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A nation must think before it acts.
This article, by FPRI Senior Fellow Abdallah Schleifer, originally appeared on alarabiya.net on August 15, 2013. Writing from Cairo, Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo and has covered Egypt for Arab and Western media for nearly half a century.
No one really knows how many pro-Mursi protestors were killed on Wednesday – the government says about 270, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been saying more than 2,000. My assumption is that both parties are lying.
What will be interesting is to see how much attention is paid by the same American and European political leaders – who responding to disturbing television images, cannot resist criticizing the government and the armed forces – to the minister of interior’s announcement Wednesday night that 43 policemen were killed and more than 140 wounded. This came among the 21 police stations attacked upon the orders of the MB, the band that successfully stormed the Kerdesa police station (not far from the Giza pyramids), not only killed the policemen on duty there but mutilated their bodies.
The minister said pretty much what Prime Minister Beblawi had said earlier in the day – that the government had tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-ins but the Muslim Brotherhood refused anything less than a return of Mursi to power. What lends credibility to this claim is that only a few days ago Ahmed Maher, the founder and co-leader of the April 6 Youth Movement (the liberal-left group that organized the 2011 demonstrations against Mubarak), charged that it was the Muslim Brotherhood who were refusing all compromises and were seeking escalation of the crisis.
The prime minister had gone on to note that while the government had authorized the security forces to disperse both sit-ins more than a week ago, they had also decided not to take any action that could and indeed did turn out to be nasty, during Ramadan or the four days after, in which Eid al-Fitr celebrations marked the end of Ramadan.
But what is perhaps the most discomforting news from the interior minister is that four churches had been torched by pro-Mursi demonstrators. Since his speech, sources at the Coptic Church say that an additional 13 churches were attacked but not set on fire.
Already, much earlier in the day – only a few hours after security forces reinforced by Egyptian army armored vehicles and bulldozers had begun to move in on both sit-ins – independent sources had reported that three churches had already been torched. One would think that these naked acts of sectarian hatred would be enough to disabuse global spokesmen and much of the global press from alluding to the “peaceful” and “non-violent” nature of pro-Mursi protestors. A colleague has suggested to me that in these politically-correct days we reserve the name “fascist” only for violence directed at Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques.
STOPPED READING HISTORY?
Have people stopped reading history? Non-violence – pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s protracted struggle for independence and later adopted by Dr. Martin Luther King in the American civil rights struggle – meant this: sitting or standing and offering no resistance to the British imperial forces and the American southern police when they would move in to arrest and often beat up the peaceful non-violent demonstrators.
Non- violence does not mean building barricades to hold off the Egyptian riot police and breaking up pavement stones to throw at them. BBC footage, shot at the very beginning of the confrontation but curiously not screened until after many hours of coverage of MB dead and wounded, shows – before a shot was fired – pro-Mursi demonstrators attacking a bulldozer starting to break down the barricades with stones and long sticks until police firing tear gas forced them to retreat.
A BBC TV correspondent trapped with his crew by gunfire directed towards the roof of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque remarked that gunfire was not just coming in, but also going out, from the mosque at the same time.
More significant is that Egyptian bystanders watching events from their balconies near the Nasr City intersection said they saw armed men among the MB protestors. None of this, not to mention the blocking of traffic at major intersections for four weeks, are examples of the “right to peaceful assembly” that the U.S. spokesman alluded to in his criticism of the Egyptian security and armed forces.
In the last weeks of the sit-ins – almost as if to provoke the authorities into action – the MB would send out groups of a few thousand from either the Nahda Square sit-in or the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in to march upon government offices. In several cases the marches were confronted not by the riot police but by Egyptians living in the neighborhoods where the MB protestors were attempting to assault ministerial buildings. And that is the element that seems to be missing from so much of the discourse – that this is not just a conflict between the MB and their Salafist allies with the armed forces and state security, but a conflict between the MB with most Egyptians, who are supported by the armed forces –and who according to public opinion polls, wanted this sit-ins ended and life, tourism and jobs to come back to normal. And in Cairo that opposition to the MB is overwhelming.
ELBARADEI AN OPPORTUNIST?
That is probably why Mohamed ElBaradei’s resignation on Wednesday as vice prime minster had been greeted with contempt by nearly every analyst on the evening TV talk shows and described as an opportunist, also by the Tamarod leadership who had hailed ElBaradei only last month as the symbol of resistance to Muslim Brotherhood rule. ElBaradei said he cannot take responsibility for the cabinet’s decision to end the sit-ins. But one might say that is ElBaradei’s way – not taking responsibility, taking on the leadership of the opposition to Mubarak and then travelling abroad for weeks on end and not being here to provide that leadership, announcing he would run for president and then presumably in the face of opposition from both Mubarkists and the Muslim Brotherhood, withdrawing as a candidate. His resignation does not come as a surprise.
A massacre is not combat. A massacre is the unprovoked slaughter of non-violent, peaceful civilians, or of combatants who have already surrendered. Neither case was applicable on Wednesday. There has been a tragic loss of life, particularly at Nasr City, but the MB should remember the saying that sometimes one may not like what one gets, when one gets what one wishes for.
What I mean by that is, one cannot say day after day, as the Muslim Brothers at both sit-ins have said, that they welcome martyrdom, that they are more than ready to die for their cause, and they have brought their wives and children to the sit-ins and they are willing for them to die also. You cannot say this day after day, and then cry out in horror and shock: “Look, the police are killing us!” What happened on Wednesday will be further unraveled, but this time, the particularly tragic case of the Muslim Brotherhood shows they have underestimated the degree that they have alienated just about everybody else in this country.
To read more from Abdallah Schleifer on current affairs in the Middle East see his other recent posts:
Western Media Misunderstands Egypt
How Al-Jazeera Skews its Coverage of Egypt
Chemical Warfare in Syria: Who and Why?