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins is expected to bring conflict back to Cairo’s streets, writes Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Protests planned to mark the first anniversary of the bloody police dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins today have been given a variety of names on Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But whether supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood gather under the banner of the “Decisive Battle Intifada” or the “Blood Revenge Intifada” one thing looks certain. Today will end up as yet another bloody episode in the year-long confrontation between the state and Brotherhood-led Islamist groups.

The Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins were organised by Brotherhood supporters to demand the reinstatement of Morsi as president. The protestors insisted they would not leave the two squares — located in residential areas of Cairo — until what they termed an “army coup” was defeated and Morsi reinstalled in the presidential palace.

Negotiations involving the US, the European Union, UAE and Qatar were all failed to break the deadlock. Then, on 14 August 2013, thousands of policemen stormed the squares, killing hundreds and wounding many others.

The death toll from the dispersals is likely to fuel violence on the anniversary. The day is expected to be far more tense than other recent anniversaries, including   that of the one-year detention of Morsi on 3 July. For supporters of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi the police operation against the demonstrators was justified.

The sit-ins, they say, were heavily armed, citing the deaths of 12 policemen who took part in the violent crackdown as proof. What really happened on the day remains the subject of fierce debate. Morsi’s supporters place the death toll among the protestors at anything between 3,000 and 6,000. Official figures place it at less than 700.

In December Adli Mansour, appointed interim president after Morsi’s removal, ordered a fact-finding commission, made up of judges, to investigate incidents of violence after 30 June 2013. As with similar commissions formed to examine the deaths of demonstrators during the 25 January Revolution, the committee has no real powers. It cannot compel witnesses to testify, and has no mandate to hold individuals accountable for their actions. Its role was simply to convey the findings of its investigation to the president.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) issued a report in March on the police breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins. NCHR members, leading rights activists and public figures appointed by the president, were deeply divided over the report. The majority supported Morsi’s removal, leading to claims that the report’s conclusion — that the violence used by police was generally in response to provocation by Brotherhood protesters — was politically motivated.

But even the NCHR conceded that in some instances police used excessive force, and found it impossible to gloss over the fact the police gave protestors just 25 minutes to leave the Rabaa sit-in via supposedly safe corridors before opening heavy fire.

The Muslim Brotherhood intends to use the anniversary to press demands that include the reinstatement of Morsi, the prosecution of President Al-Sisi, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and senior police officers involved in the break-up of Rabaa and Nahda, and the designation of those killed by police as martyrs. It is a list that makes any compromise with the state impossible.

Images of burned bodies, protestors being shot as they tried to flee the heavy gunfire and dozens of blood-drenched corpses lined up at the Rabaa Square field hospital have been used by the Brotherhood to mobilise supporters and justify their ongoing confrontation with the police and army. The dead, say the Brotherhood, lost their lives for the sake of Islam, not to keep the group in power.

The Brotherhood has proven to be more resilient than many expected. It has held demonstrations across Egypt throughout the last year. Six weeks ago, on the anniversary of Morsi’s removal, Egypt was brought to a standstill. There is no concrete evidence of direct Brotherhood involvement in terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of policemen, soldiers and civilians over the last twelve months. But there is no doubt that the Brotherhood has benefited from the ensuing chaos.

Brotherhood websites and social media have increasingly adopted a discourse that justifies violence against the police and army in revenge for those killed at Rabaa. More recently, hate speech has been directed at members of the public who support Al-Sisi. They are now being accused of complicity in the detention and alleged torture of thousands of Brotherhood members.

Brotherhood resilience has yet to dent the determination of the security establishment to crush the group. Independent human rights groups estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 members of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are currently in prison. The detainees include the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, his influential deputy Khairat Al-Shater, Essam Al-Erian and Mohamed Beltagy. Except for a handful of officials who managed to escape to Qatar and Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership is behind bars.

Badie has received death sentences in three separate trials. Morsi is facing charges that could carry a death sentence. After declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation late last year, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 9 August that its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), must be dissolved for “standing against the 30 June Revolution and threatening the unity of the country and its security.”

That the FJP was not dissolved earlier was seen as a sign by many commentators that the regime might be willing to compromise, leaving the door open for the Brotherhood to rejoin the political system if it agreed to abandon its demand for the reinstatement of Morsi.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters and members of militant Islamic groups have received heavy prison sentences. There was an international outcry when a court in Minya sentenced 1,209 suspected Brotherhood sympathizers to death for their involvement in attacks on police stations on the same day as the police dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins. The group’s finances have also come under sustained attack. Lucrative businesses have been seized, the assets of Brotherhood leaders frozen and the group’s charities and schools closed.

There have been attempts to block roads and bridges in Cairo and scattered demonstrations have been held in recent days as the Brotherhood seeks to build momentum for the demonstrations planned for today. The aim is to send a single message: that Al-Sisi and his government will fail. However bloody the day turns out to be, it will not be the last act in this ongoing confrontation.

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