Jul 29th 2013,
ONLY a month ago, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood ruled the country. Today the military, which deposed President Muhammad Morsi on July 3rd, seems intent on crushing the Islamist group in its entirety. Early on July 27th at least 82 Morsi supporters were killed in the worst episode of violence since Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was overthrown in 2011.
Clashes broke out after Mr Morsi’s supporters began to move from the Rabea al-Adwiya mosque in eastern Cairo, where they have been staging a sit-in since the coup, towards the capital’s city centre. Many of those killed were shot with live ammunition to the chest, head and neck, though the interior ministry maintains its forces fired only tear gas. Thousands were injured.
The Brotherhood has been stubborn in refusing to engage in an interim government until Mr Morsi is re-instated as president, but the latest fighting was provoked by the generals. It came in the wake of huge pro-military protests called for by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the defence minster and army chief. Millions gathered in Cairo, chanting: "The army and the people are one hand”. Demonstrators were on the streets of Alexandria and in the north and Suez, too. In the meantime, the military says it is investigating Mr Morsi, who has remained in detention since being deposed, on murder charges from when he and other Brothers were freed during a breakout at a Cairo prison in January 2011. He is also accused of conspiring with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which rules neighbouring Gaza.
The army’s apparent determination to quash the Brothers and its indifference to inflicting such bloodshed seems to worry few Egyptians. Despite decades of military misrule under Mr Mubarak, many appear happy to defer to the generals, and seem to have given the state a green light to deal violently with Morsi supporters, whom they consider terrorists. A statement by the interior ministry hailing the army’s supposed legal mandate to confront “anyone who tries to destabilise this nation” did, however, prompt an angry riposte by Tamarod, the youth movement which called for Mr Morsi’s overthrow, that its support for the state’s fight against “terrorism” did not extend to “the taking of extraordinary measures, or the contradiction of freedoms and human rights”. Some interim cabinet ministers have also spoken out, but such voices seem to be in the minority.
In Dokki, just outside Cairo, an elderly woman handing out posters of General Sisi illustrates the extent to which he has become the most prominent player on the political scene. Asked why she had none of Adli Mansour, the judge who has been appointed interim president, she paused, apparently unaware of who he was. Essam Abdel Sadek, a protester in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis sporting a General Sisi mask, said he would happily elect the general as president, describing him as “an idol and a role model for all Egyptians”.
Mr Morsi’s supporters, meanwhile, vow to stay on the streets, despite the army’s threats that it will soon force them to disperse. On Monday they continued to march in Cairo, and called for much larger demonstrations for Tuesday. Some Islamist thinkers have proposed a political way out, but that so far seems unlikely to gain any traction as the two sides continue to dig their heels in ever more defiantly. Yet more violence could lie ahead.