Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Military and Maspero

The smoky haze created by the social fire called the Maspero tragedy still blankets Egypt.

As I have reported in earlier posts, deadly clashes between the military, unarmed Coptic Christian protesters, and thugs left at least 26 dead, and more than 300 injured last week. The SCAF has promised to form a fact-finding committee. The clashes were some of the worst violence the country has seen since the January 25th Revolution. ("Egypt Army seeks probe into Cairo clashes," AlJazeera.net, October 11, 2011) 

International rights groups condemned the Maspero violence, including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Some have called on the US to withhold military aid to Egypt. Military aid to Egypt may be worth as much as 1.3 billion dollars. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke on the phone with Minister of Foreign Affairs Amr Mohamed to offer condolences to the victims of the Maspero violence. ("US rights groups slam Egypt's military for Maspero violence, Al Masry al Youm, October, 12, 2011)

The Egyptian military denied charges that the military used live ammunition on protesters, and also denied that army vehicles crushed demonstrators under their wheels. (Amirah Ibrahim, "We did not Kill protesters," Al Ahram Weekly, Week of October 16, 2011) Members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces denied at a press conference that soldiers used weapons or force during the protest. (Rana Khazbak, "Military denies use of forces, accuses protesters of armed violence in Maspero, Al Masry Al Youm, October, 12, 2011)

However, online videos, as well as credible journalists present at the scene give credence to these allegations. ("Egypt's Army Defends Actions in Protest Crackdown," Al Masry Al Youm, October 12, 2011) General Mahmoud Hegazy, a member of the SCAF asserts that the armed forces "would never and have never opened fire on the people." (Ibid) The Army pins the blame for inciting violence on foreign elements.The SCAF has released its own videos showing individuals attacking soldiers with stones and a sword. (Al Ahram)

Major General Adel Emara claims that tear gas was used for riot control. He claimed that a soldier was driving an armored vehicle to disperse the crowd, when the vehicle was set on fire. He claims the driver was badly injured. (Khazbak,"Military denies use of force") Initial hospital reports show that most victims were killed by gunfire, or by being crushed by military vehicles. Emara accused the protesters of possessing firearms and antagonizing the armed forces. (Ibid.) He showed a video of protesters setting civilian cars on fire, and claimed that the priest was inciting people to violence. He called soldiers involved in the incident "martyrs."

According to a Reuters report on October 11, 2011,  the SCAF is increasingly viewed as a new autocrat, borrowing a page from Mubarak's handbook. Christians and Muslims alike, reports reuters, say that the army's reaction during the Maspero event was as brutal as any of Mubarak's tactics. The Egyptian citizenry is increasingly impatient with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, the leader of the SCAF and a veteran of the 73 war against Israel.

Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt's most respected independent newspaper, condemned the military's actions in the Maspero tragedy. (Al Masry Editorial, "The military has gone too far, Al Masry al youm, October 11, 2011) They state a peaceful protest was met with excessive force by the military and the police. They urge that all those responsible for the violence be held accountable. The paper called for an elected government as soon as possible.

Amr Hamzawy, an activist and political force, and also a faculty member in my department at AUC, stated that " the partnership between the authorities, . . . the SCAF, the cabinet, and the citizens, is over. "("With Clashes, Egyptians Lose Trust in Military Ruler," Al Masry Al Youm, October 11, 2011) The New York Times reports that confidence in the SCAF reached a "breaking point" when the military tried to place blame for the deaths on the Coptic protesters, and denied the use of live ammunition. David Kirkpatrick, "Egypt's Military Expands Power, Raising Alarms." The New York Times, October 14, 2011)

As long as no presidential election is held, reports Reuters, executive power will remain in the hands of the military. The times quotes Maj. Gen Mahmoud Hegazy as saying the military will stay in power until Egypt has a president. Since no timetable has yet been set for presidential elections, this could mean that the SCAF stays in power well into 2013. (Ibid)

The Muslim Brotherhood blames remnants of the NDP, the party of Mubarak--now disbanded--for the violence in Maspero. MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie says that NDP members had threatened to set "Egypt on fire," if they were banned from political activity. He recommended an elected parliament, and an Ombudsman. (DPA, "Brotherhood supreme guide: NDP remnants behind Maspero bloodshed," Al Masry Al Youm, October 12, 2011)

The Daily News Egypt reports that Egyptians are worried, because the Army draws broadly from the national population. The idea that the military would attack civilians has thrown them into "shocked confusion."Sarah El-Deeb, "Stunned by bloodshed, Egyptians torn over army," Daily News Egypt, October 17, 2011). Sheik Osama raised an Orthodox Cross among mourners to show his support for Christian victims at a vigil Thursday. One woman, whose fiance was killed, said a military police officer kicked her fiance's corpse and hit him and called her "an infidel." (Ibid)

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