The Shape of ‘Terrorism’ Outside Cairo

Following on the heels of Morsi’s trial, it is difficult to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is called a terrorist organization from within the urban settings of Cairo. But this article from the Daily Beast describes the embattled position of police elsewhere:

“We never imagined that the violence could reach this point,” said Qadry Said Refay as he lay in the police hospital. The 37-year-old cop based in Fayoum, about 60 miles south of Cairo, had multiple head wounds, a broken right arm, and a deep, guttural cough.

On the morning of August 14, the same day the Brotherhood demonstrators were cleared away by Al-Sisi’s forces in Cairo, Refay reported for duty as usual in the ancient farming town near Egypt’s biggest oasis. The police station got a call: Brotherhood sympathizers were massing for an attack. Refay thinks there were thousands of them. Probably the numbers were smaller than that. But the four officers and 20 cops soon found themselves under attack by men with guns and Molotov cocktails closing in on all four sides of their little compound. After several hours the mob started coming over the walls and breached one of the gates.

I was sure I would lose my life,” said Refay.  In the middle of the fray he took off his uniform shirt, untucked his t-shirt, and put his gun in the back of his belt. He tried for a few seconds to reason with the attackers, but they swarmed over him. They took his pistol. They slashed his face with knives. “The last thing I can remember,” he said, “is one of them reaching to the ground, picking up a stone, and smashing it on my head.”

To what degree is the Brotherhood responsible for such violence? There is a culture of revenge in Upper Egypt that is far more intrinsically grassroots than any social support for political Islam.

At the same time, when security forces recaptured some of the villages seized by local Islamists, Brotherhood statements portrayed them as peaceful villagers under police attack. Surely it was bloody on all sides, and revenge from both cannot be discounted. But the Brotherhood publicly stood with those who raided police stations and committed the atrocities described above.

The burned-out police station, its walls pocked with bullet holes, was covered with graffiti—“This is the price for injustice. God will have victory,” and “Sisi, you are next.”

But one Brotherhood leader paints the picture as one of simple revenge, and his organization as a restraining force:

“Families in Upper Egypt are not accepting condolences,” said El Magd. “So they will take vengeance. So I think killing will start in Upper Egypt. And I don’t think the [Brotherhood] movement can control this. In Upper Egypt, if families don’t accept condolences for their dead, then they set their minds to vengeance.”

El Magd had the practice of tha’r in mind. “This cannot be controlled. Nobody can control Upper Egypt vengeance. And now everybody has guns. They have guns in Kirdasah.  I am not saying that it will be civil war. But at least Upper Egypt will go back to the ‘70s or ‘80s, where people were shooting at police officers just because they were police officers.”

Upper Egypt is hard to understand. What is the difference between a blood feud and terrorism? Does the distinction even matter?

Truth, justice, and reconciliation are urgently needed in Egypt. Will Morsi’s trial be the beginning of this process, or just one more obfuscation to keep it from happening?

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Assault on the Church of St. George: Dissecting Media Reporting in Sarsena, Fayoum

Photo of a brick thrown through the window, reportedly taken from inside St. George Church, by a woman who snuck a camera past security.
Photo of a brick thrown through the window, reportedly taken from inside St. George Church, by a woman who snuck a camera past security.

From my latest article in Arab West Report:

In Egypt, sectarian conflict can be dizzying. When news breaks it explodes – Muslim mobs, churches burned, priests attacked. When the news crests it collapses – Muslim denials, church agreement, security clampdown. Only when the news settles can the situation be understood – however incomplete, contradictory, and subject to enduring confusion.

The recent incident at the Church of St. George in Sarsena, Fayoum, approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Cairo, contains all the above elements.

This is a somewhat lengthy report, but the basic summary (disputed) is this: A church in a small village was bothersome to its Muslim neighbor. Perhaps this was because the priest was looking to expand the building, perhaps because of the noise of the mass, perhaps because he simply did not want a church as a neighbor.

During a priest-arranged reconciliation session between the two, the family of the neighbor appears to have attacked the church with stones and handmade firebombs. During a second reconciliation session to settle this development, the attack began again. Eventually, the church agreed to a number of restrictions on its noise and future expansion, but was allowed to remain on it current plot of land.

This is the basic summary. The full report shows how this understanding developed, wading through the different versions which circulated in the media, including the denial of the local bishop that anything happened at all. The report also includes testimony from researchers who visited the village firsthand, as well as the account of the local priest.

Here is the conclusion:

At this point it is important to recall Allam’s editorial. Exaggeration and sensationalism do not serve the Coptic cause, let alone the cause of justice. Initial reports of hundreds of attackers, thrust from the mosque, recall the worst examples of sectarian tension since the revolution. As the reality appears much simpler, though still serious, media attention prompted immediate denial from the church.

The church denial now casts all in suspicion. Fr. Dimyadios appears a crusading priest. Nader Shukry appears an activist first, a journalist second. Coptic-focused news outlets appear more bent on discrediting Muslims than on reporting truth. Even the mostly corroborating testimony of the judicious EIPR appears doubtful – are they making a mountain of a molehill in service of their distaste for Islamist governance?

Of course, all the above may be true, even if only in degree. But EIPR’s Ibrahim states why this case is relevant, even in its less than exaggerated details.

“The law must apply to all,” he said. “The customary, traditional solution is only a temporary solution.

“Letting go of your rights through reconciliation sessions only provides encouragement to those who transgress, and shows Christians are less than full citizens.”

That is, unless nothing happened at all. Such is sectarian tension in Egypt.

Please click here to read the full report.


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