Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The end of the Egyptian revolution -- so far

An excerpt from a recent book,Thanassis Cambanis’s Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story:
A few days after the end of Ramadan, on August 14, the police and army closed in again on Rabaa Square. For days, el-Sisi’s government had talked of the need to clear the Brotherhood protests once and for all. The sun had not yet risen when officers drove directly into the sit-in with armored bulldozers and began firing into the crowd with tear gas, birdshot, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. The death toll was staggering and indiscriminate: children, teenage boys and girls, and the elderly fell alongside the adult men trying to protect the sit-in with their futile wooden clubs. The military had shown before that it knew how to clear a protest without killing; this time it put the police in the forefront and pursued tactics that maximized the death toll. It wanted more than to merely end the Rabaa sit-in, the final vestige of the Brotherhood’s elec­toral success; it wanted vengeance and to break the Brotherhood.

Moaz’s father pleaded with him to come home. At every major protest or massacre, Moaz had worked in the clinic treating wounded protest­ers. His political ventures didn’t always work out, but his expertise in the combat-like conditions of protest hospitals was indisputable. He had no intention of staying away from Rabaa while hundreds of people were being gunned down.

“You weren’t killed on January 25,” his father said. “You will be killed today.”

“We are trying to solve problems,” Moaz said. “You should support me.”

Rabaa was awash in blood. Tanks blocked all the main thoroughfares, but people could escape through small alleys. At the same time, the army swept through the other, smaller Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Nahda Square on the other side of the Nile. Pro-Sisi plainclothes thugs, work­ing with the police, erected checkpoints all over the city to harass anyone who looked like a Brotherhood supporter. Scattered gunshots echoed all over Cairo, even far from Rabaa and Nahda Squares.

In the wake of these massacres, Moaz felt his last hope slip away. He railed aloud against its perpetrators. “What do you think the families of the people you killed will do? Don’t you think they will kill your families? You are writing your own future. No matter how many times you hit the people, it won’t solve the problem.”

People screamed and ran away from the gas and bullets. Some took refuge in the nearby apartment buildings, hiding in garages. Moaz loaded the wounded into his car and ferried them to hospitals. One man bled to death in Moaz’s backseat. Around Rabaa Square, it seemed like ev­erything was on fire, including the field hospital. Soldiers weren’t let­ting anyone pass, even medical volunteers like Moaz. Almost twenty-four hours after they began, soldiers and police were still shooting stragglers in Rabaa. Exhausted, Moaz was crying as he drove. He could smell blood on the street. He tried to return once more to the center of Rabaa, where he knew a wounded man was trapped in a building that had once served as the sit-in’s clinic. So far, he had successfully passed through checkpoints with his pharmacist ID. A soldier pointed his rifle at Moaz and forced him from his car.

“What are you doing in a military area?”

“I am a pharmacist,” Moaz told his interrogator. “My job is to help people.”

“Go to the Iman Mosque,” the officer said. “That’s where all bodies are. We will let you pass this time, but if you appear again, there’s no say­ing what might happen to you.”

“But there’s a man in a building in Rabaa, and he has phoned me for help,” Moaz pleaded.

“No one here is alive,” the officer snapped. “Everyone is dead. If any­one is still alive, he will be dead within an hour.”

Moaz gave up and joined the effort in the Iman Mosque to identify the hundreds of corpses. The military soon attacked even there, arrest­ing the family members who had come to claim their dead. The military was sending a clear message: it would do anything, even disrespect the most basic Islamic funeral rites, to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood. The government stopped counting the dead after the number exceeded seven hundred. The Brothers estimated that more than a thousand people were killed that day, including many children of senior Brotherhood leaders, apparently singled out by snipers. Many leaders were caught, but a few escaped the country or found hiding places. From there they delivered menacing threats. Now, they vowed, Egypt would burn.

The massacre at Rabaa would be the pivotal litmus test that separated the masses praising el-Sisi from the small community of Egyptians who decried any abuse of human beings. Some activists, such as Ahmed Maher from the April 6 Movement, had been relatively quiet about the mili­tary’s return to power in July but reacted swiftly to condemn the crime of Rabaa. Mohamed ElBaradei belatedly developed a conscience. In the wake of the violence at Rabaa, he resigned from the post of vice president that he had held for just a month. For his act of decency, ElBaradei was investigated for the criminal offense of “breaching the national trust.” In­stead of staying to challenge the increasingly fascist political atmosphere, ElBaradei chose exile. He had taken a lead role as a political enabler of el-Sisi’s rise, but he was not alone. The Social Democratic Party, the cho­sen home for many of the secular revolutionaries, wholeheartedly cast its lot with the military. Dr. Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, the leader of the Social Democrats, busily defended the massacre on television as a neces­sary evil. Ziad Bahaa el-Din, considered one of the smartest members of the party, had accepted a position as deputy prime minister in the transi­tional government and used his position to reassure foreign governments and Egyptian liberals that there was no reason to fear the military men in charge. These were the most liberal members of the mainstream political elite; their embrace of the coup and massacres paved the way for public opinion to follow.

Like many secular or liberal Egyptians, Basem was willing to blame the Brotherhood for the massacre in which so many of its members per­ished, especially when in the aftermath the Brotherhood appeared to en­dorse a jihadist insurgency in retribution. “Everyone now knows that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization,” Basem said. “There can be no more talk about reconciliation.”

1 comment:

  1. From Sean Manning:

    I remember the Egyptian students in Calgary dancing and singing in the Student Union as Mubarak stepped down. I don't tell foreigners how to govern themselves, and I am very reluctant to communicate electronically about politics, but I wish that the people who felt that replacing the elected government was so urgent that it was worth calling the army back in had read their Bertolt Brecht ("Die Lösung") or their Thucydides and Xenophon.

    ReplyDelete