Men on Motorcycles

Men on Motorcycles

From the New Yorker, providing an account of the dawn killings between the military and pro-Morsi protestors:

Fifty-one dead at dawn. A doctor who said he preferred not to give his name lives in an apartment building that overlooks the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo. He told me he woke for the dawn prayer before 4 A.M. Shortly afterward, he heard gunfire and went onto his neighbor’s balcony for a better view.

“I saw that the Army retreated about ten metres and began to fire tear-gas cannisters, about ten or fifteen of them,” he said. “I couldn’t see if the other side [the protesters] was shooting, but I heard people through megaphones encouraging jihad. Then I saw four to six motorcycles coming from the direction of the Rabaa intersection to the Republican Guard barracks. Some people were still praying, some were not, because the dawn prayer had finished by then. The men on the motorcycles were all masked, and it was hard to see them through the dark and the tear-gas smoke, but they seemed to be shooting, they were coming from behind the protesters, so they were shooting toward the protesters and the Army. Then the Army started firing. And the protestors were firing. I saw firing from both sides.” As for details, though—what they were firing, whether it was one or two protesters or something more organized—he said that it was dark and that he couldn’t exactly tell.

Men on motorcycles. It is a maddening detail, constantly repeated over the past two and a half years. It has parallels even in the January 25 incidents of snipers firing into Tahrir Square. Back then it was widely suspected to be the police, but to this day no one knows – as no one has been convicted.

If it was the police trying to disperse the crowds, it was a woefully unsuccessful strategy. If anything, the crowds increased and the nation turned against the government. The result, coupled with continual suspicion against the Muslim Brotherhood, made people argue the opposite: Snipers were with Hamas, who acted on behalf of the Brotherhood to help the revolution succeed. Here and there since then, the theory goes, Hamas reappeared to do the dirty work.

Liberal revolutionary activists I know hate this theory, as they believe it is old regime propaganda to let themselves off the hook. Even so, the commission which studied post-revolutionary transgressions on the part of the military – also often assumed to be old regime partial – gave its report to President Morsi, who let it sit on his desk. Did he hold it as leverage to use against the army? Leaked pages suggested their wrongdoing. Or did he hold it because Hamas was implicated therein? To this day – though the day is still early – we do not know.

What is in the report? And who rode the motorcycles? Was it Muslim Brotherhood sponsored, seeking to provoke the army and paint them as killing innocent civilian protestors? Was it the army itself, raising a false flag against the Brotherhood to paint them as extremists and justify jailing their leaders? Was it jihadists seeking to create chaos? Was it foreign powers wishing to do the same? Every conspiracy floats well in a sea of obscurity; they sink where transparent systems are in place.

So is Egypt trying to build one, or protect the old sea of mud? To close, here is the explanation offered  by a friend:

First: MB ignored completely the Egyptian people who asked Morsi to leave as if they are just ghosts. They want to put in equation: MB and the military. It had been always the MB strategy: We (the civil state) vs. the army (military regime) and always neglected the Egyptian people as if there is a vacuum outside these two entities.

Second: Ignoring the Egyptian people we reach this conclusion: the army toppled Morsy and his regime.

Third: Reaching this result we get a new equation: Fighting the army is a national and religious duty.

Fourth: MB international mass media (CNN, Jazira and I would say Euro news) must confirm this equation putting the Egyptian army at the same ignoble level as the Syrian army.

Fifth: This will bring us to the big game in Sinai. The big battle against this “dirty” army will be deployed in Sinai.

Beltagui threatened that violence in Sinai will continue in case Morsy will not return.

It means that if you will not give us Egypt again we will get Sinai and establish our Emirate with the help of Hamas and all jihadists. Something is better than nothing.

Natanayahu asked all Israel citizens to leave Sinai immediately.

The Egyptian army sent military reinforcements to Gaza borders.

Another link

Many attacks against el Arish security forces (the last point that must be reached by Hamas militias to get their alternative homeland)

A priest assassinated in el Arish.

It seems that Russia supports the Egyptian army with a “military satellite” to track the militias in Sinai.

Most probably the scenario they want to implement is to establish an Egyptian sub-state on the area Gaza/Arish under Morsi’s legitimacy (the legitimate president of Egypt). This State will be blessed by Israel and US.

Most probably, this is the reason why US don’t want to announce officially if what happened in Egypt is or is not a coup. They are keeping this card to the last moment.

It was not in US “best interests” to decide yet whether the armed overthrow of the country’s elected president amounted to a coup or not.

If Hamas will get this area (Gaza/Arist) and will establish their new State, US will announce that 30th of January had been a coup. If Hamas and all other Jihadists will fail, US will announce that it was not a coup.

Suez Canal

On the other side, the army deployed military forces in Suez, Ismailia, Port Said and Suez Canal is under strict control.

Closing Suez Canal would be an excellent argument to allow international forces to occupy this vital passage. In this case, the Egyptian army will have problems to go to Sinai and will help the Jihadists to do whatever they want.

This is my reading of the events. I hope that I am wrong. No doubt that the best thing to do to stop this “crescendo” is to announce clearly, loudly and officially that 30th of June had not been a coup but the revolution of a people who are looking for their freedom.

Judge for yourself, but to reach a place of stability, Egypt needs to know who rode the motorcycles.


Christians in the Sinai

The Sinai Region

Bishop Cosman is the presiding bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the diocese of North Sinai, consisting of an area 200km long and 127km deep. This roughly stretches from Port Said to Suez along the west (though these cities do not belong his bishopric).

Bishop Cosman states that the population of his bishopric is roughly 400,000-500,000 people, of whom about 3,000 are Christians, represented by 740 families. By contrast, over 2,000 Christian families live in the urban Cairo district of Hadayak al-Maadi. The bishop relates that the low population density makes for a quiet life, and that Christians have good relations, by and large, with their neighbors.

There are two principle cities in North Sinai, Rafah and Arish, each of which has been in the news recently with regularity. Rafah is the site of the crossing into Gaza, which was reopened following the reconciliation of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. As the reconciliation has sputtered, however, so has the crossing of goods through the border, as many restrictions remain. Illegal tunnels in the area compensate in black market trade, and near here Gaza Palestinians stand accused of crossing the border to infiltrate through Sinai to Eliat, where several Israelis were murdered in a terrorist attack.

Arish, meanwhile, has been the site of internal Egyptian unrest. On Jan. 29 following a massive, peaceful Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi demonstration in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, including Arish, masked gunmen attacked the city police station in a shootout lasting several hours. Flyers were distributed calling for an Islamic emirate in the Sinai, linked to a supposed local al-Qaeda branch. This event that prompted the entry of the Egyptian military, though special agreement had to be secured first with Israel, as much of the area is demilitarized as mandated by the Camp David Accords.

Each of these two cities hosts a Coptic Orthodox Church. Arish is the seat of the bishopric, which was built in 1939 in the neighborhood of Dahya. Rafah, however, hosts the only licensed church, which was built in 1996. This church, however, was destroyed during the lawless initial days of the Egyptian revolution, and has not yet been rebuilt despite promises by the state, according to Bishop Cosman. He states the Christians are waiting patiently to take their rights to pray in Rafah Church. He does not know who committed this crime, as the sixty-plus attackers covered their faces while wielding automatic weapons.

In addition to the two churches the diocese owns three additional ‘service buildings’ that resemble ordinary structures but host regular masses and provide social outlets for the Christian community. Two of these buildings are in Arish itself, with the other in Masa’id, a smaller town roughly 12km to the east. A community of five priests, in addition to Bishop Cosman, serves the Christians of the area.

Only two of these priests, however, stem originally from the diocese of North Sinai. Neither does Bishop Cosman, who hails from Beheira in the Delta region, and was appointed ten years ago from the St. Mina Monastery to the west of Alexandria. That even two priests are local is quite an accomplishment, however, as nearly all of the area Christians originally emigrated from other quarters.

The original inhabitants of the territory of the diocese are native Arishis, some Palestinians, and large Bedouin families which historically roamed the desert. To this number came significant Nile Valley transplants seeking work, beginning in the 19th Century. The Christians of North Sinai belong to this last group, and live mainly in the cities of Arish and Rafah, though some are in the smaller, inland villages of Hassana and Nikhl, and some in temporary worker outposts connected to projects. Like the inhabitants of the area, Christians tend to be poor. They are employed primarily as teachers, employees of government ministries, or in construction.

As stated earlier, Bishop Cosman emphasized the Christians of North Sinai enjoy good relations with all their neighbors, as well as the Bedouins, which is one reason he does not suspect them of involvement in the Rafah church attack. These relations are cemented through mutual visits during holidays and funerals, though the small number of Christians stipulates their reach in the community is not that far.

Yet the real danger in the area comes neither from the Salafis nor the Bedouin, but the lawless and criminal elements hiding in the desert. Even so, the bishop seemed mostly unconcerned. “We trust in God,” was his simple reply.

The region of Sinai is mysterious, beyond the experience of either urban or rural Egyptians. It exists in the nexus of struggle between Egypt and Israel, state and Bedouin, and civilization and tribe. Within this flashpoint is a small community of Christians, mostly imperceptible in each of these conflicts. Yet their faith maintains they are salt and light nonetheless. Further research, including hopeful visits to the area, is necessary to determine if it is true.