Egypt Descends Into a Hellish Spiral of Violence and Retribution
Supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi sit in front of barbed wire fencing that blocks the access to the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Cairo on July 8, 2013.
Photo Credit: AFP
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The following transcript is taken from Democracy Now!'s coverage of the continuing political crisis in Egypt.
AMY GOODMAN: At least 42 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi were shot dead and hundreds were wounded earlier today at a sit-in outside the military barracks where Mohamed Morsi is reportedly being held. The Egyptian military said they opened fire after members of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to storm the Republican Guard. Survivors of the attack said the army began shooting while they were praying and staging a peaceful sit-in.
INJURED PROTESTER: [translated] I was outside the barracks near the entrance, and I saw people coming at me, so I looked over my shoulder so that I could run. But when I faced back to the front, a tear gas canister hit me in the face. Blood was coming out of my face, so I lay on my back. Then a soldier attacked me and hit me with the butt of his rifle on my leg and said, "We have to cleanse the square of all of you today."
AMY GOODMAN: Today’s shooting comes five days after the Egyptian army ousted President Mohamed Morsi and suspended the constitution, following days of mass protests led by the youth group Tamarod. Adly Mansour, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in as interim president Thursday. In one of his first moves, Mansour dissolved the upper house of Parliament. He is expected to serve until new elections are held.
The military’s move to oust Morsi was welcomed by protesters in Tahrir Square who described Morsi’s ouster as a continuation of the revolution that took down Hosni Mubarak. But members of the Muslim Brotherhood have vowed to resist what they see as a military coup and crackdown on members of the Brotherhood. Morsi and other top members of the Brotherhood have been detained since Wednesday. Travel bans have been placed on many other Brotherhood leaders. The military also shut down the Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper and four television stations, including a station run by Al Jazeera.
We go now to Cairo, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. His most recent piece in The Nation is called "What Led to Morsi’s Fall—and What Comes Next?"
You can hear his podcast reports of events unfolding at democracynow.org.
Sharif, talk about the latest news out of Egypt. We haven’t spoken to you in a number of days, since Morsi was forced out.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I’m just coming back from the scene of a bloodbath in Cairo today. As you mentioned, the official count is at least 42 people killed, 300 wounded, many of them killed with live ammunition. I spoke to many eyewitnesses. All of them say that the attack began right at the end of dawn prayer, where pro-Morsi supporters are holding a sit-in, one in Nasr City in—close to Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, but this attack happened in a kind of a splinter sit-in that is near the headquarters of the Republican Guard, where many Morsi supporters believe that the ousted president himself is being held.
The attack began, as I said, at dawn this morning. Many eyewitnesses said it began with tear gas. They said it was unprovoked. And following the tear gas, it was live ammunition and shotguns. I spoke to many doctors at field hospitals who say many of the injuries are head and chest wounds, which indicates that soldiers were really shooting to kill. The military has said that two of its soldiers have been killed, dozens wounded, six critically. The military—or, state TV has been saying that what provoked the attack was protesters trying to storm the headquarters of the Republican Guard. Both sides have these competing narratives right now. But—and it also says that it has detained 200 protesters who, they say, are armed. So, we’ll have to see what the real nature of events was.
But I think we have to remember that this is the same military that killed 27 unarmed protesters just on the street behind me near Maspero in October 9th, 2011, and also denied wrongdoing or denied involvement whatsoever, despite very clear video evidence to the contrary. It’s the same military that has tortured protesters, conducted virginity tests on women, has conducted a very vicious crackdown on Abbassiya in 2012. So, you know, I think we have to put this all in context of what’s happening, but this has really stained the political atmosphere more than it already has been and polarized both sides. The Nour Party, which is the ultraconservative Salafi party and was the only Islamist group really participating in this new army-led transition, has suspended talks with the interim president to name a new prime minister. The interim president himself, Adly Mansour, who, as you mentioned, is the head of—was the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, announced just a few minutes ago he’s forming a committee to investigate today’s events. The Muslim Brotherhood has released a statement calling for an uprising, an intifada, in response to what happened today.
And this comes on the heels of a number of days of violence that followed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on July 3rd. We saw at least 40 people have been killed in those days before today, more than a thousand injured. Four of those killed were also at the Republican Guard, Morsi supporters, when troops opened fire when some Morsi supporters got too close. But the Morsi supporters have also marched on Friday to different parts of Cairo, parts—areas where anti-Morsi supporters, especially near Tahrir Square, are very heavily based. And this led to clashes, and a lot of anti-Morsi protesters were killed in the neighborhood of Manial, in a middle-class district. There was a very angry funeral the other day after four men from the neighborhood were killed there when Morsi supporters marched through there. They were killed with—all with live ammunition.
So, really, this is an escalating situation and one that is descending into a spiral of violence and retribution. Yesterday we saw these massive rallies, both in Tahrir Square and at the presidential palace, who were supporting the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, but also at Rabaa al-Adawiya in Nasr City neighborhood supporting the ousted president. So, the coming days will be very telling, but it was a very bloody, bloody day, bloody morning in Cairo today.
AMY GOODMAN: We got word this weekend that Mohamed ElBaradei was named as the new prime minister or the interim prime minister, but then, with al-Nour’s opposition, that was changed. Can you talk about the significance of what’s happening at the—in the leadership?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. So, as we know, the interim president is Adly Mansour, and we’re waiting to see who will be tapped to be the new interim prime minister, which will be a very important job dealing with the day-to-day governance of the country in the interim period. The state news agency reported that Mohamed ElBaradei had been tapped to be prime minister. Everyone was writing their stories about it and headlines. And then, a few hours later, the presidential spokesperson denied those claims. And it appears that the Nour Party—again, the ultraconservative Salafi party—which is a part of this process, said it would withdraw from the process if Baradei was named prime minister, essentially issuing, you know, a veto over the process. So, there’s been rumors floated last night that he could be named some kind of vice president, and there was rumors that a—someone called Ziaad Bahaa el-Din, a Social Democrat, would be named prime minister. But I think these are leaks for—coming from above to kind of test the waters to see what would be acceptable. Baradei’s name is still on the table. It has not been withdrawn. Groups like Tamarod, which is the campaign that first called for the June 30th protests and collected millions of signed petitions against Mohamed Morsi, has said it would stand behind the choice of Baradei and would not accept any other person. So we’ll have to see how these political developments go forward.
The interim president and the national—and ElBaradei and other opposition leaders have called on the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in this process, to be a part of this transition going forward. The Muslim Brotherhood has firmly rejected those invitations. It has said that the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as president would be a precondition for talks. It has continued its sit-in and protests in different parts of the country. So, it’s a very polarized situation. It will be a very difficult situation, especially after today, given that dozens of people were killed, you know, on the streets of Cairo.
AMY GOODMAN: —responded to the killings this morning or to, as well, the arrest warrants for Muslim Brotherhood leadership?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the beginning of your question.
AMY GOODMAN: Has Tamarod responded to the killings this morning and in the last days, as well as the arrest warrants for the Muslim Brotherhood leadership?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I was—I haven’t seen a response today. I’m not sure. They may have released a statement. Mohamed ElBaradei released a statement condemning violence and calling for an investigation. So, we’ll have to see what happens with that. I mean, there has been a lot of support for the military by this—by many people who were taking to the streets to protest against Mohamed Morsi. You know, there’s this kind of flirtation going on between the army and protesters, with helicopters flying low overhead and people cheering wildly as they did, and the army dropping flags on protesters and repeatedly, day after day, jets, army jets, flying in the sky, painting the Egyptian flag and colors, and once even drawing a heart over Tahrir. So, the army has really sought to recapture its brand as, you know, the custodian of order in Egypt.
I think it’s important to remember that there are still significant portions—or what we call kind of the heart of the revolution, the core activists who rose up against the military during—when they led the transition following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, and they continue to be very critical of the military—again, as I enumerated before, the military’s abuse and torture of protesters and killing of protesters in the interim period.
I think we also have to remember why—if we look at the context of why the military is getting involved, the military of course enjoys a vast economic empire in Egypt, something up to 30 percent of the economy it controls. It relies on conscripted labor to produce everything from bottled water to fertilizer to jeeps to pasta. And, you know, it needs political stability, though, to enjoy these core interests. And while it did strike a deal, a political pact, with the Muslim Brotherhood that granted it all of its autonomy in the constitution, also allowed generals safe exit without holding them to account for the killing of protesters, that pact began to come apart as political instability threatened a complete state collapse and threatened to really rupture their core interests. And I think that’s why the head of the armed forces eventually did step in and, you know, facilitate this coup, which was a coup but was facilitated on the back of a popular uprising, and we witnessed, you know, the biggest protests in Egypt’s history on June 30th against Mohamed Morsi.