Putting out the fire of rage

Sent On: 
Wed, 2013-08-21
Newsletter Number: 

AWR, Cairo, August 21, 2013


From August 15-17 there have been 186 acts of terrorism committed in Egypt. These include 62 attacks on police stations and police checkpoints and 39 attacks against churches (link). These events are not likely to rescind in the near future without a viable pathway towards national reconciliation in Egypt.


Putting out the “Fire of Rage”


After the Muslim Brotherhood -led Coalition for Protecting Legitimacy has called for a “Friday of Rage” in which scores of rallies were planned to Ramses Square after Friday prayers, the situation deteriorated rapidly in front of the Azbakīyah police station located behind Ramses Square. Angry crowds hurling stones at police stations were pelted with stones as well, after which the situation deteriorated to an exchange of gunfire between both sides. On October Bridge demonstrators began to jump off of the bridge in order to escape the gunfire. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) accused “thugs of the military and the police forces” of shooting at the people.


Several TV channels were broadcasting a rally on the other side of the square coming to Ramses from Zamalek. The cameras revealed some protestors with weapons who started shooting at random at the public and houses only to be protected by their fellow protestors, calling it silmiyyah, or peaceful!

Similarly, there is much controversy over what happened in front of in Al Fateh mosque in Ramses, where protesters took cover from gunfire. Conflicting reports then surfaced as to the details of the situation. People inside the mosque as well as the Imam of the mosque claimed to  be unarmed and afraid to leave due to alleged gunshots and the threats by security forces and their “thugs” against them. According to government reports, however, the military forces were allegedly giving the people inside the mosque a safe exit, and were trying to ensure that the people leaving the mosque were unharmed by fellow citizens.                                                                                       

There was also an account of an armed unknown assailant who went up the minaret and began shooting at the public. Whereas the pro-army media claimed it was someone from within the mosque, the people in the mosque have denied that they have access to the minaret. The Imam of Al Fateh mosque has also reportedly confirmed that the minaret could only be accessed from outside.


The security forces and the MB claimed that it was the other side that started the attack.  Both sides claim that their side has not committed any mistakes, and do not feel compelled to reevaluate their actions. Each side continues to mobilize supporters based on their allegations of what has been committed by the other side.  Both sides are saying radically different stories and are finger-pointing at one another.


A Zero-Sum Game?


Egypt has witnessed one of the largest waves of violence in its history. Various other attacks took place over the different governorates. The Egyptian security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies are still trying to inflict as much damage as they can to the other side, with no signs of rescinding. Under such circumstances, the government cannot sit at the negotiating table with a violent party. It would not be acceptable to the great majority of the people nor would it effectively resolve the issues underpinning the crisis.


The escalation by both sides is expected to take a legal turn soon. On August 17, Prime Minister Dr. Hāzzim El Beblāwi stated that there shall be no reconciliation with those whose hands are tainted with blood (link). The political will to dissolve the MB completely including procedures against assets and bank accounts of the MB has also been announced (link).


Still, the MB continues to demonstrate its resolve and will not accept anything less than Morsi’s reinstatement and a return to the status quo ante. To this end, they appointed a set of international legal lawyers from Irvine, Thanvi, and Natas, a leading Criminal and Human Rights law firm based in London, to “investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed by members of the military junta since July 3,” as well as to “advise on the status in international and constitutional law of the coup d’état, the unlawful detention of members of the democratically elected government and criminal acts that have been committed since 3 July 2013”. (Read press statement here.)


On August 15, the Strong Egypt Party, headed by former MB member, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh,stated that the ministers of Defense and Interior should be taken to court  for their direct responsibility in the deaths that took place while dispersing the sit-ins in Nahda Square and Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah. They also rejected the state of emergency or any extraordinary procedures against civilians.


There is no framework, however, that has been accepted by both sides of the conflict as a means to resolve their disputes. These calls, without the availability of this framework, will make reconciliation very difficult, if not impossible. With the ensuing violence and its likely escalation, and with the lack of such a framework, the political parties and movements are increasingly drawn into polarized fields of both sides of the conflict. 


Divisions of the Political Groups


Political groups had different accounts of what happened on July the 3rd.  The established secular (liberal) Wafd, (leftist)Tagamu’, and Nāsserite parties ensure that this is a popular-backed revolution. However, the Revolutionary Socialists agree with the Muslim Brotherhood in calling what took place on July 3 a coup. Whereas they view the events of 30 June as a popular revolution, the army has brought the popular movement to a halt and has taken control.


A new division among the secular political actors occurred with the dispersal of the sit-in. This resulted in divisions in the government itself which Dr. Muhammad El Baradei (al-Barad’ī) has leftwithout consulting with the National Salvation Front which he represents. Also, the media spokesman of the National Salvation Front, Khaled Dawood, has similarly resigned from the position of media spokesman.  


Many Islamic groups such as the MB, for example, have seen similar splits. The Muslim Brothers without Violence wing has rejected statements of MB leaders that called for violence.  However, they stated that security forces have arrested many of MB youth who did not take part in violent acts or carry arms and called upon the current government to secure their release.


Whereas Dr. El Ahmed El Tayyib, Grand Shaykh of the Azhar, calls for reconciliation, the Islamist Front of Azhar Scholars has issued a public statement for a general mobilization of Egyptians to take to the streets and save the mosques. The Islamic Front had earlier issued a statement declaring their rejection of the “coup against legitimacy”. With the core controversy unaddressed, these splits are likely to continue.


Attempt at Reconciliation


In the midst of the splintering, different political actors are attempting to work towards reconciliation:


1.      Dr. Mustafā Hijāzī, spokesman of the President, in a press conference on August 17 has discussed a notion of reconciliation. He denied that this was a political conflict, but described the violence as attacks by extremist groups and thus terrorism.  He said that Egypt will not accept the attacks of extremists and that it will face terrorism through legal procedures, rule of law, and a suitable human-rights framework. He stated in his press conference the seriousness with which the cabinet is taking the road map to amend the constitution, parliamentary and early presidential elections. He stated that the way to reconciliation will tread the path of transitional justice. This will take place by revealing truths, justice then reconciliation. Again, with no binding legal framework on which to base this process, it is unlikely that the MB will buy into it.


2.      Also, the Azhar called for reconciliation. Following the Revolution of January 25, 2011 the Azhar worked towards bringing political parties of different sides of the political spectrum together on baseline issues. An example was the Azhar Document from June 2011 that was presented as a basis for Islam in the new constitution as well as to bring Egyptian political parties and movements’ leaders to agree on a framework that paves the way of the future of the country. The Imam of Al-Azhar called upon all Egyptians to open the door of cooperation and reconciliation. The most recent calls of the Azhar Grand Shaykh have been rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood since he was sitting beside General al-Sisi when he announced that Morsi was sacked. The MB had denounced Al-Azhar’s move in what it views as collaborating in a coup.


3.      There are also others with much lower voices who have called for reconciliation, such as Muhammad Silīm Al ‘Awwā. His initiative “The Democratic Pathway” includes a request to the army to delegate a senior officer to lead the army and negotiate a way out of the crisis with public figures such as Muhammad El-Baradei, and Arab League Secretary General, Nabīl El Arabī. It requested the current government resigns due to its responsibility for the current events. It also demanded an international investigation commission. Apparently the resignation of Dr. El-Baradei from his position in the government gives him space to play a more reconciliatory role. However, these reconciliation attempts are unlikely to succeed. Different political parties and movements in Egypt are refusing international intervention in what they view as internal affairs of the state.


A Road Ahead?


The use of force by the army as well as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies must be put in context in order to take appropriate positions to quell the violence that leads to more deaths. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies have resorted to violence mostly after dispersal of the sit-in in Rāba’ah. Concurrent with Morsi’s removal, the security forces started taking security and legal measures against MB leaders. The army has failed to portray itself as a neutral player that has no wish to intervene in partisan politics.


History shows us that using violence in order to repress political opponents is not a new course by the military. Both the military and police institutions have undergone little reform since the 25th of January Revolution or since Morsi assumed power on June 30, 2012. Thus, a continuation of the same methods to repress political opponents is a logical consequence.


Morsi’s supporters claim that many peaceful protestors have been attacked by the army. This is far from a new claim. What is new is that it is now targeting the MB and their allies.  For many Egyptians, what is new is that MB affiliates use arms in order to settle political disputes, terrorizing people, burning, and looting houses, churches, and schools in the process.


In the short term, there must be a swift solution to bloodshed. Resorting to emergency law and curfews addresses the immediate need of Egyptians for order and security.  Shifting to dialogue and reconciliation will be necessary in the long-term, however, which will guarantee that all sides are granted a share in the political process and that addresses needs for reform of state institutions. Egyptians now are not only heavily polarized, but also have not found a way to address their causes using a framework on which they both agree.  The future for Egypt must be inclusive of all Egyptians, not only a few.



Yosra El Gendi, Researcher
Arab-West Report
August 21, 2013