The Egyptian Spring – more like Winter

Copt protestor

Egyptian Copt protestor in Cairo

Continuing on from previous articles on the failure of the Egyptian Spring to bring much-hoped for democratic reforms and genuine freedom, reports have been emerging of “A great darkness in Egypt” – and not the Biblical kind either. This article from Ynet describes the effects of rising Islamism on Christians, Copts and other minorities in Egypt, and the great fear under which they now live.

In recent months we have seen significant escalation in violent clashes between radical Islamists and members of the Copt minority across Egypt. It started with the lethal suicide attack in one of Alexandria’s main churches in the first days of the year, even before the popular protest against Mubarak gained steam. Twenty three worshippers were murdered and some 100 were wounded.

Egyptian opposition sources claimed at the time that the attack was organized by a secret unit established by the former interior minister in order to undermine domestic stability and reinforce the regime’s hold on the country. A few weeks ago, when angry Islamist masses attacked a Cairo church where two Christian women who converted to Islam were apparently held, some charged that loyalists of the outgoing regime were identified among the radical Muslim activists. Ten people were killed in the clash, while security forces stood at the sidelines and observed.

Maha has no doubt as to who stands behind the growing violence against Copts – the Salafiyun, the ultra-conservative Islamic camp. Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri hailed from the Salafiyun’s ranks. So did Mohammed Atta, the commander of the September 11 attacks, who was a member of mosque affiliated with the movement. The Salafiyun are inspired by Saudi Arabia and seek to impose traditions from the early days of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad era.

“They hate everyone,” said Maha. “They also hate Muslims who are not like them, but they mostly hate us, Christians. One of their leaders said during a TV show that he dreams of waking up one day and discovering that Egypt is free of Christians. ‘They should go to the US and Canada,’ he said. ‘It’s not their country.’ Unbelievable chutzpah….we were in this country hundreds of years before Islam and the Arabs arrived.”

In post-revolution Egypt, almost no day goes by without the Salafiyun assaulting Christians or members of other Muslim sects. They even took over a Cairo mosque held by the State, removed the local Imam and appointed one of their own instead – an elderly preacher who was recently released from jail and boasts of fighting the “Zionists” in 1948.

Indeed, Egypt is still far from being a free country, and radical Muslims are doing as they wish, under the auspices of the supreme military council. The despair of non-Sunni minorities is so deep that many Copts have armed themselves and are opening fire every time Muslim masses threaten their communities. Representatives of the Shiite and Sufi camps also declared “jihad” against the Salafiyun this past week, making it clear that from now on violence will be met with violence.

The tense atmosphere also drew, against their will, Mickey and Minnie Mouse into the fray. The Twitter account of Egyptian-Copt billionaire Naguib Sawiris, a telecommunication tycoon who recently formed a liberal-secular party, featured a photo of Disney’s stars with Mickey boasting a thick Salafi-style beard and Minnie’s face covered by a black niqab. The Salafiyun responded quickly: The immediately issued calls to boycott Sawiris’ phone companies and torch their offices. “We must cut off the tongue of those who attack our religion,” boycott organizers declared.

Should the planned elections timetable be adhered to, nobody in Egypt doubts that the big winner of the “freedom revolution” would be the Islamist movement on all its shades. Following the elections, Egypt will be under the control of Islam that is more radical than the one ruling Turkey. “Today’s Egypt is very different than the Egypt we knew so far,” a Western diplomat said.

The initiators of the January revolution – the liberal, secular and democratic youngsters – are feeling that they are losing control over the movement they launched. While the revolution against Mubarak’s regime was initially led by members of the middle class, now it is being taken over by the simple folk, who pull it in entirely different directions: More Islam and aspirations for the return of a powerful leader.

And of course, you knew it was going to happen: who is to blame for all the country’s troubles? Why, it’s the Jews of course!

However, the Islamists don’t need to make much effort on the Israel front. The supreme military committee, the transition government and the secular democratic parties are doing the job for them by spreading hateful anti-Israel propaganda and erasing any sign of peace, with the exception of the business normalization. In the days of the previous regime, anti-Israel propaganda was the only area where almost absolute freedom of speech was allowed, but now we are seeing reckless abandon.

Israel is accused of everything – causing the “civil war” between Muslims and Christians, causing the terrible Egyptian economy’s terrible state, and of course, engaging in reckless espionage. The best way to eliminate someone politically is to accuse him of having ties with Israel. Egyptians are eagerly reading reports about Israel’s “secret takeover” during Mubarak’s era; most of the stories are pure inventions meant to implicate former top officials in the gravest crime of all: Normalization with Israel.

In a related item, the Guardian reports on the simmering anger of the Egyptian street at the ruling military junta for not implementing the promised reforms quickly enough:

In a massive show of public anger at the slow pace of reform under military rulers, demonstrators chanted repeatedly for the ousting of the country’s de facto ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. They called on Egyptians to “reclaim” their revolution. Activists declared the start of an open-ended sit-in, vowing not to leave until post-Mubarak transition was put back in the hands of ordinary people.

“This is not just another Friday protest – it’s a message to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [Scaf] that their methods don’t work and that we are immune to their tricks and lies,” said Wael Eskandar, a 27 year old IT consultant who joined the protests in Cairo. “No matter how much they try spreading disinformation and claim the army is trying to implement the demands of the revolution, Egyptians know the real deal – and that is why you see so many here today.”

“There are specific demands – such as the speeding up of trials, holding police to account, and so on – but none of them individually quite capture what this is about today,” said Khalid Abdalla, an actor. “The fundamental issue is that there is no one in authority speaking to these people and making them feel secure in this transitional period. So, instead, people are speaking for themselves, and a broad consensus about the need for change is forming. That consensus is clearly pitted against the army.”

Most experts believe there is little chance of the military drastically changing direction and pursuing vigorous reform. “SCAF is not a pro-democracy organisation: they don’t care much about the revolution per se – what matters to them is security and stability, and there really is no ideological content in their actions,” argued Hamid. “They can’t all of a sudden embrace full democracy because that would go against their interests as an institution, so I don’t even know if the military is capable of doing what the protesters want it to do.”

Hamid said that Egypt’s interim leader was now beginning to look vulnerable. “Tantawi is not quite on par with Mubarak in people’s eyes, but he’s getting there. If he ever had any chance to protect his legacy and go out as someone who helped facilitate Egypt’s revolution, then I think he’s losing that now, so there’s a lot at stake for him.”

This sounds like a recipe for yet another ouster of an Egyptian leader. And we all know what happens when leaders are ousted. You get a power vacuum – the perfect opening for Islamist extremists to enter which brings us back round to the Ynet article linked above.


Protest in Tahrir Square

New protests in Tahrir Square

The Independent’s report on the massive protest rally in Cairo draws on both these elements of the ruling military junta losing power, and the protestors being supported by the Muslim Brotherhood:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday for one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

…The rally was boosted by the official support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political organisation, which until now has refused to take part in most of the protests that have happened since February. A large number of the country’s other political groups and parties also backed the rally.

Muslim Brotherhood member Khalid Dawood, who attended the protest in Alexandria, said the Brotherhood – which in recent months has been plagued by internal splits and squabbles – was persuaded to attend because it was worried about the ruling military council’s lack of transparency.

He added: “It’s a good decision. Before we didn’t want to join protests with other groups, but today we decided we should share the protest with them.”

None of this spells out good news for the region; not for Egypt and not for Israel.  The lesson we learn from the Arab “Spring” could probably be worded as “be careful what you wish for”.

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