Categories
Current Events

Coptic Martyrs of Cairo, Remembered in New Jersey

coptic-martyrs-in-new-jersey

Forty days later, the pain of terrorism in Egypt resonates as far as New Jersey.

On December 11, 2016 the Coptic community of Egypt was shaken by a suicide bomber, killing 28 worshippers in the St. Peter and St. Paul Church adjacent the Coptic Cathedral.

“Deliverance from our enemies comes only from God,” said Archbishop Karas, patriarchal exarch for North America in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

“But this is not new, martyrdom is part of living our lives in Christ.”

Archbishop Karas was one of many religious and political dignitaries present during a commemoration service at the St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Holmdel, NJ. Copts sometimes jest that their diaspora in New Jersey is the ‘Shubra’ of the United States, referring to the mixed but heavily populated Coptic neighborhood in Cairo.

Approximately 1000 visitors gathered on January 13 to honor the martyrs who lost their lives, fitting with the traditional Egyptian custom of mourning the deceased on the fortieth day after their passing.

This corresponds to January 20, but host Fr. Michael Sorial explained the service was moved forward to avoid scheduling on the presidential inauguration.

Fr. Sorial offered thanks to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his response to the tragedy. Immediately he promised to restore the Cairo church to its original condition in time for Coptic Christmas on January 7, and honored the victims with a state funeral.

The work completed, Sisi visited Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II for Christmas mass in the Coptic Cathedral for the third year running. He is the first Egyptian president ever to do so.

Fr. Sorial also hosted a number of New Jersey political figures, among them longtime friend of the Coptic community Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

“We look up to God, for only faith can truly comfort us at a time like this,” said Menendez. “And in each other we find the strength to move forward.

“As long as I have a vote and a voice in the US Senate, I will be a bold advocate for tolerance and acceptance, for freedom of religion, peace, and security – both here at home and around the world.”

Menendez was joined by fellow senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who offered his condolences in a recorded video.

“I am grateful the Coptic community lives those values of joy, of peace, of mercy, of compassion,” said Booker. “You evidence the values that are needed now more than ever to combat that kind of violence.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) dispatched an official letter.

“My prayer is that following this darkness and evil, the light of the Christian community in Egypt will burn brighter than ever before,” he wrote.

“I commit to you to work toward a more secure future for Christians in Egypt and in the region.”

Also joining the commemoration was Ambassador Ahmed Farouk of the Egyptian General Consulate in New York.

“In Egypt, that fact is that we are all Copts—whether we are Muslims or Christians,” said Farouk. “The 28 martyrs are in a better place than all of us, for sure.

“The only big loser is terrorism, and it will keep losing as long as we stand united.”

In his keynote address, Archbishop Karas reminded the audience that these martyrs cannot be remembered without also remembering other Christian and non-Christian victims of terrorism around the world.

But he impressed upon those in attendance that such witness is not only for those who are killed. It is meant also for the living.

“For most of us, martyrdom means we die to ourselves, and give our lives completely to God,” he said. “We honor Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of the 28 martyrs by taking up our cross, to follow our Lord.”

For complete video of the memorial service, please click here or watch below.

Categories
Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Ebram Louis and the Contested Nature of Coptic Disappearances

Ebram Louis
Ebram Louis

From my recent article on Egypt Source:

Maryam Milad disappeared in 2012. Last seen in the church of St. Anthony in Shubra, her father believes his now eighteen year old daughter has been kidnapped and perhaps married off to a Salafi Muslim somewhere. Police, he says, have been uncooperative.

“I plead with all the authorities in Egypt,” he said at a prayer meeting highlighting more than a dozen similar cases. “Put yourselves in the place of us parents.”

According to Ebram Louis, founder of the Association for the Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearances (AVAED), this is just the tip of the iceberg. He has documented 500 such cases since the revolution.

The article describes his process of documentation, and reveals interesting statistics from AVAED’s findings:

But according to AVAED chief field researcher George Nushi, up to 60 percent of all cases are [stemming from initial love relations]. Most of these, he said, involve Muslims of bad intention. The girl becomes infatuated, but then she is told she cannot go home again.

There are violent cases, but they are limited in number. Even so, AVAED sees religious extremism involved prominently:

“We do not say ‘kidnapping’ in the beginning,” he said, “We say ‘disappearance.’” Nushi says only 5 percent of girls suffered violent kidnappings in the traditional sense.

How does he then have such certainty that malevolent, organized Salafi groups are involved? Of their 500 cases, ten have escaped to tell their story. These stories reveal patterns which indicate similar activity, locations, and even phone numbers.

This issue requires deep research and understanding of the Egyptian social and cultural settings, far deeper than the scope of this article. But please click here to read the rest at Egypt Source.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Remembering Egypt’s Maspero Massacre through its Most Prominent Martyr

Marry Daniel
Marry Daniel

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 9, 2013.

I never met Mina Daniel, but today many in Egypt consider him a hero and a martyr. Recently, I met his sister.

Two years ago this week, the 20-year-old Daniel was gunned down during a peaceful Coptic protest outside the Maspero state TV headquarters in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011. More than 25 others died and scores were injured by military vehicles swerving through the crowded demonstration, or by local thugs who attacked the scattering remnants.

To this date, only a few low-level officers have been handed sentences, ranging from two to three years in prison.

Commemorating the massacre, Copts gathered in the Cave Church of Muqattam in the mountains outside Cairo, a scene of many interdenominational prayer services. Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands of Muslims and Christians marched together to Maspero from Shubra, a northern Cairo district with a high percentage of Coptic residents.

The religious unity of both events was just as Daniel would have wanted it.

“Mina didn’t care if you were a Mina [a typical Coptic name] or a Muhammad,” his sister Marry told me. “He dealt with everyone as created in the image of God.”

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.

 

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

The Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud Street: Testimony

Mohamed Mahmoud Street, with barricades in the near- and far-ground, erected by the army

note: This is Part Two of the Mohamed Mahmoud Clashes. For Part One dealing with surrounding conspiracies, click here.

Balancing Conspiracy with Testimony

Each of these conspiracy theories has several flaws; indeed each flaw is revealed in the theory of its opposite. Furthermore, the theories thrive not on fact, but on speculation where facts are absent. In each of the above suspects there is little transparency; even where it exists it is doubted due to the sizeable stakes allotted to the winners. For more clarity direct testimony is needed.

Even testimony, however, is colored by the media. Furthermore, activists have their own causes which filter through their narrative. Even so, this report is able to present the testimony of one ‘combatant’ in the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes. His perspective appears credible, and sheds light on why many, perhaps, were there. At the least it reveals why he took part.

The testimony comes from a Coptic Christian resident of Shubra, Cairo, who prefers to remain anonymous. Though he has spoken of his tale on Facebook and Twitter, he believes these avenues to be largely ignored by the police. Foreign media, on the other hand, is monitored and suspect.

Non-Revolutionary Pedigree

Mina, as he will henceforth be called, was an onlooker during the January revolution, connected only to the pro-Mubarak State TV. Slowly he became politicized as he considered joining, but refrained, fortunately, the morning of the infamous Battle of the Camel. Yet momentum triumphed and he descended to Tahrir the Friday after Mubarak resigned, swept up in the euphoria.

Interestingly, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the renowned Islamist scholar connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, gave the traditional Friday sermon. Mina’s church community in Shubra was long suspicious of the revolution as the agenda of political Muslims, and Mina found himself in the position of having to represent Tahrir Square to apprehensive friends and family. Qaradawi’s words, he said, were inclusive and wise.

Over the months that followed Mina became increasingly concerned about the fate of the revolution vis-à-vis the ‘remnants of the former regime’ or the slow-moving government cabinet. He followed devotedly major activists on Twitter and saw events through their lens. He lent his presence during many major summer demonstrations. Yet he also grew critical of the sectarian Christian slice of revolutionary activity. Following each sequential attack on a church or Christian community, he foreswore the Coptic-specific protests in Maspero in favor of wide ranging condemnations issued from Tahrir, only two blocks away.

Over time, in fact, Mina began to see his chief revolutionary contribution to lie in translation of Tahrir to the traditional Coptic residents of Shubra, at least those within his circle of influence. He began to go less and less to the square, instead spending more time defending it among his friends on Facebook.

In Mohamed Mahmoud Street

Until, that is, the Twitter community broadcast the injuries suffered in Tahrir Square on November 19. He followed along horrified, and then went down the next morning when he found a friend of like mind.

The idea was not to engage the police, but to swell the numbers of demonstrators. It was a well known rule among protestors that small crowds meant increased chances for violent suppression. Hoping simply to be one of many, Mina and his friend arrived in Tahrir and found some, but no signs of conflict.

It did not take much searching. Tahrir was peaceful but they followed the commotion to Mohamed Mahmoud Street and found themselves via a side street immediately at the front lines.

Their description fits with that above. Protestors and police swayed through patterns of advance and retreat. Though the security movement was based on tactics, the crowd relied on emotion and passion. Mina was drawn in; police brutality was a central point of the January revolution, a principal cause of transitional frustration, and was once again in play. His friend threw rocks, but Mina chose not to. Both soon fell into the semi-violent rhythm: Watch the tear gas canister shot through the air to gauge its landing spot, run away, re-congregate, and advance again from another angle. As protestors were either shot by pellets or collapsed from tear gas inhalation, a Salafi riding a motorbike would come and ferry the injured back to Tahrir makeshift field clinics. To Mina and his friend, this man was a hero.

Characterizing the Combatants

The Salafi was notable by his beard and robe, but fit right in with the diversity of the crowd. It was clear to Mina that some were upper class as they twiddled on Twitter or were outfitted with expensive gas masks. Then there were others with torn sandals, shabby clothing, and a piece of cloth tied under their nose for protection. Yet they were one, and Mina was with them.

They were the good guys. They coordinated with residents to remove cars from the street so they were not damaged in the clashes. They climbed the buildings to put out fires caused by errant tear gas canisters landing in residential apartments. There was no vandalism. At one point during a temporary halt in hostilities, the protestors cleared the street from all rocks and debris.

The police, meanwhile, were the absolute bad guys. Groupthink solidarity took hold and Mina and his friend purposed not to abandon their newfound colleagues. At one point after several hours they pulled away to buy a sandwich to refuel for the evening, and a stranger asked sympathetically for them not to leave them. It was their furthest thought. They were in it together, and they were angry. They were determined not to yield their ground to police. They would not be defeated.

Mina relates there were no plans to storm the Ministry of the Interior. Yet he confessed also he somewhat fantasized about it – what they would do if the police gave up. Its burning would not have been for the sake of destruction, he explained, but for the sake of its corrupt symbolism. The people must win; the institution needs purging. Though never feeling on the cusp of victory, their greatest advance led them within eyesight, 700 meters away.

The Role of the Army

To Mina’s surprise, their conflict was not with the police alone. Earlier in the day Mina and his friend tended to nature’s call in a computer mall on Bustan Street, a few blocks north from the conflict flashpoint. Shortly later they found themselves in a mix-up with the military, who, unknown to them, had just cleared Tahrir Square completely with the help of the police. In Taalat Harb Square he witnessed a soldier fire a tear gas canister directly at a protestor, who turned just in time to avoid being hit in the chest. Yet before this conflict tarried too long, the scene was quiet as all security forces withdrew. Their displaced local group lurched back to Tahrir, found it empty, and reoccupied. Meanwhile, the battle continued on Mohamed Mahmoud.

During the evening hours Mina believed the military was involved again. He judged from their brown uniforms and sturdy build, as opposed to the black of the riot police with their equipment covering their normal Egyptian scrawny bodies. At nightfall only the soccer hooligan contingent continued scuffles with the police, who were now more passive behind a barricade. On a Mohamed Mahmoud side street leading to Sheikh Rehan Street, however, the protestors fought the army.

Nightfall was much more violent, with more casualties. Tear gas canisters could not be sighted in the sky, and victims fell from gunshot, not just pellets. He saw dead bodies. Mina had never repeated calls against the military council, though he joined many in condemning military trials for civilians. Yet that night in the street he prayed God would not allow military rule to continue. He did what he could on his part, maintaining his presence until the early morning hours.

Once home he was grilled by family and friends. Once again they wondered why he was there at a Muslim protest. Two days earlier Islamists, primarily, had called for a massive demonstration which led to the small sit-in violently dispersed. He was far too tired to answer, or even to think coherently. After several hours of sleep he arose, answered all possible questions on this Facebook page, and referred all inquisitors there. He did not return to Tahrir, which continued its protest for several days. Mina relates his community now understands better what took place, trusts him, and is sympathetic.

Conclusion

It is only one testimony, and should not be generalized. Nevertheless the sentiment that comes through is of a situation that escalated quickly, pungent with emotion and a lingering sense of grievance. Anger and solidarity drove the protestors, not strategy. Where there is no strategy, there is also no conspiracy – at least not from their part.

While testimony is lacking, it may well be anger and solidarity which drove the police as well. Images from this and other confrontations with protestors depict police taunting and celebrating against their rivals. Rivalry may be an apt description; it is said police feel as if they ‘lost’ in January, while protestors feel their ‘win’ has not been cemented as the Ministry of Interior fails to reform. The explosion at Mohamed Mahmoud Street may have stemmed from these unresolved tensions.

This is not to absolve any ringleaders from the charge of conspiracy, whoever they may be. Rumors are the catalyst for conspiracy, and Twitter is fertile ground. Surely most retweets were innocent; could some have been planted to provoke an onslaught of support? Were the specters of Tahrir in play?

Little else from Mina’s testimony adds to charges against the other suspects listed above, except for his tentative identification of military contribution to the clashes. While the reasons behind clearing Tahrir Square remain mysterious, the contingent at nighttime may well have been seeking to stand between the two factions. Or not, but Mina’s words alone are not sufficient to state either way.

The main contribution is simply to highlight his own heart during the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes. Conspiracies concern the big picture, the puppet master, but may well have no basis at all in reality. On the other hand, Mina and thousands of others represent the detail. They do not represent puppets. They are the reality. They are flesh and blood willing to put their lives on the line for the most visceral – and perhaps noble – of reasons. Their mistakes may have been many; their wisdom may have failed them. Yet they were there, and may we trust they were there for good.

If testimony was available from the side of the police, it is quite possible similar nobility would come through. Individual policemen also represent the detail. They too are the reality. They stood their ground in front of what must have appeared an angry mob. They did their job.

If either one were puppets, may God forgive those who abused them. Much of Mohamed Mahmoud, and even Tahrir Square in its entirety, may only make sense in retrospect, several years from now. Until then, while focus is needed on the big picture, the individual details must not be forgotten. These are the lives fighting for Egypt’s future, just as much as any army general or political leader. Conspiracy may enwrap them all, but it must not obscure them. Each is given a share, and each will be held accountable.

May God honor all who strive for right.

Translation: Martyrs Street, formerly Mohamed Mahmoud Street
Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Video Analysis of Maspero: Part Five and Conclusion

To read the Introduction, please click here. For Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here. For Part Three, click here. For Part Four, click here.

 

Corpses Gathered in Hospitals or Elsewhere

Video Thirty-Four: Martyrs of Maspero 2  (Three minutes)

Video footage is from inside the Coptic Hospital, where many injured and dead were taken. The halls are crowded with people with a steady murmur in the air.

0:10        Person sitting on side of hallway with an obvious but not life threatening head wound

0:20        Dead body lying on floor; it appears his throat has been cut and has bruises to his head

0:37        To his left is another body which appears to be alive, with someone attending him

0:47        A cover is removed from a bloody corpse with horrific head wounds

1:08        A pool of blood is shown on the floor

1:20        Another corpse is shown lying on the ground with a head wound

1:50        Video switches to another hallway, where another corpse is lying on the floor

2:20        Camera returns to the corpse of 0:47, from this angle it appears he could have been run over by an APC

 

Video Thirty-Five: Special for al-Shuruk: Corpses at the Entrance to the January 25 Building at Maspero (Three minutes)

Video footage is from inside a hallway of the building housing at the aforementioned January 25 TV studio, which was stormed by military personnel.

0:03        Two dead bodies are lying side by side, the one to the right appears to have wounds in his shoulder and head

0:36        A man standing against the wall has blood dripping from his head, but appears ok

0:52        Another corpse is shown with a heavy wound to his head

1:15        Moving up a short flight of steps, a man is lying on the ground writhing with a pool of blood under his leg

1:30        A man crouches over a body on the floor who appears to be alive; pools of blood are all around

1:44        Video switches to another angle, showing three dead bodies lying in a hallway

 

Analysis: None necessary. These people were killed brutally.

 

Compiled Footage

The final three videos assemble footage from throughout the day, as compiled by their author. Important events therein not highlighted earlier will be identified by minute.

 

Video Thirty-Six: The Egyptian Army Runs Over the Copts with APCs in front of Maspero (One minute)

0:01        An APC speeding through traffic, swerving, but slowing as it approached a person directly so as not to run him over

0:17        People surrounding a soldier, beating him, as a priest tries to intervene and bring him to safety (clearer footage of that shown in video nine earlier)

0:56        A military vehicle is shown burning, perched up on top of a road divider

 

Video Thirty-Seven: Shubra – Maspero March, October 9, 2011, Graphic (Eleven minutes)

0:09        Footage from the march from Shubra under the bridge when attacked from above, some protestors throw stones back at them, many take cover under the bridge, no weapons or clubs are evident

3:55        Pieces of a man’s skull are held in a cloth up to the camera, people say he was crushed by a ‘tank’ (APC, presumably)

4:21        Crying women and children from inside the Coptic Hospital

4:38        Dead bodies on the floor, one is covered with a picture of Jesus, another – Michael Mossad – has his hand clasped by his fiancé, Vivian Magdy

5:15        A man identifies himself as Ibrahim Azouz, states that when they arrived at Maspero the army fired into the first row of people, a little latter the APCs went swerving through the people on the street, driving over some, it’s horrible, it’s the army, the army that is supposed to protect us, they kill us like animals

6:00        Distraught men are shouting and weeping

6:50        A man identifies himself as from Ezbat al-Nakhl,and as the brother of Mina inside who they killed, who killed him? Mohamed Tantawi, the field marshal, the Lord will take revenge on him, and not just him, all of them

7:28        Scenes from the funeral at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo

 

Video Thirty-Eight: Most Important Heated Scenes from the Events of Maspero – Panorama (Nine minutes)

0:40        Close up view of the pickup truck proceeding from the Shubra march, it has loudspeakers and a priest riding upon it, with several other passengers

3:33        A man stumbles in view of the camera, bearing a head wound of some sort, someone calls for water and pours it on his head

6:20        Dead bodies strewn on the pavement

6:55        Another view of the skull in the cloth, presented by a priest, the boy carrying it identifies himself as Samih Gerges, his brother, perhaps age 12; priest says Fr. Philopater and Fr. Mityas have also been subjected to beatings, and were attacked; a car later pulls up and the priest gets in and they drive away

 

Final Analysis

The central and most important question to be determined from events of Maspero is this: Who shot and killed the victims? Unfortunately, on this point the video evidence is silent. No footage has been located to show either that protestors fired on the armed forces, or that military personnel fired on protestors. The causes of their death, from the standpoint of video, cannot be determined.

This does not mean that either side is innocent of the charge. Many testimonies exist stating the army opened fire, and the ‘confession’ of the soldier on the bus (in video 21) must be investigated.

From the other direction, the military council maintains the death of an unstated number of their men, as testified to by the soldiers on State TV. Their refusal to release names is announced as due to the threat of loss of morale among troops and increased tension within the nation. However legitimate these concerns, they do not aid the cause of investigation.

The presence of a third party cannot be dismissed on video evidence, neither can accusations of sniper activity, which would presumably be off camera. For further determination more footage is needed, either from amateur video, television networks such as German TV, or the closed captioned cameras at Maspero itself. These latter cameras have recently come to light through the human rights lawyer Amir Salem, who obtained their footage from the January 25 revolution.

Though video evidence is not able to absolve protestors absolutely, available footage demonstrates the vast majority of protestors were peaceful and unarmed (videos 2, 3, 5, 6). They were attacked previously in their march, yet failed to respond with any of the arms they are accused of possessing. Yet it must be noted that individuals within the march are witnessed carrying instruments which could be used as clubs (video 5), which are evidently not the crosses carried by many demonstrators.

Evidence is also slim which establishes protestors as the initiators of violence in general. Yet it is also clear that some demonstrators behaved in a provoking manner with the military police, striking at them and throwing stones at their lines (video 8). Once events unraveled, however, there are many scenes of protestors violently assaulting military personnel (videos 9, 18, 19). While it may plausibly be argued that violence was escalated as thugs entered the scene – cautiously established by video 15 – within the chaos there are images of protestors with crosses striking at the military, as well as a man wearing a martyr’s robe who tosses a large stone on a helpless soldier (video 9). Ultimately, however, video is unable to determine who among the rioters in question was a demonstrator or a thug, a Muslim or a Christian.

Considering the military role in violence, video cautiously establishes that a cordon was established to prevent the march from Shubrā from meeting up with the protest at Maspero (videos 7, 8, 13), which was then dispersed forcefully (videos 6, 7, 9). The manner this was done appears consistent with previous military efforts to disperse protests, sit-in or otherwise, and does not betray any predisposition for lethal violence.

Even the use of APCs to disperse lingering protestors does not necessarily betray such predisposition. Video does not establish well why the rioting ensued following the dispersal of protest. Equally plausible – in terms of video – are that frustrated protestors lashed out at the army, the military initiated sustained violence for its own purposes, or that a third party played one side against the other. Yet within this chaos there is footage both of APCs which carefully maneuver through the crowds so as not to strike protestors (videos 14, 18) as well as footage that depicts intention to kill (videos 9, 11). While it is plausible to imagine some had orders to inflict casualties, it is also plausible to imagine casualties resulting from individual soldiers, either panicked or enraged at events.

Yet other evidence raises questions which the military council must provide answers for, besides that of the soldier’s statement from the bus. Why did a driver move an empty military bus into the middle of the road, and then leave it there (video 17)? Why were so many military vehicles present which were left unattended, and thereafter set ablaze (video 13)? What was the soldier doing in the midst of the crowd, milling about unaccosted (video 9)?

Similarly, there are questions for the leadership of the Coptic protests to answer. How is it that demonstrators and their leaders were unaware of those in their midst with clubs (video 5)? Having been attacked under the bridge in the procession from Shubra (video 37), why was there not adequate caution about possible violence at Maspero? What were the intentions of Fr. Philopater in waving the procession towards the police cordon (video 8)? Why were some protestors dressed as martyrs, and who encouraged them to do so (video 2)?

Perhaps the greatest questions need to be posed to state media. In the episode at Maspero, did they act as a mouthpiece for the military council, independently, or at the behest of a third party? Was the footage of interviewed soldiers legitimate? Even if so, how was such inciting coverage allowed to be broadcast unedited (videos 23-25)? Why was a call issued for citizens to defend the army? Who wrote the news brief Rasha Magdy read on air (video 29)? Who issued the correction only one soldier was killed (video 33)? Why were the announced dead soldiers declared ‘martyrs’ (video 24, 29, 30)?

In conclusion, most of these questions posed are unable to be answered conclusively though video. Perhaps the analysis of eyewitness testimony and further investigations will contribute insight, though this is beyond the scope of this report. It is of concern that current investigations are conducted under military jurisdiction, bypassing the civil judiciary or an independently established commission.

For now, this effort is simply to collect existing evidence located on video, and present it openly for all who wish to investigate further. It is hoped to prevent all sides from selective interpretation of events in ignorance, willful or otherwise, of a counter-narrative to their favored account. Ultimately, it is hoped that the truth of events will come to light – partially through this analysis – so that justice and reconciliation may be pursued from a firm foundation.

The events at Maspero received a sectarian coloring, deservedly or otherwise. Christians in Egypt received alleged confirmation that the army is against them, or at least willing to exploit them, in deference to a larger Muslim constituency. Muslims in Egypt received alleged confirmation that Copts are disloyal, seek privileges beyond their due, and are potentially armed. If unchecked, these colorings threaten to undo Egypt at its seams. Muslims and Christians must be keen to forge good relations to confront these allegations.

To repeat, ultimate responsibility and culpability in the events of Maspero are not established through video evidence. The above colorings, therefore, must be studied in light of available evidence, but not assumed via predispositions where evidence is lacking. Evidence points to infractions from all sides; all are guilty, to one degree or another.

Yet this report must conclude with the most important question unanswered: Who shot the victims? Until this truth is established, all suspicions remain open. Unfortunately, this allows all colorings to linger. For the sake of Egypt, national unity, and basic justice, an answer must be found.

 

To read the Introduction, please click here. For Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here. For Part Three, click here. For Part Four, click here. To read the full report in pdf, click here.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Video Analysis of Maspero: Introduction

October 9 witnessed riots in Cairo that led to the death of at least twenty-seven people and the injury of over 300, mostly from Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. The conflict followed a peaceful march from the neighborhood of Shubra, with its high percentage of Coptic residents, to the Radio and TV Building in Maspero, which has become the location of choice for Coptic protests following the revolution. Early on in the coverage state media announced Coptic protestors had assaulted the army assigned to guard the Maspero building with stones, Molotov cocktails, and live ammunition, killing at least three. Yet when the dust had settled nearly all dead were Copts, with many witnesses laying blame upon the military for the entire event. Since then, speculation has posited the presence of a third party which may have set the two sides upon each other. The investigation is still ongoing, undertaken by the military prosecution.

This report does not seek to answer fully the ultimate question of responsibility, yet it treats in detail one of the main sources of evidence: Video testimony. Uploaded to YouTube are accounts filmed by eyewitnesses, television channels, and State TV. In all, this report has collected thirty-seven videos, beginning with initial march from Shubra, the onset of violence, the ensuing chaos, media coverage, and ending with images of the dead bodies strewn across the floor. A link for each video is provided, and minute-by-minute commentary explains the scene.

Simple analysis will accompany each section of videos, with a final assessment of video evidence provided at the end. Though presumably a transparent rendering of events, video is limited in establishing final judgment, if only because not all evidence is filmed. Eyewitness testimony and forensic reports must also be granted a hearing, which is beyond the scope of this report. Instead, the text places the events before its readers, allowing them their independent evaluation.

Yet it is hoped as well this effort will establish a common ground of analysis in what has become fiercely divided ground of controversy. Individual videos, in isolation, threaten to distort the overall picture, which otherwise could be exploited to serve a partisan narrative. It is not a question of seeking ‘balance’ or equal guilt; when twenty-seven people die justice is demanded. Rather, it is an effort to place all video evidence possible before the public view. As tensions are already enflamed, the situation needs sober judgment; the truth will come out of its own accord. This report is intended as a contribution – for the sake of justice, and the sake of Egypt. These are difficult times; may the nation know peace.

For Part One, please click here. For the full report in pdf, click here.

Categories
Arab West Report Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Clashes, Deaths at Coptic Protest in Maspero

Scene from the Violen Dispersal of the Protest

Egyptian State TV confirms 23 dead and over 170 injured in clashes between largely Coptic protestors, unknown assailants, and Egyptian military police on October 9, 2011. Protestors began their march from the heavily Christian neighborhood of Shubra at 5pm, culminating at the Egyptian Radio and TV Building in Maspero in downtown Cairo. The peaceful march was scheduled to end at 8pm, but was attacked at various stages along the route by unknown opposition.

I received word of the protest earlier in the day. Having witnessed the Coptic attempt at a sit-in at Maspero five days earlier, which was eventually dispersed by the army, I wished again to get a sense for the manner in which Copts were expressing their grievances. These largely centered on the burning of a purported church in the village of Marinab, in Edfu, in the Aswan governorate on September 30. Many Copts believe the interim government to be lax in protecting their community and securing equality of citizenship; what is certain is that a lack of security throughout the country has led to abuses.

I arrived by metro to Tahrir Square near Maspero at 7pm. Coming up from the underground I received a phone call from a colleague asking if I was on my way, and to be careful, as a protestor had been shot. Stunned by her statement, I immediately noticed the tension in the air as the metro entrance area was surrounded by Egyptians – many of them presumably Copts from lack of head coverings – pale, and in shock. Many had tears in their eyes. Shortly thereafter I did as well.

This group stated with vehemence they had been attacked by the army, emphasizing it was the army, and not simple thugs. People had been shot and armored vehicles had run over protestors as they swerved through the crowd. Some claimed there were snipers. Confusion reigned, and it was hard to know what was happening.

Only a few minutes later a group of protestors marched by where I was standing on their way to Tahrir Square. They were carrying what appeared to be dead body, chanting against Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi, head of the ruling military council. I saw no signs of blood, but the body was inert.

I moved northward along the side of the Egyptian Museum toward Abdel Munim Riyadh Square, site of a major bus station. Hundreds of Egyptians were milling about, simply watching events unfold. From a distance I could see clashes between protestors and police taking place on the 6 October Bridge, both sides throwing rocks back and forth.

Ahead of me at an intersection of the Cornish Road along the Nile River several protestors were angrily destroying stop lights and street signs. A scuffle broke out around a taxi – it seemed two people were simply fighting to get in and drive away. Several of those standing around carried planks in their hands. Others carried crosses. The former were presumably informal members of ‘neighborhood committees’ which had been formed after the revolution to combat looting. The latter were presumably remnants of the protest, now scattered about.

One of these latter was an older gentleman from the church I attend in Maadi, Cairo. He was livid, but despondent. ‘Let the whole country get enflamed,’ he said. ‘It will serve them right. Do you see what is happening! They are killing us!’ I tried to comfort, and remind. ‘No, remember your faith. Let love hold in your heart. Copts must now be peacemakers.’ It was of little use, as we stood and watched another clash take place on the bridge. Comfort was better. I put my arm around him and cried. ‘I’m sorry for what is taking place. God protect Egypt.’ A moment later a stranger noticed me and asked if I was a foreigner. ‘Why are you here?’ he demanded. I kept quiet, said I was only watching, and moved away.

It should be noted that although I use the word ‘protestors’ throughout the text, it was impossible to tell Muslim from Christian, protestor from bystander from ‘thug’. Who was committing violence, and who was suffering it, was impossible to say.

This fact makes interpretation of events near impossible as well. A phone call to my wife allowed me to receive updates from the news and Twitter. Reports were conflicting. Wildly different numbers of dead were being reported, from two or three to thirty or fifty. Furthermore, there were reports that army personnel were also killed. Some said that Christians had machine guns. Others reported that State TV announced the army was under attack, and urged Egyptians to come into the streets to defend it. The largely activist and liberal Twitter community understood that official media was blaming the protestors for what happened, saying that they fired first.

I cannot say the truth of what took place, for I arrived no more than fifteen minutes or so late to the scene, and was never in a front line position. Yet before too long an acquaintance from the Maspero Youth Union recognized me and gave me his version of events. He stated there were 10,000 Copts and Muslim supporters in the march from Shubra, which was met with violence when their path was blocked. He blamed thugs sent by the army, but also that people were pelting them with rocks and glass from apartment buildings along the road. Eventually, they were able to proceed again. He insisted the group did not plan for a sit-in, but was ready to disperse freely at 8pm. Upon arrival at Maspero, however, the army began attacking immediately, he maintained. People were shot in the head, and others were run over by military vehicles. I discovered later that one member of the Maspero Youth Union, Michael Mossad, was among those killed.

As he was relating events tear gas was fired on the bridge, and he left to go check in on events. From time to time waves of protestors fell back, and gradually security regained control of the area, pushing everyone back toward the direction of Tahrir Square. Suddenly a fire engine sped through the area and was pelted by rocks as it went by. Whether or not this caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle, it swerved, hopped over the central median, struck one or two people along the way, and crashed into a street light. Waves of protestors then descended upon it, but I could not tell if they were beating the driver or pulling him from the wreck. Several climbed on top and began vandalizing. A car fire raged shortly thereafter on the other side of the street.

Contrary to media reports, however, I did not witness ‘clashes’ in Abdel Munim Riyadh Square between protestors and others. There was much tension, sounds of occasional gunfire, and tear gas lobbed throughout the area, but I never witnessed actual fighting except at a distance. The area is large, however, so I am hopeful if it took place I was stationed in the safer locations.

Contrary to other media reports, I did not witness large reactionary protests in Tahrir Square. Egyptians were all over, and at times small bands of protestors would march and chant slogans against the military council. Yet when I was present there was certainly not a mass gathering in response to what took place. I wandered a bit more throughout the area, before leaving to go home around 9pm.

As news continues to unfold there will be much to confirm amidst the rumors. There are reports the military entered media offices preventing transmission of live feeds. There are reports of clashes outside the Coptic Hospital where many injured are being treated. There are reports liquor stores – owned by Christians – are being attacked downtown. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has called for an emergency cabinet meeting tomorrow, and has posted on his Facebook page:

What took place was not a confrontation between Muslims and Christians but an attempt to create chaos and ignite sectarian sedition, which is not fitting for the children of the nation who were and will remain ‘one hand’ against the powers of destruction and extremism. Application of the law is the ideal solution for all of Egypt’s problems. I urge all children of the nation who are keen for its future not to answer those who call for sectarian sedition. This is a fire which will consume us all, without distinction.

These are wise words. May they prove true especially now and in the days to come. God protect Egypt.

Categories
Personal

Marinab, Maspero, and Faith on the Earth

Please note: The following was written a few days ago following a largely Coptic protest at Maspero. Obviously, it must be reconsidered in light of the horrible events of this evening, in which several were killed. All the same, this should do well to set the context for what happened today.

 

Outraged at the burning of a church in Marinab in the governorate of Aswan, over 1000 Copts and Muslim supporters marched in Cairo on October 4, 2011 from the heavily mixed Muslim-Christian neighborhoods of Shubra to the Court of Cassation in Ramsis. Afterwards, several hundred moved to the Egyptian Radio and TV Building in nearby Maspero, announcing a sit-in at the site of several previous Coptic protests.

The Setting

Unfortunately, the immediate spark that ignited this protest in Marinab is not at all clear. Many if not most demonstrators believed otherwise. A common interpretation claims  extremist, likely Salafi, Muslims surrounded a church and torched it, besieging their minority Christian neighbors in an effort to keep them from having a place of worship and perhaps to drive them from the area. This despite the fact that local Copts possessed official documents authorizing building renovation.

A full report on what transpired will be published soon, based on the findings of Cornelis Hulsman and Lamis Yahia during a visit to Marinab. What is emerging, though, is a far more complicated tale. While it appears the Christians of the village may have had authorization, this may have been gained on false pretenses. Or, it could have come through a ‘deal’ made between the governor and the deputy priest of the bishop to keep quiet a conversion case – which often result in sectarian tension – in exchange for authorization to construct a church. Stay tuned for full analysis of documents and testimonies, but regardless, the burning of the building occurred on a slow boil.

Christians in Marinab had long used a nondescript structure as a church, which was well known to the Muslims of the village. Negotiations had been underway to tear down the building and replace it with a formal church building. Muslims objected not to the conducting of religious rites but to the physical markings of church architecture. Confident in their authorization, the Christians began to build. Then, in light of the security void in the region following the revolution, they began to exceed their mandate.

Muslims brought this to the attention of authorities: Christians exceeded the approved height of the structure, and added four unauthorized domes to the roof – typical of Coptic Orthodox architecture. This was not disputed by local Copts, and they began to dismantle. Two of the domes were removed and the walls lowered. Copts stated this required careful, painstaking effort, lest the building collapse. Muslims felt they were moving slowly, stalling, and perhaps deliberately leaving some domes untouched.

On Friday, September 30, something set the Muslim community off, which will require more investigation. Perhaps fearful Christians would circumvent agreements and get away with it, a group of 200-300 youths took the matter into their own hands, using simple tools to tear down the building. This eventually swelled into around 1000 strong, and security looked on doing nothing. At some point some Muslims arrived with gasoline, and used it to set the structure ablaze. As the church-to-be is in a densely populated area of the Christian ‘quarter’, the flames spread and consumed much inventory in the neighboring warehouse. Christian properties were also damaged, and looting took place. The general sense – which can be disputed – is that Muslims wished to target the church, and some wayward youths engaged in violent excess. It is clear, however, that Muslims could have done far more damage to Marinab Christians had they wished, and did not do so.

There is nothing redeemable in the actions of these Muslims, as their Islamic chauvinism led them first to oppose a physical Christian imprint on their village, and then to take the law into their own hands. Yet perhaps law is a misnomer, for it seems both Christians and Muslims abused its absence. Application of law had long been a neglected feature of Egypt; after the revolution the ongoing security void is a deep mystery.

The Protest

It is this lack of government that gives legitimacy to the Coptic protest at Maspero. Marinab is the third church to be attacked since the revolution, following Atfih and Imbaba. Christian hopes raised during the revolution, which appeared to portend a new spirit of cooperation and national unity, are being dashed as frustrations with the former regime re-circulate, and perhaps increase. Yet the response of anger to the Marinab attacks reflects a lack of understanding and a jumping to conclusions. Neither the state nor the church provided (or were able to provide) the depth of complexity and shared complicity which led to the unjustified Muslim attack, however much both groups felt they needed to take the matter into their own hands. Yet a simple narrative of persecution and extremist opposition is more easily digestible.

Unfortunately, it is a narrative which is polarizing, even as it bears marks of true suffering. It is a tale that isolates Christians, even as it is self-fulfilling. It was also clearly evident at the Maspero protests.

I was in attendance with Cornelis Hulsman, who supplies many of the remarks which follow. I also know a few of the Coptic organizers, and find them to be good people who are not manipulators. Yet that might not be true of all.

Whether or not they possessed a true history of the Marinab conflict, Fr. Philopater, Fr. Mityas, and Fr. Abram Suriyani, a monk, are all Coptic Orthodox clerics with strained ties to church hierarchy. They, along with other priests from Shubra, Ma’asara, Beni Mazar and elsewhere, appeared to be coordinators. While they were celebrated by many, followed by large gatherings, one protestor in particular upbraided the priests as bringing trouble on the Copts. He said this while repeating the frequently heard Coptic chauvinism of being ‘pure-bred’ from the Pharaohs, as opposed to the Muslims of mixed Arab blood.

Since the revolution there has been a movement among Christians to rejoin society as opposed to remaining walled in the church leaving Pope Shenouda to represent Coptic interests. This, I find, has been a largely positive development, even as it imitates the popular activist techniques of protests and sit-ins. The above priests appear to reflect this trend, and constantly remind both Copts and media their presence does not infer church sanction of the event. I do not know the priests well, and must be reticent to cast accusations. Yet an activist by nature is often single-minded; as he may have the tendency to neglect greater context, he may also face the temptation to simplify a narrative. This is no sin, yet it may not reflect wisdom.

Their fellow activist, Rami Kamel, general coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, received a phone call from the office of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, seeking to know their demands and sit for dialogue. He refused, stating he would offer demands the next morning. At another point during the evening Fr. Philopater was removed by security, apparently for negotiations, but later returned and the sit-in continued. The entire time the Maspero area was surrounded by military police and central security; veterans of public demonstrations we know – one an activist, the other security – conjectured appearances suggested they would violently clear the area.

Meanwhile, the Maspero Youth Union had drawn up and printed demands, reflecting a simplified and exaggerated narrative. It stated, for example, that though noble Egyptians have followed the news of the Marinab church, ‘we Copts follow with weeping hearts as our churches are daily exposed to burning and destruction’.

Furthermore, a threat was issued: ‘We know full well that the events of Marinab will not be the last as long as the military council and those running the country remain incapable of protecting Egyptian Copts’ churches and the lives of their sons. … As such, we have no choice but to struggle for our just cause by taking all possible measures of political escalation until we gain all of our squandered rights.’ They then list the following six demands:

  1. Arrest of criminals who incited and caused the incident (in Marinab).
  2. Resignation of the Aswan governor and investigation into his inflammatory statement to the media against the feelings of Copts, and of his lie about the truth of what happened.
  3. Immediate investigation of Officer Ahmed Fathi, security detective in Edfu, and the security director of Aswan, and their collusion in the sinful aggression.
  4. Rebuilding the church of Marinab on state expense.
  5. Rapid issuance of a unified law for building houses of worship, as well as laws to criminalize incitement and sectarian discrimination.
  6. Setting a specific timetable to implement the above mentioned demands.

The October 4 sit-in was in fact an escalation, though no more than the Maspero Youth Union had organized in the past, and no more than countless other groups have done since the revolution. Taking up residence in front of the Radio and TV Building, 1000 Copts lingered here and there, unimposing in terms of sheer mass, but blocking the busy Cornish Road along the Nile River all the same. Hundreds of security personnel actually stopped the traffic, with tension in the air if their presence was to deter an attack against the Copts, as happened during their last sit-in, or in fact to remove them.

A sit-in protest requires large numbers to solidify presence, and a few Copts murmured their disappointment at the turnout. They pressed forward all the same, but most appeared subdued, even dulled to the effort. Some said people were getting tired of protesting.

Not all. There appeared to be a group of fifty or so, never organized as such exactly, but asserting themselves right at the front lines of the security cordon. There they would chant in their faces, provocatively – ‘Muslim, Christian, one hand!’ or even ‘the people want the fall of the field general!’ (i.e. Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council). One protestor even went as far as to slap a policeman in the face. Showing great restraint, the army removed him without incident.

The restraint did not last, and the agitators continued. Earlier in the day Fr. Philopater urged the Copts to be peaceful, and several stated security was itching for conflict as an excuse to remove the protestors, and slander their reputation in the process. Yvonne Mossad, a media coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, showed great courage to put herself in the middle of nearly every run-in, urging Copts to back down. They did not always, and in one flare-up the military police began hitting a protestor with his shield, and gunshots were fired into the air.

This was about 12:30am, and we had already made the decision to begin leaving in order to catch the last metro at 1:00. At the sound of gunfire everyone scampered chaotically, but things calmed down again. We left, hoping for the best, hoping the sit-in would proceed peacefully. As it turns out, I wish we had stayed, though it was probably for the best we left.

According to media reports the sit-in was dispersed forcibly around 1:00am. Other sit-ins have been dispersed by security, so there is nothing anti-Coptic in the government response. Force, to be sure, is required when resistance is met, even if that resistance is passive. Having left the area, we cannot comment on the behavior of the protestors. One video circulating afterwards on the internet, however, clearly shows an excess of violence. Even if the man in question was one of the agitators, surely an internal military investigation will be forthcoming.

Reflection

In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’

And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:2-8)

What then for the Copts of Egypt? How should those in Marinab be judged, or in Maspero, for that matter?

Let us imagine the Coptic villagers to be completely innocent in this case – victims – as investigations may yet conclude. Certainly their situation is not easy, and one Muslim in Marinab allegedly told his neighbor, ‘May God rest the soul of Islam. If we let this church be erected then Islam is buried in this village.’ Testimony on both sides seems to point to a shared causation, if of a different manner, between Muslims and Christians, but in such an atmosphere, Christians may wonder if they are equal citizens under the law. Difficulty in building churches has been long established.

The history and commonality of this difficulty should not numb the reader, as if it is a normal, simple inconvenience. Add to this slight the tales of discrimination, educational and media bias, and the pressures of a growing extremism, and the picture is painted of the Copts as the widow in the parable, calling out for justice. The sit-in at Maspero was not just about Marinab, it was about accumulation of grievances and frustrations. It is the experience of a community; legitimate or not it is the perception of many. Not a few Muslims agree with them as well; there are issues between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

Allow a minute for the conspiracy to be advanced to undo this statement. Under Mubarak, many say, the security apparatus would play with religious tensions for political gain. These many now attribute the attacks in Atfih, Imbaba, and elsewhere to the remnants of the Mubarak system seeking to preserve their power base by discrediting the revolution. Enflaming Muslim-Christian tensions is among the best ways to do so both home and abroad. Noteworthy is the fact that the Aswan governor was a Mubarak appointee who maintained his job. Could the church insistence in building a church – with domes – come from subtle suggestions quite aware it could spark tensions? Could the individuals who brought the gas to burn the church simply have been paid thugs – as well as those who thereafter looted? It is unlikely investigations will uncover anything of the sort, but within a confusing post-revolutionary setting, questions of all natures are asked, and linger.

Either way – under a dominant Islamic chauvinism or a lingering security conspiracy – Copts have been crying out for justice for a long time. The parable encourages them to continue, for God is not an unjust judge. Surely he will grant respite – quickly, it assures – and without a begrudging heart. Do Copts believe this? Or has God proved himself unjust, unhearing, uncaring? Many Copts seem to believe God hears and answers better in America or Europe, for they are leaving their villages for cities, their cities for the capital, and the capital for refuge abroad. As one Copt stated in Maspero, ‘Egypt is rubbish; a garbage country!’ However difficult the plight, this is the voice of one having long given up on God; is he not the judge of every nation?

It is not that Copts must only pray. It is right for them to strive politically. It may even be right for them to demonstrate. Yet the question of Jesus must cut them to the marrow: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

Did the Copts in Marinab call out for justice, or did they seek to manipulate for their interest? Did the youths at Maspero carry forward the cries of previous generations, or did they take justice into their own hands? Yes, both are dealing with reality as best they can, as normal efforts, they find, are frustrated. Yet are they acting from faith? Are they acting in accordance with faith? Faith changes reality. Or, is God unjust?

It is a frightening question. Answers are not easy. It calls for humility and introspection. It calls for creativity and action. It calls for hope and love.

The Jews to whom Jesus addressed his parable were waiting for the restoration of the kingdom. They are still waiting. Their picture of justice – a people governing their own land – is surely commendable, but was ultimately faulty. They cried to God for centuries; some abandoned this for increased moral purity, others for political escalation, still others for isolation from society. Each of these responses is current to some degree in Egypt today. Yet all of them failed. The kingdom never came.

At least not as they expected it. Jesus’ kingdom was of the spirit, and it remains established around the world, including Egypt. What does God intend, then, as justice for the Copts? It remains to be seen. It is proper for Copts to pursue all manner of human justice, as long as they recognize this is not necessarily the same as the vision of God. His justice – whatever its fulfillment – is coming quickly. It only remains for Copts, and all Egyptians, to maintain faith on the earth, and to act accordingly.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party: First Conference and Key Questions

The speakers' platform. Dr. al-Erian is seated in the middle.

Dr. Essam al-Erian, vice-president for the Muslim Brotherhood established Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), officially commenced party activity in a conference in Shubra, Cairo. The location was specifically chosen, he stated, due to the fact it was an area long neglected and marginalized by the former regime. The FJP wishes to see Egypt become completely independent of all foreign powers, especially economically, so that all, especially the poor, may benefit.

Also in attendance were Dr. Mohamed al-Beltagi and Mr. Gamal Shehata of the Muslim Brotherhood, each of whom also gave speeches. They were joined by the Egyptian poet Mohamed Goudah and artist Wagih al-Arabi, as well as Dr. Duaa’ Maghazi, a Muslim sister. Dr. Rafik Habib, the Egyptian Christian researcher and vice-president of the FJP was listed among the presenters, but was not in attendance.

Dr. Mohamed al-Beltagi

Al-Erian railed against the long scope of foreign interference in the Egyptian economy, stretching back to the British occupation, the monastic period of King Farouk, the Free Officers led by President Jamal Abdel Nasser, and culminating in President Mubarak. Each allowed foreign powers to profit off the Egyptian people. Al-Erian insisted that any current loans accepted by the Egyptian state must be completely absent of conditions.

Al-Erian was also critical of the current security situation in Egypt. He made a parallel to the failures of officers in 1973, during which their ranks were purged to remove incapable or corrupt figures. He wondered why this has not yet been done among police following the revolution, when many have been involved in torture and used live ammunition against protestors.

Yet while he was critical of the police, al-Erian offered praise and thanks to the military. First and foremost this was for their role in protecting the people during the revolution, contrary to their orders to fire upon them. He also praised the army for its promise to surrender authority to a civilian, elected government, and awaited its fulfillment in time, with full confidence.

At the same time, al-Erian denied there was an agreement between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, stating the FJP would not hesitate to criticize the military if it diverged from its revolutionary mandate. So far, however, their mistakes have been minor.

Speaking to the fears of an Islamist dominated government, al-Erian stated the FJP was not looking for a parliamentary majority. In fact, the party aim is to capture between 30-35% of the seats. Recalling cooperation during the revolution, he stated that the Muslim Brotherhood, nor any other group, would have been able to overthrow Mubarak on its own. The common interests of all political parties are substantial, and they should work together to craft a national unity government. The political system needs strong and diverse parties, reiterating the FJP desires a civil state based on the law.

Dr. al-Erian

Al-Erian spoke briefly about foreign policy, urging the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, and NATO to cease operations in Libya. The Libyan people are capable to rid themselves of Gaddafi on their own, and NATO strikes only serve to demolish the country and its infrastructure.

Al-Erian closed by assuring the audience the FJP, due to the skills gained by the Muslim Brotherhood, was capable to undertake its political responsibilities and participate in rebuilding Egypt. The party welcomed all in this task, Muslims and Christians, men and women, workers and farmers, the young and the old. Furthermore, it was dedicated to serving the interests of this entire constituency.

There were approximately 800-1000 people in attendance, seated in a tent erected in a central square of Shubra under the evening sky. Most people appeared to be of lower middle class economic status.

While no space was given for questions and answers, in subsequent research we would like to probe further the relationships between the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafi movement. Specifically:

  • What is the relationship between the FJP and the Brotherhood? According to reports it is to be independent in administration and finance, yet its leaders are all Brotherhood veterans, appointed by the group. How will the political party function in practice?
  • What is the role of the FJP headquarters in Manial, Cairo? By appearance this is a small office on the 3rd floor of a nondescript building. Yet inside was a caretaker, with his bed set up near the conference table, with a direct line to al-Erian. The Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, meanwhile, are an impressive stand alone multi-story building recently constructed on a major road in Muqattam, Cairo. Does this suggest a practical subjection of party to greater Brotherhood leadership?
  • To what degree does the FJP include Muslim Brotherhood youth? These are depicted in the media of having disagreements with the traditional Brotherhood leadership. Is this a reality?
  • What is the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas? Several years ago al-Erian was heavily involved in supplying Gaza with medical supplies through the doctors’ syndicate, utilizing Hamas connections.[1] Do official links between the movements exist? Is their coordination or funding involved? However sympathetic with the plight of Gaza, does the Muslim Brotherhood approve of Hamas’ tactics?
  •  What relationships exist between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council? Through personal conversations between Cornelis Hulsman and Osama Farid, a Muslim Brotherhood senior figure, the group maintains a direct line with senior military officers. What is the extent of their communication? Does it differ from that between the military council and other political or social groups?
  • What links exist between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups? Will there be political cooperation between the FJP and Salafi parties? Some Brotherhood members have criticized the Salafis, while others have hosted conferences between the two groups. Is there an official stance?
  • What are the different trends among Salafis, who generally are not an organized presence in society? What are their methods of propagation? From where does their funding originate? Do they serve foreign or transnational agendas? Does the Muslim Brotherhood?

Many people, both in Egypt and the west, are asking these questions right now. While both the FJP and the Muslim Brotherhood are working hard to demonstrate they are a moderate, centrist political and social force, their answers to questions like these will go a long way in demonstrating their credibility.

One final note concerning the historical reality of the Muslim Brotherhood, highlighted by Badran, a resident of Shubra and a Brotherhood supporter: in 1948 the Muslim Brotherhood first began conversations with the Egyptian armed forces, which were repeated in 1952. This opened the political space for them, but by 1954 they suffered repression. In 1970 President Sadat, a military official, once again engaged the Muslim Brotherhood, giving wide space for operation, but by 1980 began repression once again.

This pattern is undoubtedly known and feared by the Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless of conspiracy theories which posit military favor for the group, it is certain that once again the Brotherhood has approval to operate openly. This may be one reason behind the constant reassertions of their civil, democratic, moderate intentions. If true, there is no need for repression. Yet it may be asked if they also wonder if their window of opportunity is now open, and that they intend to consolidate power before they are repressed once again.

The political future of Egypt is wide open. May all participants operate from integrity and concern for the nation. The short term horizon will be very interesting, and perhaps foundational. May peace, stability, freedom, and justice mark what is to come, Islamist or otherwise.

 


[1] From a personal conversation several years ago between al-Erian and Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of Arab West Report.