Egypt is shell-shocked and the world is astounded. 14th August 2013 will be known as the blackest day in the Arab world. On that fateful day the Egyptian military junta turned its guns, tanks, bulldozers and artillery fires on the peaceful sit-ins in Nahda Square and Rabia' Al-Adawiyah of Cairo in broad daylight. According to the BBC, scores of people were killed when security forces stormed protest camps in the capital; pro-Morsi group claimed hundreds have perished. The BBC's Hugh Sykes in Cairo witnessed a protester trying to stop a tank in its tracks "like Tiananmen Square". Nobody will probably ever know the number of dead civilians. Tragically, Sky News cameraman, Mick Deane was also among those shot and killed.
Egyptian military brutality might have broken all records of killing its own people, and this has happened before the world's cameras. Egypt has not seen anything like this before, not even during the brutal Mubarak rule.
The military regime threatened to dismantle the sit-ins by Morsi supporters, after they were protesting against the ouster of the president; they defied, probably thinking that their own army, which is supposed to fight the enemies, would not wage a war against Egyptian citizens and kill them in this brutal manner. But the military behaved like an invading army.
The Egyptian generals must now be relieved that the nuisance of a democratic sit-in by pro-Morsi supporters is over, albeit temporarily. The American administration dithered until the massacre whether to call a spade a spade, i.e., call a coup a coup, while one of their very senior politicians (Senator John McCain) recently said so; this gave the generals succour and allowed them to deal with the Morsi supporters in such a vicious way. The Gulf monarchies funnelled the cash-starved generals their needed funds as a prize of ousting Morsi; what would they feel now?
Yet, in January 2011 the whole of Egypt was enjoying - ecstatically - the freedom gained when their modern Pharaoh, Mubarak, was peacefully deposed; and they were in high jubilation just over a year ago when their first transparent election saw a civilian President at the helm of Egypt. Everyone was talking about a new Egypt in the heartland of the Arab world. All this hope has now turned into ashes.
The military was constitutionally bound to be loyal to their elected President. But from day one Morsi faced mountainous challenges - high expectation from the Egyptians, demands from his own camp and a total blockage of authority by the military and judiciary. The military with massive political power behind the scene and beneficiary of 40% of the national budget left no stone unturned to discredit Morsi. Within months the already dire economic situation was getting worse. Morsi made a desperate political decision, some say gamble and some naivety, and exerted his Presidential authority to bypass the generals.
Into this muddy political situation came the National Salvation Front (NSF), the rag-tag coalition of defeated secular groups and Mubarak supporters often with violent demonstrations across the country. Morsi's attempt for some sort of reconciliation was rejected outright by the NSF; unfortunately Mohamed El-Baradei's role in this rejection was prominent (he has resigned from the government, but the damage was done). The military was biding its time; economic meltdown, especially the shortage of fuel, brought many people to the street against Morsi. Rather than trying to bring the two camps to a negotiated settlement the military gave an ultimatum to Morsi to find a solution to the crisis; it sided with the NSF. Morsi was to bound to fail; on 3 July 2013 he was ousted in a coup d'état. The spineless Al-Azhar Islamic university gave military junta its blessing.
In response, many of Morsi's supporters gathered in various parts of the country to peacefully protests against the military intervention and to call for Morsi's reinstatement. But the military was not in a mood to listen to them; on 27 July 74 pro-Morsi supporters were killed by the military, according to Human Rights Watch. NGOs and governments around the world urged the military junta to show restraint, with wide concern about the escalation of violence. Yet the military decided to end the peaceful sit-ins in most horrific manner.
Where is Egypt going now? Are we witnessing the start of a long bloody civil war, as in Syria? And what does this mean when coupled with other regional events, such as Israel/Palestinians, Israel/Iran, Syrian civil war, Lebanon destabilising, Bahrain and UAE human rights crack downs, etc? The Middle East that has seen some ray of light has now plunged into darkness.
The world must speak out now against the Egyptian military junta; the US and other global powers can no longer sit on the fence. There should be a total condemnation of this massacre of civilians, with military aid cut off immediately. Human rights lawyers should now come forward and use their principle of universal jurisdiction to make sure Egypt's military does not get away with this human rights abuse. Only then the junta will feel isolated and reconsider their position in a civilised world.
Written by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, former Secretary General of the MCB.
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