Egypt During the Reign of the Lunatics
Following our last dispatch from Giza on 14th August, after being brutally evicted from our protest camp in Nahda Square in front of Cairo University, our group proceeded to join the protest at Mostafa Mahmoud square near the Zamalek Sports Stadium.
Unfortunately this area, known as Mohandseen, is a wealthy of area Cairo where the shop owners, residents and businesses are pro-army and anti-Morsi. Just to remind you, Cairo along with the areas to the north immediately surrounding Cairo were the areas which brought a majority for the army’s candidate in the presidential elections, Aḥmad Shafiq.
Mohandseen would have been one of the zones where the army had an overwhelming majority, because many of those that benefit most from the patronage system that is the Egyptian state live there, whilst the army lies at the apex of this food chain.
The political conflict in Egypt is roughly-speaking between the haves and the have-nots, although it is incorrect to say that the pro-Morsi camp is the just ‘the poor’, for we all own our own businesses. It’s just that we struggle under the red tape and the formal and ‘informal’ taxes imposed on us by the bureaucrats, and are more or less condemned to an eternity of being struggling SME’s under the current system. Nothing gets done without kick-backs.
It’s hardly surprising that the beneficiaries of this patronage system hate the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, because its so-called ‘Nahda’ (Renaissance) manifesto was very simple: it intended to ‘clean up’ the state and reduce corruption, as its central policy plank for increasing business, jobs, and growth.
It’s also not surprising that one of the residents of Mohandseen shouted at us from his balcony, when we left al-Nahda Square in Giza and walked towards Mohamed Mahmoud Square, and asked us whether we had been well and truly ‘barbecued’, given the 6 am onslaught of bulldozers and armoured personnel carriers crrying flame throwers
Unfortunately once at Mohammed Mahmoud we came under intense fire, and two of our colleagues were shot. Mohamed Osman died from bullet wounds to his head and chest. Muhannad Ramadan survived a shot to the head, but lost sight in both eyes and will likely be affected by brain damage. Those that saved Muhannad’s life were overworked doctors from the Muslim Brotherhood who always work for free. We had to retreat that day and go home.
It is rather unfortunate that many reports call our demonstrations ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ protests, because when we last did a count at al-Nahda square of the proportion of Muslim Brothers there, they came to about 20-25%. This is in fact a representative proportion across all protesters at the moment.
Furthermore, for well over a month now, the protests have been managed by The National Alliance in support of Legitimacy (Shar‘iyya): N. B Shar‘iyya or legitimacy is not Shari‘a or Islamic law. This National Alliance, which for instance has announced 9 demonstrations for today, the 19th August, includes elements of the 6th April movement, and the whole of The Front for National Conscience. The Front for National Conscience is headed by ex-diplomat Ibrahim Yusri, who was ambassador for Egypt in Algeria during the political crisis of 1991-2 over the role of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) in political, and talks here to al-Jazeera Arabic of his experience at that time and his strong opposition to the removal of Morsi as duly elected president and to the annulment of the legally binding constitution.
Yusri is very critical of any political ‘accomodation’, the oft-touted idea of a policy of ‘inclusiveness’ which Morsi is criticised for not following, and insists on the method of the ballot box as the only objective method for democracy. And this is our view, and why we are in the streets from the outset. So yes, we are Morsi supporters, but we are not all Muslim Brothers. Morsi in fact did the impossible, in acquiring the legitimacy of the ballot box for the majority in Egypt through his single-minded dedication.
Morsi came to power having tasted the harsh hand of the Egyptian state. He had been in jail for defending the independence of the judiciary under Mubarak, and when he came to power, he abided by the law and allowed his enemies total freedom of speech. If certain measures were taken to stop courtiers of the ex-President from directly insulting the Prophet, this was no disabling of free speech, but a measure intended to maintain the peace and to try and prevent the very divisiveness and confrontation that these insults were in fact intended to generate. Morsi, unlike Sissi, never closed down TV stations that opposed him, however virulent their attacks.
Given his experience, Morsi was under no illusion as to the possible outcome of his rule. His one and only goal would have been to create an elected representative government in Egypt, and everything else would have taken second place to this primary aim. His 22nd November 2012 decree, which he rescinded on 8th December 2012 and which gave him emergency powers, became the subject of a massive attack by the Egyptian media, calling it the main ‘disaster’ of his rule. But this was clearly only the case because Morsi had achieved what he wanted to achieve, which was an electoral law and a Senate, and this was exactly what the owners of the Egyptian media, the beneficiaries of the Egyptian patronage system, had wanted to avoid.
These achievements would have allowed the election of a new Parliament, the old one having been cancelled (unnecessarily) by the Constitutional Court staffed entirely with courtiers of the ex-President, and this could have been achieved by July 2013, if the coup hadn’t happened.
But the coup was still too late. Morsi had achieved his aims – legitimacy for the majority of the Egyptian people in 5 different elections, Parliamentary, Constitutional and Presidential, in all of which he had, to the fury of the old régime, managed to achieve a majority for his manifesto. What Morsi has done will go down in history as one of the major turning points in Middle-Eastern history. Political Islam, which has traditionally been a one-dimensional creedal culture, has now been repositioned in the wider consciousness in terms of democratic legitimacy.
This is entirely against the interests of a military régime that has, since 1973, built its power and reputation, not on fighting wars to protect its people, but on running a protection racket.
Morsi’s main goal has thus been achieved, and the military have consequently gone berserk: the reign of the lunatics has begun.
After going home, on Friday 16th August, we joined the ‘Day of Rage’ march through Ramses square. Once again the march was ambushed and hundreds of people were killed, and once again the intensity of the fire, from rooftops, helicopters, and side streets meant that we had to go home. But a great of people who were trapped in Ramses Square rushed to the protection of the nearby Fatah Mosque. Hundreds of people were trapped there and came under siege by the ‘baltagiyya’ and the police for 13 hours.
The ‘baltagiyya’ you will remember are the criminals on parole that were the creation of Omar Suleiman’s torture cells, who were used against the protesters of the original 25th January 2011 protests, and who acquired special notoriety on the 2nd February the day of the ‘Battle of the Camel’. These same ‘baltagiyya’ became the shock troops of the anti-Morsi protests on June 30th in Tahrir square.
The ‘baltagiyya’ are useful, because they do anything the police want them to do, and they keep the army mostly out of the fray. They are also dispensable, and unexplainably end up as ‘casualties of Islamist shooters’. They and plain clothes police also give foreign reporters the chance to write that Morsi supporters are terrorists and carry guns.
But a new lunacy seized the police and the army who took over from the ‘baltagiyya’ in the case of the siege of the Fatah Mosque, for a major ‘photo-op’, when it was announced that there was incoming fire from the mosque, and that ‘terrorists’ were trapped inside. Hazem al-Beblawi, the prime minister, a septuagenarian in his second childhood, came on TV to announce this and State Media flashed a caption saying ‘Egypt Fights Terrorism’. See the picture below:
The reports came that the terrorists had positioned a sniper in the minaret of the mosque, shooting at the police and the army. The problem with the report was that, as Abdul Wahid Ashour, Editor-in-Chief of the MENA (Middle east and North Africa) News Agency, later tweeted, the entrance to the minaret was from the outside, and there was no way the protesters trapped inside could have come out to go onto the minaret. See picture of tweet below:
Ashour exclaims at the end of his revelation: liars and idiots! Still, Ramses Street was jam packed with armoured personnel carriers, National Guard and soldiers in a scene reminiscent of the final minutes of a Blues Brothers film.
At the same time a spate of attacks on churches were reported. Islamists were apparently going mad with anger and taking it out on Christians, all the usual NGO suspects immediately issued all the usual demands for the Egyptian government to crack down on inciters of religious hatred. Everybody had forgotten that the ex-Mubarak Minister of Interior, Habib al-Adly, had been in jail suspected of engineering the Al-Qiddisin Church bombing on 1st January 2011, which he had blamed on ‘the army of Islam’ (yet another incarnation of the ‘baltagiyya’). In the case of the current church attacks however, it happens that a local vicar at a church in al-Minya, said quite clearly that the ‘baltagiyya’ and the police were the ones responsible for the attacks and the fires started by the throwing of Molotov cocktails.
Meanwhile Nobel Peace Laureate Obama believes that the situation is ‘complex’, but that the protection money needs to go on being paid, to ensure stability in the region. The problem is that Sissi is demented, and his subalterns, those that are not ‘detained’ for insubordination, are mentally retarded. With friends like these, you don’t need enemies.
The other problem is that we’re going to continue to demonstrate and protest. We owe it to Mohamed Osman, Muhannad Ramadan, Esam Sayyed another colleague of ours whom we learned on Facebook has died at Raba’a al-Adawiyya, as well as all the other dead and wounded
Mohamed Malik (weaver) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mohamad Omar (surgeon), can be reached at email@example.com).
Also contributing to this report: Badr Mohamad Badr (teacher), Yasser Mahran (lawyer), Ahmad Abdel-Ghafar (businessman) Hossam Elzomor (journalist), Sayed Khamis (teacher), Mohamad Gheith (pharmacist),others whom we thank have helped in the redaction of this article