On Shifting Ground: Tensions High As Egypt Names New PM
TRNN Cairo correspondent Jihan Hafiz describes tense mood in Egypt after massacre, excessive force by military leaves many in denial of army’s past human rights record
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Monday, deadly clashes between the army and pro-Morsi supporters left more than 50 people dead and 300 people wounded. Details of how the clashes began are still unclear, but The Real News had our correspondent Jihan Hafiz on the ground.
Jihan is a reporter and producer for The Real News, and she joins us now from Cairo.
Thanks for being with us, Jihan.
JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: Jihan, give us an assessment of what the mood is like a day after the clashes. And what sort of details were you able to uncover?
HAFIZ: Yes. Well, the mood on the street yesterday when I woke up was very tense. You could feel it on the air when I went out to the street to try to get to the site of the massacre. It was a Monday. And a Monday in Egypt, in Cairo, two days before the holy month of Ramadan, usually it’s packed on the streets with women, children, people shopping for food, for gifts for the holy month. It’s usually sometimes the busiest time of the year for the marketplaces. And where I was, where I was staying, it was completely empty. And that was the first sign that the country was really bracing for something intense to take place.
You know, people were really on edge. This shows you the paranoia and the fear that this, that the massacre yesterday has created for everyone in the country. It’s the only thing on people’s minds. It’s the only thing anyone’s talking about. You can hear it on the streets in conversations on the metros. So I think people are really tense and they’re waiting for the next political moves to happen. They’re waiting to see what the Brotherhood does and how they respond. I think people are scared ’cause they understand that it’s not only violence coming from the army or from the parties who are engaging in demonstrations at the time, but there’s also–seems to be now a culture of violence that’s being cultivated on the streets, that people are becoming frustrated and they’re using this sensitive political situation to sort of retaliate in their own ways.
DESVARIEUX: So you were on the streets yesterday. You actually were by the barracks where the clashes took place and went to visit a morgue. And you shot a bunch of video. Can you just set up for us what we’re about to see?
HAFIZ: Yes. Well, we went to the–we tried to access the–get to the site of where the clashes took place. And we finally got in where the pro-Morsi supporters have been staging sit-ins for the past almost a week now. And, you know, it was very–lots of anger, lots of frustration, lots of confusion at the sit-in. People were generally–at the sit-in they weren’t hostile toward us. They were nice. They welcomed us in. They seem to despise the Egyptian media. It was obviously a different contrast to what’s happening in Tahrir. In Tahrir you’re seeing this is not a coup, this is a revolution, it’s not a coup, whereas actually at the Morsi sit-in you’re seeing a lot of images where it says this is a military coup, they killed the revolution. So here’s some of that video right now.
UNIDENTIFIED: It’s lies from state security. We were praying. We were in prayer. Suddenly tear gas poured down on us and they fired live ammunition at us. Lots of young people were killed. Lots of men were killed.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What happened was we were in the midst of the Fajr (dawn) prayer. We were in the second part of the prayer, and then the soldiers started moving in and fired live ammunition at us.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We had lots of casualties coming in here. There was one who came with a gunshot to the head. It didn’t seem accidental. It seemed like a targeted shot because his head was partially blown off and his brains were coming out. He ended up dying. There was another who had a bullet in the chest and the kidney. We tried to operate on him here. We weren’t able to save his life in the ambulance. He had lots of injuries.
DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is the dog who murdered our people (Field Marshall Tantawi), this son of a bitch.
HAFIZ: This is the site of the massacre, and a lot of people are congregating around where a lot of the bullet holes came in. A lot of what they’re finding here is evidence that live ammunition was used. You can see a bullet on this side. And then it’s also going into the car on that side.
The army is saying that they lit this building here on fire. This has angered a lot of protesters here, ’cause they’re saying, how are they able to reach up and how are they able to set this building ablaze while they are shot at from below.
So there’s lots of speculation here as to what was happening that a lot of the witnesses are still around, and they’re describing what took place this morning was a bloodbath. Indiscriminate shooting was taking place everywhere. They’re finding casings from the Egyptian army.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It says GME, stands for the Arab Republic of Egypt. It means it’s from the military.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Tantawi (former military ruler), when he left, he and Anan (second in command), they knew all of this would happen. They weren’t just going to leave the nation be. They prepared to oust Mohammed Morsi and bring in General Sisi. They let (Morsi) stay for a year and made sure he failed. So in the eyes of the people, he failed. And then they say it’s a military coup. This is not a military coup! This is war!
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The newspapers today are provoking reactions. I mean, they are inciting people against each other. They are instigating, and that led to us being strangled.
DESVARIEUX: So, being that you are working for a foreign news agency, what is it like there on the ground? Are people receiving you with open arms?
HAFIZ: It depends. There’s lots of xenophobia right now about foreigners being in the country and the foreign media in general. In Tahrir Square, for example, there’s lots of posters and lots of rhetoric, anti-CNN, anti-Al Jazeera. On the streets, for example, when they know that we’re foreign media, they accuse us immediately of being Al Jazeera and we get heckled and almost mobbed in some situations. And we tried to access the Republican Guard; when we tried to get to the sit-in from the army side, we were actually stopped by the army and accused of being Al Jazeera, although we gave them our press IDs, which are from the Maspero, the government’s information building, and it says we work for Real News. But they kept accusing us of being Al Jazeera and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. And these are army soldiers. You know, these aren’t protesters. So, you know, the anti-Al Jazeera rhetoric that’s happening is very strong here in Egypt, and also anti-CNN, ’cause there’s lots of anger toward the U.S., the Obama administration right now for siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and for taking forever to come out in making a statement regarding what happened during Morsi’s ouster.
So, you know, it depends on where you are here. You know, being foreign media at the anti-Morsi demonstrations has been–they’ve been welcoming and they want the foreign media there to cover them. They want the world–you know, I think they’re using the foreign media also to show, you know, the democratic world outside is going to support us in a process, that we engaged interest by their opinions, democratic as well, that where in Tahrir it’s different. There’s a different vibe there. We were covering Tahrir, you know, for the past two years, from the revolution up until not recently but a couple of months back, and, you know, as the months went on, it became more and more difficult as a foreign journalist to cover the events that are taking place in Tahrir within the revolution, mainly because of paranoia. Sometimes there are, I believe, government-paid thugs that come in to harass the media. You know, a lot of foreign female journalists here face risks working with camera gear because people accuse them of being spies and whatnot.
But I think, you know, over time the media has played a major role in what’s happened on the ground, actually. There’s a media war happening here. It’s not only the political–the clashes on the street or the political back-and-forth that’s happening; it’s also a media war within the country. And that’s not just because–not just in the realm of the foreign media, but in the Egyptian state media and independent media as well. There’s been lots of hatred spewing back and forth about both sides.
You know, there’s not that many Islamic stations running now or pro-Morsi stations. A lot of them have been shut down immediately after Morsi was ousted. So, you know, there’s lots of accusations of them being al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda has penetrated Egypt, and they were at the sit-in, and the people who died, you know, it was either they died then or they blow themselves up. You know. So there’s lots of–and this is being repeated on the streets, you know. This is being repeated on the streets.
The military does engage in excessive force in responding to demonstrators. You know, Real News covered the Maspero massacre during the military councils era where they murdered 30 people. They mowed some of them down with their tanks and they shot other ones to death. And like it was recently, they shot them in the back ’cause they were running. Abbassia last year, as the military was about to give power to the elections, they killed people. They shot at them. They violently dispersed squares. You know, the military’s been engaged in a number of different human rights violations which have not only been documented by journalists but by human rights organizations.
So by–and not the–even in Tahrir Square, people are familiar with this. They know the military has engaged in excessive force. But, you know, they gave a press conference yesterday, and there wasn’t any mention of those who were killed and how they were killed and why. And there’s lots of video online right now circulating of army officers shooting into the crowd. And some of the video you saw there, that’s obvious those are bullet holes that were shot into the walls. And you can see it going through poles. Those aren’t buckshot. That’s bullet holes. So–and also bullets that you saw in that video as well, they say the Republic of Egypt on them. So that also comes from the Egyptian army. There’s no, you know, way about that. But on the streets, you know, people are saying, that’s outrageous, the Egyptian military would never open fire on their own people. They–you know, the Muslim Brotherhood, they Photoshop these images in. These are the exact same responses that happened during the Maspero massacre. There’s video of the army mowing down people with their tanks. And when you ask people on the streets the next day, they would say, oh, no, no, the Coptic Christians Photoshopped the army in doing these things.
So there’s lots of delusion. There’s lots of confusion. The rumors are fueling all this tension right now. You know, what happened on the street and what’s being said and the way things are developing politically, it has tremendous effect on how people are feeling right now, on how people are reacting on a daily basis, on how they view the Muslim Brotherhood. And so the media, I think, has been a tremendous factor in how things are developing here and how people are reacting as a result of coverage.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about the most recent political development. They have named a new interim president. His name is Hazem Al Beblawi. He’s being looked at as a compromise. Jihan, would you label him as that, a compromise for Egyptian society?
HAFIZ: I would have to see. Hazem Al Beblawi, he was the finance minister during Essam Sharaf’s regime, which lasted, I think, four or five months during the military council’s transitional period. He resigned, actually, during the Maspero massacre when the army was accused of killing 30 Coptic Christians, you know, in an hour. So when he resigned, that was seen–a lot of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square supported that. They saw that as a sign of being on their side. And he supports the free markets. He has been–he was a part of the UN for a while.
And the reason I think that they compromised with him as opposed to someone else–’cause actually there was another–this is what I mean. Things change so quickly in Egypt. Literally an hour before Beblawi was announced as finance minister–excuse me, the prime minister, an hour before, there was someone named Samir Radwan, who was also a former finance minister, who was going to be announced prime minister. And then 24 hours before that it was Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal–one of the liberal heads of the opposition, one of the most well-known, actually. And the reason that didn’t happen was because the Nour Salafist party was not having it. You know, Mohamed ElBaradei, he’s been a major figure in the opposition for the past couple of years, actually, even prior to the revolution. But I think he made–because he made comments afterwards, after Morsi was ousted, about the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting the arrests of their heads, justifying it in many ways, and saying and sort of accusing the Islamist parties of fueling unrest in the country, that really didn’t sit well with the Salafist party. And so they refused him to be the prime minister.
And I think also having him–putting Beblawi in as the prime minister, because he was the finance minister, this is going–and he also worked in the UN. I’m not sure of his post right now, but I know he had a high post in the UN. This is seen as a positive thing, because Egypt’s [incompr.] crisis also as the economy, you know, the pound drops constantly. There’s–these are bread-and-butter issues. So having someone who was a finance minister was reassuring, I think, for a lot of Egyptians who are struggling right now as a result of the faltering economy, but also for the international community, the international markets that are looking at Egypt to see how they formulate this new government and what comes from that.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, we look forward to getting your updates. Thank you so much for your coverage, Jihan.
HAFIZ: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And please be safe.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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