November 15, 2019

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  • Editorial: Egypt’s False Dichotomies

    File photo of tens of bodies kept cool with ice blocks in Iman Mosque on Aug. 15, one day after the police's violent dispersal of an anti-coup protest in Nasr City, Cairo. Burial permits for the dead have been systematically delayed.

    BY RANIA AL MALKY Cairo – It’s been a week since the brutal dispersal of Cairo’s largest anti-coup protests in Rabaa and Nahda squares, a week of lies, hate, bloodshed and xenophobia.

    Having manufactured “enemies-of-the-state” out of tens of thousands of Egyptians opposed to a political setback that has catapulted the country back 60 years to the height of Nasser’s police state, Egypt’s de facto ruling military is on a path of no return.

    False dichotomies propagated by conspiratorial public and private media in perfect sync and that have tragically split every Egyptian family, are the bedrock of the violence unleashed since the July 3 military coup: If you’re against the coup, you’re unpatriotic; if you criticize the police for the unnecessary use of lethal force, you’re a terrorist sleeper cell; if you expose the brutal murder of largely unarmed protesters whose relentless march for legitimacy has been met with bombs and bullets, you’re spreading lies; if you question the official line on who killed who, when, why and how and demand evidence to support ubiquitous allegations of mass graves of Islamists’ opponents and weapons stockpiles, you’re blinded by bias, unfit to be “Egyptian”; if you dedicate more tweets to the hundreds brutally killed by security or vigilante thugs, than to the abominable burning of churches (over 26 of them), you’re a sectarian Copt-hater.

    So be it. Call me a lying, blinded, biased, discriminating sleeper cell. At least I haven’t lost my moral compass. I own the truth that I have reached, no matter what label you try to slap on me. The same goes for the few self-respecting journalists, activists, human rights advocates, politicians and public figures who have stood bare-chested against smear campaigns and accusations of treason for bravely and publicly refusing the distorted narrative of “counterterrorism” spewed by a murderous, two-faced puppet government fronting a junta that has been ruling Egypt since 1952.

    Yesterday the general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie was arrested, a day after he buried his 38-year-old son Ammar who was killed by police in Ramsis Square on Friday’s “Day of Rage” protests. Badie is charged with inciting violence and faces a trial that starts on Aug. 25, just as Egypt’s 30-year dictator Mubarak is about to be released from his five-star prison cell, ironically while facing very similar charges. According to news reports, the military-installed prosecutor-general dropped charges of embezzlement against him yesterday, which means that a minor charge of accepting illegal gifts from Al-Ahram state-owned newspaper is the only outstanding accusation on which he can remain in jail. While he still faces charges of complicity in the killing of over 800 during the 2011 uprising which ended his rule, the term limit on his remand in custody has expired in that case.

    The official funeral of one of the policemen killed during the violent breakup of the Rabaa sit-in on Aug. 14.

    Reuters also reported yesterday that Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s former vice president, will be sued in court for a “betrayal of trust” over his decision to quit the army-backed government in protest at its bloody crackdown on the MB. He has already left the country, but his case will be heard on Sept. 19.

    This is just the beginning. And to all those who still have illusions over who was calling the shots from day one and for what purpose, I evoke a question tweeted by Dalia Mogahed (@DMogahed):  Did millions of Egyptians use the army to oust a president they didn’t want, or did the army use millions of Egyptians to oust a president they didn’t want?

    It’s impossible to get the exact numbers of those killed and the cause of death at the hands of police and thugs, partly because the health ministry systemically refuses to  issue proper burial certificates and partly because since Friday, the ministry is no longer authorized to announce death tolls and casualties, a task now suspiciously relegated to cabinet. However, official statements and a google spreadsheet mapping out the time, place, name and incident of those killed from Aug. 14-19  indicate that at least 1,600 Egyptians have been killed. Some 4,000 have also been injured since the coup, both predominantly Islamist protesters country-wide but also including 70 Sinai militants, over 60 soldiers in North Sinai, some 50 policemen and other innocents killed in retaliatory spurts of violence by enraged Islamists.

    Emergency law is back in full force trumping civil rights with arbitrary arrests. At least 1,000 so far, now routinely arrested in home raids after informants alert police of their whereabouts in yet another throwback to Nasser’s Egypt, signalling the death of due process and opening the gates wide to rampant police abuse. The interior ministry admitted Monday that 36 MB prisoners were killed while in police custody after an alleged escape attempt, an incredulous claim that contradicts leaked images from the morgue of at least two charred corpses displaying signs of torture.

    It would be easy to stay on the fence, to hide behind an equally unconscionable attitude of assigning equal blame to drastically unequal sides of a confrontation spiralling completely out of control. True that the MB’s brief stint in power was no exemplary experiment in inclusive democratic rule, but it was no reign of terror we are now living either. Those who try to be “fair” implicitly justify the actions of the aggressor with verbose disclaimers tempering their position by pointing to out-of-context accusations that while in power, the MB showed signs of a “growing authoritarianism” that their leaders were becoming “increasingly complacent”, that they “incited hatred and sectarian violence”, suggesting, in fact, that they got what they deserve.

    While perhaps the vitriolic criticism may have appeared to carry some element of truth to it, much of this narrative was prepackaged by the counter-revolutionary private media, instigating an equally hateful counter narrative by the media of the extreme religious right; those same Salafis whom the liberals allied with to orchestrate the coup.

    Surely some MB members saw the non-stop onslaught on the president and his cabinet as the phoenix of an ousted tyrant rising from its ashes through the deep state and its multiple agents: the media, the judiciary, the sprawling and corrupt civil service and its tentacles in local councils. And surely they fired back with an exclusionary, divisive discourse. This is how they reacted to what they perceived correctly – as it transpired – as an existential threat.

    The MB may have also opportunistically pandered to their sworn enemies in the police and the army imagining that their fundamentally flawed gradual approach to change will erase decades of vilification hardwired into the collective consciousness of Egyptians in general and the security apparatus in particular. But had the MB taken a more “revolutionary” approach, however, purging these powerful state institutions in one stroke as some of their honest critics repeatedly demanded before June 30, practically waging war on the army and police, they would have met the exact same fate they’re facing now, just much earlier. Nothing they would have done would have changed a thing.

    My condemnation of the coup and its massacres is not only triggered by indignation at the smell of death everywhere, the random arrests or the kangaroo courts we will soon witness, but is a cry of revolt against how the crimes committed today on all sides will scar this nation for generations to come. It is the coup that has brought us here.

    Talk of an inclusive democratic transition while holding a gun to your opponent’s head is as despicable as it is insulting to our intelligence. International mediators have exposed in media interviews the false claims by Egyptian authorities that the MB refused all initiatives to avoid a bloody dispersal of the sit-ins. It was, they said, the military intoxicated by power and its “liberal” government that were hell-bent on staging a massacre. Itching for a fight, they reneged on every promised show of good intentions by perhaps releasing some MB leaders from illegal custody in return for a scaling down of the protest camps. So expect nothing less than more killings, mass arrests, military trials, and a complete extermination of the MB as we know it.

    But while they may be killed or silenced, their ideas will live on and their radicalized followers will haunt us all.

    A dentistry graduate I spoke to at the Nahda sit-in two weeks ago told me this: “Obligatory army conscription doesn’t distinguish between ikhwan, Nasserists or socialists. If I lose my brother or father here, who can guarantee that I don’t lose my head as a conscript and hit back at their killers? There are thousands of us.”

    Sisi’s coup and the so-called liberals who cheered it on have set in motion an ugly scenario that has sounded the death knell for civilian politics in Egypt and a real transition to democracy unmarred by the blood of innocents.

    Above all, it has disgraced the memory of the martyrs of January 25.

    Rania Al Malky is the publisher of The Egypt Monocle.

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