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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/15/13

Egypt's Shameful Day -- Bloodbath on the Nile

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Message Esam Al-Amin
Source: CounterPunch

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In June 1967, it took Israeli forces only six hours to rout the Egyptian military and devastate its air force, inflicting the most humiliating defeat on the Arab world in the last half century. In the 1973 October war, the Egyptian army killed 2,600 Israeli soldiers in 20 days of combat. Nearly 40 years later, the Egyptian military turned its guns on its own citizens to much devastation: on August 14, it took the combined forces of Egypt's army and police 12 hours to disperse tens of thousands of unarmed peaceful protesters in two sit-in camps in the eastern and western suburbs of Cairo. It was a determined effort by the July 3 coup leaders to not only defeat their political opponents, but also to strike a decisive blow to democracy and the rule of law in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Since June 28, Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have been camped out at these two sites, initially as a show of support to President Mohammad Morsi as he was being challenged by the opposition. But since he was deposed on July 3, the protesters have been demanding his return, the restoration of the suspended constitution, and the reinstatement of the dissolved parliament. For 48 days, the sit-ins and demonstrations across Egypt attracted millions of Morsi supporters as well as pro-democracy groups, who protested the coup's nullification of their presidential and parliamentary votes and their ratification of the referendum on the new constitution.

An Obstinate Military Enabled by Liberal and Secular Forces and Western Powers

Throughout the six-week standoff, the country's military rulers, led by coup leader Gen. Abdelfattah Sisi, insisted on the MB's complete recognition of the status quo and their submission to the political roadmap as determined by him on July 3. On several occasions, Sisi declared that he would not budge an inch on a future course that was certain to impede the country's path towards democracy and constitutional legitimacy by ignoring the will of the electorate expressed at the ballot box more than five times in 18 months. While Egyptians elected Morsi as president with a clear majority in June 2012 in free and fair elections, they also affirmed that vote nearly two to one when they ratified the new constitution six months later. Article 226 of the constitution stated that the term of the current president (Morsi) would "end four years after his elections" or in June 2016.

In fact, one month after the coup, the Egyptian public opinion has sharply turned against it. On August 6, the respectable Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion published a poll showing that 69 percent of the Egyptian public rejects the military coup, while 25 percent supports it, with 6 percent refusing to give their opinion. Of those who reject it, only 19 percent identify themselves with the MB, 39 percent with other Islamist parties, while 35 percent are unaffiliated but feel that their votes were invalidated by the coup. Of those who support it, 55 percent in the poll consider themselves former Mubarak regime loyalists, while 17 percent identify themselves as Coptic Christians opposed to Islamists' rule. Moreover, 91 percent of those who refused to give an answer belong to the pro-Saudi Salafist Al-Noor Party, which initially supported the coup before it pulled back and withdrew from Sisi's roadmap.

As I explained in a previous article, shortly after the coup, the military and their largely liberal and secular enablers set the stage for excluding the Islamist groups, particularly the MB and its political-affiliate, the Freedom and Justice Party, by arresting or issuing arrest warrants for their leaders, freezing their accounts, seizing their assets, banning their media outlets, and orchestrating an elaborate demonization campaign against them. This discourse was reminiscent of the Mubarak-era tactics employed against the group for decades by the notorious state security apparatus, which was reconstituted shortly after the coup.

By the last week of July, the military's offer to the MB was simply to accept the coup and all its consequences in return for joining a managed political process. The MB summarily rejected the offer, which would have denied them all their gains and restricted them to winning no more than 20 percent of parliamentary seats, while excluding them from all executive positions.

Initially, most Western powers overlooked the conditions surrounding the military coup and simply consented to its consequences. But as the pro-Morsi demonstrations persisted and expanded for days and weeks, it became evident that the political state of affairs could not be ignored. The stakes were too high, not only for Egypt's stability but also for the entire region. Therefore, political negotiations between the antagonist parties led by the U.S. and the E.U. began in earnest. While the MB and their supporters wanted to negotiate on the basis of the constitution and democratic legitimacy, the military and its allies wanted the MB to accept a political solution based on the coup and the new reality.

For over a week, EU envoy Bernardino Leon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns tried to negotiate a settlement. Initially, the interlocutors insisted that the MB join the new political process in return for the release of their leaders. Eventually, the negotiators agreed to incorporate elements of an initiative announced by over 50 Egyptian intellectuals, academics, and public figures.

The plan allowed for a constitutional mechanism that would have reinstated President Morsi for a very short period of time, after which he would appoint a consensus prime minister and a technocrat cabinet. He would then submit his resignation. The new cabinet would then supervise the parliamentary elections within 60 days. The Western mediators further extracted an agreement from the MB to accept this political outcome and obtained a huge concession from the MB: keeping the same prime minister appointed by the coup. According to Envoy Leon, there was "a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side (the MB)," but was eventually rejected by the military.

As negotiations were underway, the media campaign led by Mubarak loyalists, corrupt oligarchs, and "the deep state" reached fever pitch levels. Jehan Soliman, a presenter on state television, and is by no means a MB supporter, was outraged at the demonization campaign led by state officials, prompting her to eventually expose the campaign to the public.  Moreover, the main liberal and secular forces urged the military not to negotiate or reach an accommodation with the MB but to crack down hard on the protesters instead. Meanwhile, according to interior minister Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim, while the negotiations were underway the security forces were setting plans in motion to attack the protesters, clear the campsites, and arrest the leaders. It was evident that the coup leaders were determined to bring the MB and their Islamist allies to their knees, either politically or by force.

In order to justify the eventual brutal crackdown on the peaceful protesters, the army and the police demanded an order from the compliant general prosecutor to use as legal cover. Even though peaceful protests are constitutionally-protected, the prosecutor readily issued the order under a phony pretense, namely that the protesters were armed (false), or had become a nuisance to the residents (rejected overwhelmingly by the locals). In contrast, no orders were ever issued to clear dozens of secular groups from Tahrir Square during much of the last year, though their protests shut down government agencies for days, and in some cases, weeks.

Neo-Fascism in Action: Coldblooded Murders, Boldfaced Lies and Ugly Deception

There are moments in a nation's history that become etched in stone. Such was the Palestinian Nakba, the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the September 11 attacks. The horrors unfolded on August 14 will go down in Egypt's history as such a momentous event. Hundreds of thousands of people had been camped out for 48 days at the Nahda  Square near Cairo University in the western side of the capital, and around Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Mosque on the eastern side. The congregants had just finished celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan a few days earlier. They were determined to peacefully assert their will, as well as to stand firmly to defend the constitution and the democratic process expressed at the ballot box. They rejected the coup and loathed the return of the security state. They sought to restore democracy and President Morsi, who has been illegally detained and isolated for weeks.

Just as they finished their morning prayers, the people stood in both squares listening to spiritual invocations while reaffirming their commitment to stay the course peacefully. But at 6:30 AM on that fateful day, army tanks, armored vehicles, and bulldozers descended on the protesters from different directions. They were followed by the army's special forces, the police, and thugs dressed in civilian clothes and protected by their state security handlers. The scene was eerily similar to the early days of the January 2011 uprising that overthrew Mubarak. Snipers were on rooftops, especially those of military buildings, including the Military Intelligence headquarters.

According to the official account given by Gen. Ibrahim in a press conference, the police first started by warning people to disperse through loud speakers. He said the police then offered the protesters safe passage to leave, with a promise that they would not be arrested. Shortly thereafter, the police sprayed the protesters with water cannons. When the protesters refused, the police then used tear gas, at which point, he claimed, protesters used automatic weapons against the police. Gen. Ibrahim charged that the MB had snipers on rooftops and were targeting the police, resulting in the killing of 43 police officers. However, no evidence of their deaths such as names, pictures, or footages was ever produced. Only then, the Minister claimed, did the police use live ammunition, resulting in the killing of 149 people across Egypt. He also stated that the protesters were not peaceful and that caches of weapons were seized, including nine automatic guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Needless to say, none of this woven tale is remotely true.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.
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