Friday of Rage, No Signs of Reconciliation

The following is from the newsletter of Arab West Report, penned by Cornelis Hulsman. It is a good summation of events so far:

Cairo is burning. Normal Egyptians are scared and stayed as much as possible at home. The Friday of Rage was announced in a statement of the Muslim Brotherhood led Media team of the Anti-Coup, Pro-Democracy Alliance.

Statement: Friday of Rage

(Cairo, Friday, August 16)- Despite our deep pain and sorrow following the August 14 Rabaa massacre and others committed since the bloody coup, the crimes of the coup regime have only increased our steadfastness and firmness in rejecting it and determination to remove it.

The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered.

Our revolution is peaceful, and we will continue to mobilize people to take to the streets without resorting to violence and without vandalism. Violence is not our approach. Vandalism only aims at distorting the image of our peaceful revolt and finding justifications for the coup leaders to continue to govern.

We call on the great Egyptian people to gather in all revolutionary squares on the Friday of Rage.

The starting points for the protests in Greater Cairo are the following mosques. (28 names of mosques were mentioned.)

Afterwards, all marches will meet at the nearest intersection, and will all head to Ramsis square. Meanwhile, million-man marches will be held in all other Egyptian governorates.

The anger of the Muslim Brotherhood is not unfounded. Maha Azzam, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in London, explains in the Guardian of August 13the bitter irony. The January 25 Revolution was to bring democracy. Morsi (Mursī) was voted, albeit with a very small majority, as the first democratically-elected president.  He was deposed on July 3 by the military, feeling that they had sufficient support from the masses, but, she writes “the fact remains that the ballot box is an essential part of the democratic process. Politically, what Egypt lacked during its experiment in democracy was a loyal opposition. Instead, the opposition that came together under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front decided to back a military coup.” Muslim Brothers feel they were trapped. Maha Azzam is clear in her opinion, that is that “the military and police state has returned in full force to Egypt. A country that for a brief period after 60 years of dictatorship was on a path of democratic transition saw a reversal of that process with the coup on 3 July against Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Maha Azzam describes opinions that I hear often in talks with Muslim Brothers. They strongly feel they have been betrayed.  That feeling is important to understand for the violence we are witnessing now.

The demonstrations followed fiery preaching in line with the belief that they have done injustice to. Well-known Muslim leaders as Youssef al-Qaradawi and Selim el-Awa have preached in this line of thinking. They did not call for violence, but as we have seen in previous demonstrations, armed thugs and snipers use the masses of people to mix among unarmed demonstrators and fire on whoever they believe to be their opponents.

These demonstrators were a mix of Islamists and thugs of very different backgrounds. Of course it was Brotherhood-organized and thus large numbers belong to this organization, but there were also Jamā’ah al-Islāmīya, Salafīs, and radicals of all kinds present and thus it is extremely difficult to determine to what organizations the people who engaged in violence belonged.

We have seen on videos large amounts of weapons found in different places. That shows preparation and makes the claim that this was spontaneous anger impossible.

Volkhard Windfuhr, the well-informed chairman of the Cairo Foreign Press Association is angry and wrote on Friday:

Unfortunately, some of our colleagues succumbed to fatal attacks. They were not just victims of chaos or normal fire exchange, they had been fired at on purpose. Not by police or army officers, but by the self-proclaimed ‘peaceful demonstrators’. Today I myself happily escaped a mean sniper attack on the 15 Mayo bridge at Zamalek. The criminal was not a policeman either, I have witnesses for that fact – normal Egyptian citizen by passers. I was not there for press coverage, but just heading for a coffee shop to meet friends.

It is outrageous what these aggressive ‘protestors’ commit. They attack people at random, attack their own state – attack public buildings and an ever increasing number of churches und houses and shops of Christians.

Most violence was at Ramsis Square, the most important and busiest intersection in Cairo where also the railway and bus stations are located. If this square was blocked the consequences for traffic in Cairo would be far worse than closing Tahrir square.

The Arab Contractors building, the largest building at the square, went up in flames. What purpose does such violence have? Arab Contractors is a very large Egyptian construction company that, for example, has built most bridges in Egypt. The destruction of this building will cause thousands of engineers to lose work for at least a certain period to come. In a country that is already economically suffering this is not what Egyptians need.

Muslim Brotherhood statements speak about a peaceful revolution, but what we have seen in the streets is different. Was this Brotherhood-organized as the opponents of the Brotherhood believe? Or were these thugs? Perhaps even security agents who wanted to create havoc? Conspiracy theories are flourishing!

It is certain, however, that many Muslim Brotherhood leaders do not want to give up resistance. Morsi’s son declared on Facebook: “We will not give up. We will either win or die.”

That is not an approach of seeking a middle ground; a compromise in order to avoid more bloodshed and destruction of Egypt. Morsi’s son is not the only one using this rhetoric, but stating “either win or die” sounds heroic to his followers, but at the expense of Egypt. Continued  violence is also at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which is rapidly becoming more closely associated with the carnage we are witnessing now and further validates calls to ban the organization.

Uncompromising attitudes will not only make the Brotherhood a loser of the conflict—the military and Egypt as a whole will suffer dearly as well. The conflict makes the role of the military domineering, but that may cost Egypt international support. Language of some people “that we don’t need this” is stupid. Foreign companies that had remained in Egypt thus far are now closing their doors, making the economic situation more difficult than it already is.

The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization with an estimated 1 million followers. Leaders in the past have told us they were proud of being so well organized. In the past two years well-informed Egyptians have told us on several occasions that the Brotherhood is capable of bringing at least 5.5 million voters to the ballot box. Just excluding such a large group of people from the political scene is not an option.

But what does the severe pressure on the Brotherhood mean for the unity in the group? Muslim Brotherhood member, Amr Amru, went public with a statement that there are around 200 Muslim Brotherhood members who want to file a complaint with the prosecutor against their own leaders because they have led them into this violence. Amr Amru spoke about the hierarchical Muslim Brotherhood structure with leaders giving instructions to branches that branches then have to simply execute.  But we don’t  know who Amr Amru and these 200 people are.  Many others will continue to follow their leaders.

Amnesty International came with a strong statement about Egypt: “There must be a full and impartial investigation into the violent dispersal of sit-in protests in Cairo this week, where security forces used unwarranted lethal force and broke promises to allow the wounded to exit safely, Amnesty International said today on the basis of its research on the ground.”

Of course, many may disagree with the conclusions of Amnesty International, but the call for a full and impartial investigation is certainly justified and needed in order to heal the very deep wounds in a deeply fractured Egyptian society.

Pope Tawadros had been criticized for sitting with Azhar Shaykh, Ahmed el-Tayib, when General al-Sisi announced the sacking of President Morsi on July 3, but on Friday he again went public with a statement in support of the security and military. I do not think that to be wise. I have been traveling in the past years through Egypt and have seen people suffering. The Pope knows the consequences of his words and he knows that his statements can be used as an excuse for more violence against Christians. Then why make statements that could make ordinary Christians victims of angry Islamists?

We appreciate the responses we get to our newsletters, in particular if they come from Egypt. Please continue writing about your own experiences. May God bless Egypt and give Egypt peace!

(Note: The website for Arab West Report was hacked several weeks ago; efforts to restore archival content and continue publication have not yet been successful.)

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