Is Egypt's Army fueling religious hate, betraying revolution?

Posted Oct 12, 2011 by Bradley Axmith
The brutal crackdown on protesters Sunday night by Egypt’s soldiers and police in several different locations is the latest symptom of a revolution being stolen from the people by its military caretakers, critics assert.
File photo: Military officers in the middle of demonstrators on Tahrir Square in Cairo.
File photo: Military officers in the middle of demonstrators on Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Erik - parked in Cairo these days via
Coptic Christians swelled with sorrow on Monday and seethed with anger following deadly clashes with Egyptian security forces that left 25 dead and 329 seriously injured in the most brutal bout of violence between the state and its citizens since Hosni Mubarak fled the country in February 2011.
Egypt’s ruling authority, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has promised to investigate the cause of the deadly clashes, tasking the government “with quickly forming a fact finding committee to determine what happened and take legal measures against all those proven to have been involved, either directly or by incitement," state television reported.
The country’s approximately 8.5 million Copts constitute the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, having experiencing varying degrees of persecution and tolerance in the 2000 years of their religious history.
Incidents of violence against Copts have increased in frequency and intensity in the time following Mubarak’s ouster, including the burning down or destruction of three churches and the murder of a priest in the last four months under military stewardship.
On September 30 an ostensibly Muslim mob put fire to a church in Marynab, Aswan in Southern Egypt because they were led to believe it was illegal.
A couple of days later in Sohag province, would-be Salafi arsonists were thwarted in their alleged attempt to burn another church down as they chanted “no to church construction,” the Washington Post reported.
The governor of Aswan, in another incident, justified attempts to block renovations of a church in Merinab saying there was no license for the work, which was not true.
Christians’ perception of official complicity, underscored by the lack of prosecution for crimes against them led to separate protests that were to converge in front of the state TV building in downtown Cairo Sunday evening.
Violence erupted while the demonstrators were making their way through Maspero district, north west of Tahrir Square.
Faces were crushed and bodies mutilated by soldiers and Muslim brigands according to witnesses, describing the episode as a massacre and calling it ‘bloody Sunday.’
“Security forces attacked us like we were stray dogs,” Romani Atef, a Coptic protester told AhramOnline.
Videos were posted online showing brutal beatings of individuals caught behind the line of rushing security teams and armoured personnel carriers that were seen driving straight into crowds of people.
“One APC crushed a man’s head and his blood sprayed over my t-shirt,” a protester, Samuel Adel, told AhramOnline.
Looking for someone to blame
What has not been widely reported is the fact that three of the dead are soldiers, plus the episode represents the first time since the so-called revolution that guns have been turned on the military.
Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf urged national unity, claiming a foreign hand at work, stirring the pot to proliferate violence and sabotage democratization.
The leader of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, Pope Shenuda III, accused “infiltrators” of sparking the conflagration, though without pointing a finger at a specific culprit.
Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Islam’s most senior ranking cleric emphasized tolerance by urging the prime minister to pass legislation granting equal rights to people of all faiths and their right to build places of worship.
At this time no one in has been able to say why violence erupted in this manner, but many voices of concern are echoing the need to fulfill the promise of Egypt’s Papyrus Revolution.
Egyptian state TV is also the focus scrutiny for its role in inciting Muslims to take to the streets, take up arms and defend the Egyptian soldiers against the “angry Christians.”
Minister of Information Osama Heikal released a statement apologizing for state television’s anti-Coptic message, attributing it to the stress of the moment.
“Announcers reported that Christian protesters had attacked the army only because they were under emotional stress,” Mr. Heikal stated. He urged caution and restraint on the part of both government and private news bureaus when delivering the news.
In a notable development, Hazem El-Beblawi, resigned his offices of deputy prime minister and finance in an apparent attempt to shoulder the blame for “violence Coptic protesters were subjected to.”
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who leads the military council, however, rejected his resignation.
More of the same?
Mr. Tantawi has become the focus of Coptic anger and his provisional mandate to see the most populous Muslim state in the Middle East through to elections the subject of doubt by many Egyptians as well as the international community.
The leader of Egypts military council has become the object of protesters  rage following violence a...
The leader of Egypts military council has become the object of protesters' rage following violence and the slow path to democracy.
Unrelated to the violent clash Sunday people had returned to Tahrir Square the site of anti-Mubarak manifestations, protesting the continued existence of martial law, allegations of torture by the military and the suspension of habeas corpus, the legal responsibility a state has to charge an individual it has detained.
An agreement hammered out between 13 political parties and the SCAF October 3 established a timetable toward handover of power in 2013.
Though it avoided a boycott of elections to the lower house of Egypt’s parliament in November it was received with controversy due to concessions that cemented military rule throughout the period and it reinforced the hated emergency law, in effect since 1981.
In addition, party leaders had to “declare their full support to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” and praise their role in “protecting the revolution and working on handing over the power to the people.”
“It’s shameful,” Hani Shukrallah said after quitting the Social Democratic Egyptian party out protest. “You’re conceding one of the most important demands of the revolution, the canceling of the emergency law, for the sake of getting rid of some competition.”
Ahmad Shokry of the Justice Party withdrew his name from the agreement following outcry from his own party and the public.
“It’s an open agreement that gives the power to the [council]. It was too hasty, and that’s what made public opinion so polarized,” Shokry said.
Bahey eldin Hassan of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) warned of a flawed roadmap that has served to exacerbate the economic, social and political challenges Egypt faces.
Mr. Hassan further noted the similarity between policies enacted by former president Mubarak and the current military administration
“Instead of using political means, the SCAF chose military trials for civilians, torture by the military police, repressive legislation, smear campaigns against political groups and human rights organizations, incitement against independent media, and the criminalization of strikes and sit-ins,” he summed up.
During the Sunday night clashes military officials forced two private TV broadcasts to cease televising live coverage due to “security concerns.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her “deep concern” about recent developments early Wednesday, and urged the SCAF to stay the course toward democracy and respect the fundamental rights of all Egyptians.
The caretakers of Egypt’s revolution do not have an easy task before them. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center believes the military “cannot be trusted with something as important as Egypt’s fledgling democracy. Even if it had the country’s best interests at heart, the military council is unelected and therefore unaccountable to the very people it claims to serve.”
Amid rumours the military is planning on fielding a presidential candidate, Egyptians are growing impatient with the military and what they view as their reactionary or counter-revolutionary interests.
"I doubt Essam Sharaf is a traitor," Miral Brinjy tweeted. "His hands are tied tightly by SCAF leading us to this!"
Later today a demonstration organized by the April 6 Movement will take place outside the public prosecutor’s office in a show of solidarity. Those attending will wear black, bring a candle and demand accountability.
Tomorrow the SCAF will make public the initial findings of the investigation.