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Middle East and Africa

Police trying to end Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations; Dialogue instead of confrontation needed

This morning Egyptian police began dispersing the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations at the Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah mosque and Nahda Square near Cairo University. Both areas had become the centers of Muslim Brotherhood protest since demonstrations started against President Morsi (Mursī) on June 30 and ultimately led to his removal on July 3. MB demonstrators still consider Morsi as their legitimate president. They believe the army and police are dominated by the feloul, the name used for people who would like to return back to the days of Hosni Mubarak without restoring him as president.

 

 

The police efforts to end the Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah mosque demonstrations have resulted in Muslim Brothers spreading their demonstrations throughout the city and country, trying to block main roads. The Egyptian railways from throughout the country have been stopped.

 

 

There is a lot of conflicting information about the number of deaths.

 

 

Muhammad Subhy, actor, stated in an interview with CBC that Al Jazeera in the first hours of the removal of the demonstrators at Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah claimed 450 dead and 10,000 wounded. Later on we found Al Jazeera reporting 100 deaths. But Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Beltagi reports from Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah that 300 demonstrators have died, one of who was his 17-year-old daughter.

 

 

CBC reports that at al-Nahda square and Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah, 4 policemen died and 94 demonstrators were wounded. Later a report from the Ministry of Health spoke of over 40 deaths. Numbers obviously vary widely.

 

 

Police offices are being attacked in attempts to free prisoners. Egyptian TV compares this to January 28, 2011 when police offices were massively attacked and prisoners freed. The governorate of Alexandria, the court in Assiut, and other government buildings have been set ablaze.

 

 

Egyptian TV shows images from helicopters showing people with weapons among MB demonstrators.

 

 

Egyptian TV is angry at the images presented by Al Jazeera, believing they exaggerate the number of victims and focus on the violence against the Brothers which seems to be intended to inflame tensions.

 

 

Churches in Fayoum, Suhag, Minya and other locations have been attacked. Please note that Orthodox and Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of the Holy Virgin which brings many Christians to churches in the country.

 

 

All of this violence was unnecessary.

 

 

Media are obviously used and misused in the polemics between Muslim Brothers and their opponents. I have been asking Muslim Brothers about a YouTube video image of Beltagi stating after July 3, the date of Morsi’s disposal, that the violence in Sinai would reduce if Morsi would return as president, thus linking violence in Sinai to Morsi’s removal. Opponents of Muslim Brothers use this against them, seeing this as proof that Muslim Brothers, when they see they lose power, are willing to use violence.

 

 

Walid al-Haddad and Gehad al-Haddad (no relation) questioned the video on YouTube, believing that images from different moments were cut and pasted together. Or was Beltagi deliberately misinterpreted? It has been suggested that I ask Beltagi myself, which I have not been able to do. It also won’t be possible anymore. Today at noon we received the message that he had been arrested.

 

There are many more questions about images used. Older images are mixed with more recent images in order to get a message across to the public. It is often impossible to say which images can be trusted and which ones have been manipulated.

 

 

Lamis Fayed, a Sufiya Muslim friend of ours wrote today:

 

 

Don’t believe your European Media.. I am in Cairo, we are all terrorized to the maximum after the evacuation of militant strikes of Muslim Brothers, not to speak about the hard situation of Copts and how many churches are set in fire in Upper Egypt.. There is no media in Upper Egypt to report the attacks. Many police officers are killed.. and many are kidnapped.. Muslim Brothers attack the police stations to set their supporters free. We will have serious days in Egypt ..

 

 

The message indicates the level of fear and tensions that exist.

 

 

Both parties have valid arguments.

 

 

It is true that former president, Morsi, had lost much popular support before the June 30 demonstrations. It is true that army and security leaders were irritated about him and that the country was sliding into an abyss.

 

 

It is equally true that his removal was carried out by the army following widespread demonstrations. Arguments started whether this was a revolution (Morsi’s opponents) or a coup d’etat (Morsi’s supporters).

 

 

Attacks on Muslim Brothers result in increased feelings of persecution, returning to the days they were massively arrested and put behind bars. Attacks on Muslim Brothers bind the group together and results in sympathy of people who feel they have the right to voice their disagreement with the removal of Morsi.

 

 

It is true that the Brothers have thus far not shown much interest in making compromises with their opponents. On July 1, when General al-Sisi gave President Morsi an ultimatum of 48 hours, Morsi could have responded with early presidential elections, but instead made a defiant speech. The result is known: al-Sisi sacked Morsi.

 

 

Muslim Brothers do have an estimated membership between 500,000 and 1 million. The estimates vary depending on who one asks, their opponents or leaders of the Brotherhood. They are well organized and have been able to survive 80 years of political oppression in various degrees of severity. With the last parliamentary and presidential elections, they have shown to be able to get at least 5.5 million votes for their candidates. Local Brothers visit mosques and homes, make pamphlets and banners, place them in good locations and hammer on justice, serving the poor and God—a message that resonates well among large sections of the Egyptian population.

 

 

I sometimes get the feeling that opponents of the Muslim Brothers try to sideline them, try to push them out of positions of power. I understand the arguments and fear, but on the other hand, the Muslim Brothers do represent a substantial part of the Egyptian population and should not be excluded in building a new and democratic Egypt.

 

 

Several bishops told me they would like to see the army remain in control for years to come. Pope Tawadros sat with Shaykh Ahmed al-Tayeb beside General al-Sisi when he announced the ouster of President Morsi. The Pope has been widely criticized for this by Muslim Brothers. Criticism of some leaders is apparently seen by lower ranks in the Brotherhood as a license to attack Christians and Christian structures.

 

 

The Christian-Muslim Brotherhood antagonism is dating to the 1970s. Pope Shenouda then strongly campaigned against changing Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution. Ultimately this article was changed, making the sharī’ah “the” source of legislation instead of “a” source” of legislation. There were also arguments about church building and Christian presentation in higher positions of power. Antagonism resulted in bloody clashes in the late 1970s, 1980, and 1981 and ultimately resulted in the murder of President Anwar Sadat by members of the Gama’at al-Islamiya (al-Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah).

 

 

Christian leaders often critique Muslim Brotherhood leaders. I remember a speech of Mounir Fahry Abdel Nour at a meeting for national unity at the Wafd Party in which he very explicitly targeted Muslim Brotherhood leader, Dr. Essam el-Haddad, after the attack on the Coptic Cathedral. Were Essam el-Haddad’s views properly presented and interpreted? There are questions about the transmission of his views through several media. It shows how media can contribute to deepening the antagonistic approaches.

 

 

I have asked both Muslim Brotherhood and Christian leaders for dialogue, lines of communication, between the two groups. There are practically no mutual contacts. I wish to see that changed. Of course this will not bring immediate solutions but it at least could contribute to reducing mutual tensions.

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