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Egypt is burning; reconciliation urgently needed

AWR Cairo, August 16, 2013

The number of victims of the current violence in Egypt is increasing. Most deaths fell during the efforts to end the demonstrations. According to the Ministry of Health there are 638 deaths, among them at least 43 from the police forces. The Muslim Brotherhood claims much larger numbers of civilian victims. The casualties from the army are not known. The brutality is tremendous.

AWR spoke with an Egyptian diplomat who stated that “there have been French, Dutch and German human affairs NGOs in addition to many foreign correspondents that were invited to witness the process....They all confessed that the Egyptian security forces have applied an unprecedented level of restraint and patience ...”. Muslim Brothers deny this and claim they were the victim of tremendous brutality.

Emad Aouni, board member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, says, “there are videos showing how the police gave demonstrators to leave the Rābaʽah area. They went, but some 200 to 300 hardliners stayed behind and engaged in fighting with Egyptian security.

The Kerdassa police station (Giza) has been attacked using an RPG after elsewhere in the city sit-ins of demonstrators were broken up. This resulted in the death of the local police chief and several police officers whose bodies have then be mutilated. Twenty other police stations were attacked, often with weapons that they were not prepared for. Demonstrators who claimed to be with the Muslim Brotherhood threw a police car with 5 policemen from a bridge killing all of them. Those images are spread all over and have created a shock-wave. It is thus no wonder that policemen seek safer locations to operate from. It also makes the mutual hate between police and Muslim Brothers and militant groups much deeper. The mutual hate is many decades old. Between 1992 and 1997 militant Muslims engaged in attacks on police and civilians. Militant Muslims and political Islamists were targeted by police, many of them ended up for years in prison, also if they had no involvement with any violence. The police did not have a good reputation. Officers were often accused of torture. It is thus no wonder that the police are most hated by Islamists and now, just as on January 28, 2011 and following weeks, are targeted.

The patterns of systematic attack on Egyptian security resemble those of January 28, 2011. People have again come from villages and popular areas to massively destroy government property. But unlike 2011, people now also targeted churches and Christian shops. AWR called priests, friends of ours, in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Maghagha, and Minya. The police have disappeared from all these cities and other cities because they became targets themselves and fled. That is no wonder if one sees on videos how policemen have been brutally slaughtered in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The consequence is that the police are withdrawing to centers where they feel safe and can defend themselves better. The consequence, however, is that thugs have had more opportunities to engage in violence and destruction. The police in Assiut disappeared on the 14th from the street, but returned again on the 15th.

Violence is widespread, but AWR has also spoken with priests who told us that there had been no violence in their village or town. Much of this also, but not only, depends on local relations. Fear is widespread in all parts of Egypt. If particular areas have not yet been targeted they later may or may not become targets.

It all appears that General al-Sisi has made a miscalculation when he, in cooperation with other authorities, decided to end the demonstrations around the Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah mosque and al-Nahda square. Protesters spread and throughout the country militant groups are seen. It is obvious that these groups are organized. It is not possible to explain how otherwise they suddenly appear all over Egypt. AWR has asked friends in various cities to explain why they believe that these were Muslim Brothers. Some friends said that the people marching with weapons in the streets scream, “Islamiya, Islamiya.” Many of them are young. They were surprised to see also small children among them. Priests we spoke to said they believed them to be a mix of Brothers joined by many thugs, people seeing an opportunity to loot.

Emad Aouni lives in Assiut and has seen Muslim Brothers he knows from the sit-in in Assiut participating in attacking churches. They were, however, not alone but in the company of members of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, Salafīs, and thugs. “They usually would not do this alone but in a group with other Islamists they would go along.”

Dr. Amr Darrag, former FJP Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and Muslim Brotherhood leader, living in Cairo, strongly denies Muslim Brotherhood involvement. He responded in an e-mail to AWR that “all violent events on police stations, churches, etc were done by thugs driven by state security to blame it on the MB. This is an old technique that was used many times. Remember the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria on New Year of 2011” [the attack was said to have been orchestrated by the Ministry of Interior].

Dr. Darrag’s statement resembles the statement from the Muslim Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance which

condemned and does not condone any act of violence against houses of worship, citizens, or properties. And although some Coptic leaders supported or even participated in the coup, no such attacks can be justifiable. We also strongly condemn police treachery in leaving thugs to vandalize properties and houses of worship while focusing on killing protesters in all governorates. We reject attempts by the tyrannical coup regime to orchestrate and fuel inter-religious discord in a bid to cover up its ongoing criminal acts against citizens.

It is strange that the state security would attack police stations. If it is true it would indicate division within the security services, but except for these claims, we find nothing else indicating this. The Minister of Interior, however, stated that the police was not prepared for these country wide actions he attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood. That resulted in Egyptian anger against him. How come they were planning to end the sit-ins but were not prepared for a backlash?

The Egyptian publication al-Watan found detailed Islamist plans to resist a removal of their demonstrators and published these on July 13. The plans mention locations in Cairo but not in other parts of Egypt. Does this explain why Egyptian security was not prepared for violence in other parts of Egypt?

Dr. Amr Darrag is not alone in denying and denouncing the use of violence. There is no reason to believe that he is not sincere. Also other Brotherhood leaders we have met in the past convincingly and repeatedly argued against the use of violence. Does Dr. Darrag’s statement mean that the Muslim Brotherhood leadership was not in control over its own members but does not want to acknowledge this? That would not be a unique feature of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also in churches and Muslim institutions we have often found that members would not acknowledge that members did not behave according to the norms of their institutions.

Not only government offices and churches were attacked. Christian friends of ours in Abu Qurqas, and many others throughout the country, saw their shops and cars torched. No people, however, have been targeted. Also this shows that there must have been some kind of instructions, showing some organization as to cause maximum damage but not harm Egyptian citizens unlike policemen who are certain that their lives will not be spared if they come in the hands of these people.

The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badie (Badīʿ), is hiding in the residence of the Ambassador of Qatar in Cairo, possibly resulting in a political stand-off between Egypt and Qatar.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders Muhammad Beltagi , Essam el-Erian, and independent Islamist Safwat Hegazy (Safwāt Hijāzī) were arrested, but were allegedly freed again by al-Qassam, a militant Hamas group that is said to be active in militant support for the Brotherhood in Egypt.

Security stated they had found at al-Nahda square, one of two main locations for Brotherhood demonstrations, 20 machine guns, about 40 pistols and 10,000 pieces of ammunition.

Dr. Amr Darrag responded “all independent reports denied presence of weapons at the locations of the sit-ins. Some weapons were planted by the state security as they were storming the place.“ Emad Aouni, see his earlier comment, disputes this.

Reports spread that at the stage before the Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah mosque a collective tomb was found with 20 bodies inside. Videos appeared, but the Muslim Brotherhood strongly denied this and stated this has been set up to present their organization in the most negative light possible.

Political commentaries in Europe comment that this violence signals the end of all political dialogue, the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and thus that this could result in a return to military rule. Egyptian authorities are defiant and are focused on a fight for what they see as a fight for survival. Muhammad el-Baradei (al-Barada’i) resigned as deputy prime minister is protest of the violence against the demonstrators. People criticizing el-Baradei say he resigned on the moment when he heard the U.S. statement that condemns Egypt use of brutal excessive force. They call him a traitor. But el-Baradei does have the support of large numbers of liberal youth and his resignation will not make it easier for the current interim government to find a way out of this nightmare.

Reconciliation is crucial, but it is difficult to find the leader with the stature and courage who could initiate this.

The weekly Watani published on August 14 a list of attacks against Copts:

Until 7pm this afternoon, the following churches and Coptic-owned institutions in Egypt had been burned at the hands of Islamists. Watani lists them here chronologically:

Three churches and six buildings at the monastery of the Holy Virgin and Anba Abra’am in Dalga, Minya, Upper Egypt
The church of Mar-Mina in the district of Abu-Hilal in the town of Minya
The bishopric church of Mar-Girgis (St George) in Suhag, Upper Egypt
The church of the Holy Virgin in Nazla, Fayoum, Lower Egypt
The Baptist church in Beni-Mazar, Minya
Coptic-owned shops in Gumhouriya Street in Assiut, Upper Egypt
The Good Shepherd School in Suez
The Franciscan School in Suez
The Holy Bible Society in Fayoum
The church of al-Amir Tawadros (St Theodore) in Fayoum
The church of the Holy Virgin in the district of Abu-Hilal in the town of Minya
The Catholic church of St Mark, Minya
The Jesuit church in Abu-Hilal, Minya
The church of Mar-Morqos (St Mark) and its community centre, Sohag
18 houses of Coptic families in Dalga, Minya, including the home of Father Angelus Malek of the Holy Virgin and Anba Abra’am Church
The Evangelical church on Nassara Street in Abu-Hilal, Minya
The church of Anba Moussa al-Aswad in Minya
Coptic-owned shops, pharmacies, and a doctor’s clinic in Minya
The Jesuit church in Minya (attacked, not burned)
The St Fatima Basilica in Cairo (attacked, not burned)
St Joseph’s School in Minya (attacked, not burned)
The Nile boat al-Dahabiya, owned by the Evangelical Church in Minya
Coptic-owned shops, pharmacy, and hotels on Karnak Street and Cleopatra Street in Luxor (attacked and looted)
The church of Mar-Girgis (St George) in Wasta (attacked)
The church of St Michael on Nemeis Street in Assiut, Upper Egypt
The Adventist church in Assiut; the pastor and his wife were both kidnapped
The Greek Orthodox Church in Suez
The church of Mar-Girgis in Assiut
Coptic houses on Qulta Street in Assiut attacked
The church of Mar-Girgis (St George) in Arish, North Sinai
The church of St Dimyana and the Evangelical church in the village of Zerbi in Fayoum
The offices of the Evangelical foundation in Minya, and those of Umm al-Nour in Beni-Mazar, Minya
The church of Anba Antonius in Kerdassa, Giza
The bishopric church in Atfih, Giza [possibly a mistranslation of al-Rusul, the Apostles’ Church]

In addition to the attacks against the Copts, their churches, businesses, and property; Egyptians were aghast at attempts by the Islamists to break into the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) in Alexandria and set it on fire. The BA security and staff confronted the assailants in the courtyard, and there was an exchange of gunfire. According to Khaled Azab, the BA’s media manager, the conference hall was plundered, and a number of acquisitions went missing. The glass façade was shattered.

In Deir Muwass, Minya, the locals called Watani in horror to report that 30 armed Islamists broke into the local water treatment station and cut off the water supply to the nearby villages and towns, meaning that should a fire erupt there would be no water to put it out.

Coptic youth organizations—including the Maspero Youth Union, Copts Without Chains, The Coptic Consultant Council, and the Coptic Coalition, have all condemned the attacks against the Copts and the inadequate protection they were offered. The demanded security protection, and called upon Egypt’s Muslims to join in their defense.

Father Rafiq Greiche, spokesman of the Catholic Church in Egypt, strongly condemned the attacks against churches and Christians, saying that the Copts were made to pay the price for their participation in the revolution against the Islamist regime on 30 June. He demanded that the government should take a firm stance against the assailants. Fr. Rafiq announced that the Catholic Church has called off the celebrations of the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin tomorrow.

The Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement in which it said it was closely following on the “lamentable situation” in Egypt today. The statement strongly condemned the “successive attacks against Egypt’s Christians, their churches, property and livelihoods,” and also the attacks against the Egyptian police and civilians. It called upon the Egyptian government and armed forces to defend Egyptians and maintain the unity of Egypt. It also called upon “our Muslim fellow Egyptians to stand against the vicious attack of places of worship which should never be part of any struggle. “We pray to the One God we all worship for every Egyptian to be a shield to defend the homeland against terrorism and violence. We pray for peace and calm to reign over Egypt.”

Reported by Nader Shukry, Tereza Kamal, Basma William, Michael Victor, Samira Mazahy, Ra’fat Edward, Girgis Waheeb

Watani International

After publication of this list more Christian property has been targeted.

The Anti-Coup Alliance stated on August 16 that in this video (Preview), a Coptic bishop (Bishop Makarios of Minya), complains that the government and police refused to guard the churches or help put down the fire which could have easily been contained. He also says the attacks were orchestrated, simultaneous, using same methods, and were carried out in parallel with the Rāba’ah massacre.

But if one listens to the video we hear that the police excused themselves. The bishop did not use the word “refused”.

Emad Aouni explained the carnage in Assiut and says Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Michael has sternly warned Christians not to clash with Muslim Brothers since that would only result in more bloodshed. “Buildings can be repaired,” he said.

On August 15, General al-Sisi told Pope Tawadros that all church property will be restored by the army on the cost of the army. Dr. Mourad Aly wrote about the Muslim Brotherhood strongly denouncing the aggressions on churches. Dr. Amr Darrag refers to his twitter messages denouncing this.

Egypt is deeply divided, deeply polarized. Violence must end and a political solution is needed whereby all political groups in society should be represented. But that is only possible if all violence is ended and parties are willing to negotiate. General al-Sisi gave President Morsi (Mursī) 48 hours to call for early elections. That was certainly not the desired road to take for the Brothers, but it could possibly have avoided the bloodshed and destruction we see now.

President Morsi earlier called for dialogue, but his opponents declined for various reasons. The interim government invited the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the roadmap towards a new Egypt, but the Brotherhood declined. An Egyptian diplomat told AWR that prominent Islamic figures as Muhammad Salim al-Awa and Salafī leader, Shaykh Mohammed Hassan made proposals that were rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood. He also said that Muhammad el-Baradei asked Americans, Europeans, Turks, and Qataris to use their influence to bring the Muslim Brothers to the table. Also this effort failed.

Emad Aouni believes the Muslim Brothers have committed political suicide after the nationwide violence following police and army breaking up their demonstrations. Whether that is true or not would remain to be seen in elections. He also says a new law is in preparation that would forbid political parties with a religious basis. If that would indeed be carried out it would only further deepen the rift between Islamists and non-Islamists.

Media have often played very partisan roles. The focus of Al Jazeera station was primarily on the events around Rābaʽah. CNN strongly criticized the Egyptian authorities for a return to what they, and many other observers, believe to be military rule, which was not appreciated by the Egyptian diplomat AWR spoke with.

Opponents to dialogue with the Muslim Brothers call them terrorists and thus advocate driving them underground. Such language is counterproductive. Muslim Brothers publicly advocate non-violent change. On a grassroots level, however, intense violence is rampant, whereby it is for the wider public unclear whether this was carried out by thugs or Islamists or a mix of both. The Muslim Brotherhood has between 500,000 and 1 million members, many engaged in peaceful activism, while others are involved in violence. It is important to distinguish between these different members and not throw political activists and militant activists in one basket.

Cornelis Hulsman

Arab-West Report

August 16, 2013