Egypt braces itself for unprecedented bloodshed

Rabaa Adawiya protest camp

Egypt is bracing itself for a level of bloodshed not seen since the January 25, 2011 revolution, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

It seems as if the Egyptian establishment has declared war on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week the head of the army asked the Egyptian people to give him a mandate to fight “terrorism” by holding protests last Friday. This was a thinly-veiled reference to Muslim Brotherhood protestors who’ve been holding a mass 24-hr demonstration in the Rabaa Adawiya area of Cairo in protest at the deposing of ex President Mohammad Morsi.

Following General Sisi’s call around 100 Ikhwaan supporters were killed in clashes near Rabaa Adawiya on Saturday morning.

Now the Interior Minister has signalled the security forces’ intent to dismantle the Rabaa Adawiya protest following complaints by residents living nearby that it’s causing a nuisance.

Peaceful protest

I have visited Rabaa Adawiya on multiple occasions over the past few weeks and I can tell you that if the army decides to go into disperse the protestors it will lead to a bloodbath with the death toll in the thousands at least.

Whenever I visited the camp I found the atmosphere to be disciplined, calm and peaceful and saw no evidence of lethal weaponry.

However, there were body and ID searches before you could enter the area and I did see volunteers training miltary-style (without weapons) to defend the area from infiltrators and agent provocateurs.

So while I think it is fair to characterise the Rabaa Adawiya protests as overwhelmingly peaceful, I would also say that there are thousands of committed men ready to defend the camp from security force attack. And this means bloodshed is inevitable.

One-sided violence

I am not a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. I think their one-year rule was characterised by gross incompetence and the systematic alienation of vast swathes of the Egyptian establishment and public.

But we also have to be fair. President Morsi’s opponents were determined to see him fail and he didn’t throw his political opponents in jail or shut down any media which was inciting against him.

And it also strikes me that the violence in Egypt is rather one-sided.

While the authorities accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of terrorism based on a few inconclusive You Tube videos and probable isolated acts of genuine violence, the Egyptian army and its thugs are actually mowing down unarmed people with no questions asked.

And, of course, I don’t need You Tube videos to prove my point because I have actually attended clashes and know what tends to happen.

This is how it works. Baltagiya (plain-clothes security service thugs) wielding sticks and machetes start targeting protestors who are blocking streets and chanting slogans. Then snipers start firing live rounds. Then panic ensues and protestors turn violent, hurling boulders and sometimes molotov cocktails.

But the essential thing to undestand is that, in my experience, the violence is always instigated by the baltagiya and the violence perpetrated by the state is always greater than the violence perpetrated by the protestors.

Civil war

That said, my main concern is actually not the short-term violence that seems inevitable, it is the long-term welfare of Egypt itself. We must not allow the situation to turn into another civil war-type scenario like Iraq, Libya or Syria.

The country is passing through a very difficult moment and all sides have dirty hands and are difficult to support (even if the Muslim Brotherhood for the time being is on the receiving end of the greatest persecution).

The Ikhwaan have proved incompetent rulers and we should not underestimate the depth of feeling against them that many, if not most, Egyptians have. Yet they retain a large and loyal support (probably 25% of the country) and those numbers are being swelled by pro-democracy activists who’re against the miltary’s intervention in politics.

Meanwhile, the liberal secular opposition have also proved their street support in recent weeks yet they are unproven in governenance and don’t share much in common apart from a sometimes irrational hatred of Islamists.

And the army remains perhaps the only cohesive and strong national institution and this must remain the case because it is clear western and Israeli strategy to destroy Arab armies to make these countries weaker. On the other hand, the army is funded by the US to keep the oil flowing through Suez and to protect Israel’s borders so any anti-Zionist or anti-imperialist must find it difficult to support this institution.

It is also somewhat ironic that ex President Morsi is to be tried for having ties to Hamas whereas the miltary has open ties to Washington and Israel.

Balance

So the best we can hope for is some sort of balance of power between these three parties. None is capable of eradicating or completely sidelining the other, all will need to have their piece of the pie.

The Ikhwaan must refrain from taking up arms against the state whatever the provocation because if they do we are in for another Syria. Eventually, they will also have to realise that Morsi is not coming back and that this coup is irreversible in the short-term.

And the army and their secular liberal allies have to realise that they cannot eradicate the Ikhwaan or their supporters from the Egyptian scene otherwise again we will be in a civil war-type situation.

So let’s hope sanity prevails although the signs are not good.

@RMSalih

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