Events in the last week have confirmed fears about where Egypt is heading since the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi on July 3. Those who still deny that the country is under military rule are deluding themselves. Yes, there is a civilian interim government, but the army is very much in charge, its unashamed brutality rubber-stamped by the politicians it has put in place.
Last week, the head of the army, Abdel Fatah Sisi - who is also defense minister and deputy prime minister - urged Egyptians to attend nationwide rallies on Friday to give him a “mandate” to fight “terror” and “violence.” The fact that he made the call, not interim President Adly Mansour, shows who is really in charge.
Sisi did not explain how “violence” and “terror” would be fought, who would be targeted (though that has become clear), or how success would be measured. He was basically urging the public to give him carte blanche to do as he pleases. It is as absurd as a politician asking the electorate for votes without disclosing his or her policies.
The sad irony is that many of those who were protesting the continuation of military rule after Mubarak’s ouster are now the army’s most ardent supporters.Sharif Nashashibi
The difference, though, is that calling for rallies is not a show of democracy, nor can it be deemed a legitimate mandate. People on the streets cannot be counted like ballots. Also, what constitutes a sufficient number of demonstrators, and who or what decides this magical number?
Even if we accept Sisi’s warped idea of mob democracy, he should know that any rally, no matter how large, will never comprise the majority of a population. As such, and because of Friday’s sizeable counter-rallies, he could never reliably claim a truly popular mandate. However, none of this really matters to Sisi, who was always going to claim a mandate no matter how many people turned up.
A country’s army does not need a mandate to carry out its duty to ensure national security. However, this is not about restoring national security - it is about creating national insecurity, which enables the establishment, maintenance and consolidation of military rule in any country. Sisi, who claimed that deposing Mursi was necessary to avoid a civil war, is now stoking the very thing he said he did not want.
While this would be disastrous for the Egyptian people, regardless of political affiliation, it would cement the military’s iron grip that it enjoyed under the decades-long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak - who was spawned and propped up by the army - and which it was so reluctant to relinquish after his downfall.
Egypt’s army - which has an “abysmal record on human rights,” according to Amnesty International -.is embarking on its very own ‘war on terror.’ This is the fig leaf used worldwide to justify abuses and violations, of which there have been many committed by the security forces against Mursi’s supporters since his ouster.
The sad irony is that many of those who were protesting the continuation of military rule after Mubarak’s ouster are now the army’s most ardent supporters - how quickly and conveniently amnesia can set in. Military rule is bad enough, but is much more dangerous when blindly supported by a large proportion of the population to oppress another large proportion of the population.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s warning that Sisi’s call posed the danger of “massacres committed under a false popular cover” proved prophetic. Just hours after Mansour warned that “the state has to impose order by all force and decisiveness,” and two weeks after 51 Mursi supporters were shot dead outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, the single bloodiest incident took place on Saturday.
Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian’s Egypt correspondent, described the killing of “at least 136” Mursi supporters as “the worst state-led massacre in the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.” The BBC reported more than 1,000 injured.
The attack was condemned by the grand imam of the Cairo-based al-Azhar - Sunni Islam’s highest authority - as well as by governments worldwide, and the U.N. secretary-general. The interim government’s response? Blaming the Brotherhood, and placing the killings in “the context of terrorism.” It is thus displaying a wanton disregard for the lives of their countrymen, and appearing ever more as the army’s willing lapdogs.
An adviser to Mansour declared: “There is a wave of terror and we will break this wave.” He was referring, of course, to terrorism supposedly committed by civilian protesters, not that inflicted by the state, which is apparently not just excusable, but necessary.
“The use of deadly fire on such a scale so soon after the interim president announced the need to impose order by force suggests a shocking willingness by the police and by certain politicians to ratchet up violence against pro-Mursi protesters,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“It is almost impossible to imagine that so many killings would take place without an intention to kill, or at least a criminal disregard for people’s lives.” he added. “Opening deadly fire for hours on end is no way to respond to civilians who are mainly throwing stones and teargas canisters. If this is the new leadership’s idea of a ‘lawful’ response, it sets a very grim tone for days to come.”
My only disagreement is with the word “days.” Egypt will be facing a far longer grim period than that. Since Sisi’s call, there have been not just further killings, but also a threat to “end soon” the sit-ins in support of Mursi, arrest warrants for the Brotherhood’s leader and other senior members of the country’s largest Islamist movement, and the continued detention of the former president, whose whereabouts are still unknown, and who has yet to see his family or lawyers.
“Given the security forces’ routine use of excessive force,” Sisi's call “is likely to lead to yet more unlawful killings, injuries, and other human rights violations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director of its Middle East and North Africa programme. Again, my only disagreement is with the word “likely” - it is a certainty, and such abuses will continue as long as Egyptians back them or stay silent.
Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash