Egyptian Military Creating Conditions for Dictatorship

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

In Egypt, at least 278 people have been killed in the latest round of violence as been military forces for the third time in recent weeks have massacred supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Officials have said 43 policemen died in the assault. Muslim Brotherhood claims 500 protesters were killed and 9,000 were wounded. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei has resigned over the killings, and the Egyptian government has come under widespread international criticism for its use of force. The government has declared a state of emergency for 30 days, which includes a nighttime curfew.

To discuss these developing events, we’re now joined by Noha Radwan. She’s an associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of California at Davis. Radwan was born in Egypt and was among the participants in the 18-day Tahrir protests in January-February 2011. And she joins us from Berkeley, California.

Thanks very much for joining us, Noha.


JAY: So, first of all, you’ve been on the phone with friends and relatives getting direct reports of what’s happening. To what extent do you think the Western media is correctly reflecting these events?

RADWAN: I think the Western media is in a bad situation, because the local media in Egypt are reporting very conflicting reports. The mainstream Egyptian media is not reporting anything close to the real number of casualties among the pro-Morsi supporters. On the other hand, the pro-Morsi television stations from Cairo, namely the Qatari Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera Mubasher, are reporting an exaggerated and inflated number of casualties. So I feel for the Western media, just like I feel for the Egyptian public, who really cannot find a trusted news source on the ground that can tell us what is going on.

JAY: So what are you hearing from your sources?

RADWAN: Again, my sources, like much of the Egyptian public, are very polarized. People are listening for what they really want to hear. It is difficult to get an accurate number of the number of the dead and injured. I think we would be in the ballpark if we talk about somewhere between 200 and 300 pro-Morsi supporters and tens of police officers and military personnel.

JAY: So one thing is clear. Whether we know exact numbers of dead or not, it seems pretty clear there has been a massacre, another massacre that the military forces, military government has essentially cleared the pro-Morsi campers. I mean, all that is not in dispute.

Let’s go a little bit into why this is all happening. It wasn’t that long ago there seemed to be a kind of love affair between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Qatar seemed to have maneuvered a kind of marriage between the two that has been blessed by the White House. Muslim Brotherhood was going to manage Egypt more or less on behalf of the West. They were negotiating debt relief from the U.S. government. The Americans blessed the IMF developing a loan plan for Egypt under Morsi. So everything looked like that’s the direction things were going in. Now it starts to look like did the army simply give the Muslim Brotherhood enough rope to hang themselves and are they now deliberately creating a situation where there’s no possible response from the Muslim Brotherhood other than a violent one. In other words, they get the terrorists they need to fully reinstall a military dictatorship.

RADWAN: Yes, Paul, I think you’re right on most of what you just said. I think we also need to start by condemning the excessive use of violence on the part of the Egyptian police. This is their policy. They do not know how to break sit-ins without excessive use of violence. So we need to start by condemning the excessive use of violence on the part of the Egyptian police.

They asked, the military asked for a mandate from the Egyptian people on 26 July to do what is necessary as measures of counterterrorism. We all understood that this was for them to break the sit-ins in both Rabaa Square and [@nada] Square in Cairo and in other places. And we have waited long enough, hopefully, for them to develop a policy that would minimize the bloodshed. The policy that we’re seeing on the ground right now is not minimizing bloodshed. There is a lot of use of live bullets and shooting to kill. So that is not, in my opinion, a way to break a sit-in, a way to quell political protests, and cannot be approved. It has to be condemned in very strong words.

As to how we got to this very messy situation in which everyone loses–those who support Morsi and those who oppose him, everyone loses at this point–here we can say that all parties share the blame. I don’t say they share it equally, but all parties share the blame.

A year ago, when Morsi was voted as president, voted into office as president of the country, he should have understood that his votes, his close to 13 million votes that he garnered, were given to him by 5 million of his true supporters, who are advocates of the Muslim Brothers, and 8 million–almost 8 million people who are not supporters of the Brotherhood but who voted for him as not to allow the candidate who is Ahmed Shafik at the time, who was coming from Mubarak’s ministry, and he was a member of the military. And to that extent, Morsi should have understood that he needs to court the 8 million, you know, half supporters that he had.

Instead, he frittered away his coalition with the revolutionary forces, courted the military and the police force to no avail. He should have understood that this military has always been Mubarak’s military and this police force has been the police force that was the reason for the 2011 Revolution in the first place. So even though he miscalculated and he thought that he had an alliance with the military and the police, it is proven that this is not the case.

JAY: So you were in the square for much of the time of the original Tahrir protests. Recently, many of those same people who after those protests in the first period of military dictatorship before the elections, they’d–originally you had this the people and the army are one, and then it came to the point with down with military dictatorship. And then many of those same people, when they wanted to bring down Morsi, went back to the people and the army are one, and it helped create the conditions for this crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood and the overthrow of Morsi. I mean, shouldn’t–I mean, what’s happening here in terms of leadership of this movement that the people get, in a sense, some people say, manipulated so easily?

RADWAN: You’re right on all that. It is a tragic situation, some people call it a farcical situation, that the revolutionaries find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

We all know that the military is the strongest institution in the country, both politically and economically, and we know that they had no desire to relinquish the power they enjoy in manipulating Egyptian politics.

Resorting to the military on July 3 I think was a mistake. The revolutionaries made a mistake. But in justice to them, one has to say they were walking a very tight rope, because they felt like a year ago they opted for allying themselves with the Brotherhood, despite all the reservations against the Brotherhood previous policies and the dealings that the Brotherhood had with the military during the year 2012 when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces was in charge. Despite all that, the revolutionaries actually threw in their bets with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brotherhood failed them miserably.

JAY: I think it’s been said–I’m not sure if Marx said this or he quoted this–history repeats itself. The first time is tragedy; the second time is farce–I think in this case we can say tragic farce. So what next now? What are the revolutionaries, the secular movement–you know, they’ve been buffeted back and forth. They–certainly many of them sympathize with the military overthrowing Morsi. Now–where are they now? Because the conditions have been established now, especially if the Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamist forces do take up terrorist tactics, which would not be a big surprise given their legal means of redress seems to have been cut off. We’re back into a period of we have to fight terrorism, and we’ll have another decade of military dictatorship.

RADWAN: I feel terrible whenever anybody uses that phrase, anti-terrorism. It is not good when the Egyptian government uses it. It was not good when the American government used it. I hate that phrase in the first place.

But let’s go back to the makeup of what we call the Egyptian revolutionaries. There’s no denying that the Muslim Brothers were part of the original protests in 2011. But we also know that they were latecomers onto the scene, because they did not want to take risk with a revolution or a protest movement that was not guaranteed to succeed. So they did not participate until January 28, three days later than everyone else.

It is interesting to see how cautious they were in 2011 and how completely reckless they are with their own supporters and their own people right now. You really see the recklessness and the suicidal tactics they are taking by the number of women and children in these protests, despite the fact that the military and the police has been giving warning about assaults and, you know, attacks to break into the sit-in for already a few days. So it’s just interesting for me to contrast the cautionary tactics and the way they were very careful not to expose women and children to violence in 2011 and in 2012, and now they’re really going suicidal.

Again, this is not to excuse the excessive use of force in breaking the protests. But to, you know, give it a bigger context, Morsi is no Nelson Mandela, as people are claiming. He’s no Allende. His enemies may be as bad as Allende’s enemies, but certainly the Muslim Brothers cannot claim that they have been–neither the leaders of the revolution nor that they have been nonviolent throughout the protests.

JAY: But the–ElBaradei resigned today in protest against the killings. I mean, do you get a sense? Are the revolutionaries, the secular revolutionaries, are they coming out and really denouncing all of this?

RADWAN: Not enough of them are doing that. I am afraid Morsi’s year as president has polarized the population. A big part of the blame falls on the Egyptian media. Both those who are pro-Morsi and those who are opposed to him, both have been reporting hate speech and have been really polarizing the population to where I am horrified to see a lot of Egyptians that I think are good people feeling completely callous regarding the death on the camp that they don’t support. So it is horrific and tragic and very upsetting, but I’m afraid most people are now not feeling too sorry for the Brotherhood.

JAY: So what now? Are there emerging any political forces that can help lead this movement? ‘Cause it seems to me that’s part of the problem is there’s such a lack of leadership that people simply get buffeted between one manipulating force and the other.

RADWAN: Not yet. I think that that movement is going to emerge, but I haven’t seen any signs that it’s emerging yet. The emotions are running high on both sides, so that anybody like myself who does not want to side with one faction or the other is extremely unpopular right now. A lot of the people who have supported Baradei’s decision in the past are kind of shocked, feeling a bit let down by his decision to resign at this point.

JAY: But why? Because how could he not dissociate himself from this and maintain any credibility?

RADWAN: If you ask me, I’m not sure how he didn’t see this coming a few days ago. When you give the Egyptian military and then the Egyptian police a mandate to break sit-ins, I think it was not surprising to see what just transpired.

JAY: This is why I go back to what I said earlier is that this seems to be designed to force the Muslim Brotherhood into a violent reaction. There are other ways to end sit-ins. There are many places that have sit-ins and don’t end up with hundreds of people killed. They’ve created–and especially arresting the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. They’ve created no other alternative.

RADWAN: [incompr.] police is not known for its good conduct. I mean, we have an Egyptian police force that has been in place for over 30 years using nothing but brute force and all sorts of abuses of power. So what can one expect from a police force like that?

JAY: And, of course, the United States, their fundamental alliance is with the military. So one way or the other, they’re not going to do anything that jeopardizes that.

RADWAN: Yes. Don’t get me started on the American policy. I feel like the Americans are just waiting for the winner, so that they can start playing with the winner.

I don’t believe that the Americans have a particular alliance with the Muslim Brothers, which is actually a very common belief on the Egyptian streets. I think they were happy to interact with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces in 2012 and would have had no problem with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces staying in power as long as the Egyptian people tolerate it and as long as things were stable.

It was thanks to a lot of street protests that SCAF decided to actually hold the presidential elections when it did, at the beginning of 2012. If you remember the original plan when Mubarak stepped down, SCAF announced that they’re going to rule the country for two years and not just one, and it was street protests that reduced that period to one year. The Americans did not raise a finger then. Then the Muslim Brothers came to power, and as long as it looked like they could keep the country stable, keep the neoliberal economic policy going, maintain the Camp David agreement with Israel, as long was that was in place, the Americans were willing to accept almost–.

JAY: And Qatar, which is their close ally in the Middle East, along with the Saudis–.

RADWAN: Qatar is the new kid on the block. They’re trying to play the role that the Saudis have typically played in the region, I think not with a whole lot of success.

After the–I don’t want to call it coup or revolution. I don’t really want to get into the discussion. It’s an inane and irrelevant discussion. But after what happened on July 3, the Saudis were the first to congratulate the Egyptians on getting rid of the rule of the Brotherhood, and so was the United Arab Emirates. Everybody has their own agenda. No one really cares about the original aspirations of the Egyptian public and the goals of the revolution.

If you remember, it’s very simple. It’s bread, freedom, and social justice. At this point, all of these demands have been put on the back burner. I think Egyptians are not going to see freedom in the name of freedom of–you know, as freedom of expression or freedom of political participation for a long time to come. All issues that have to do with social justice, which to me are the most important part of all these protests and revolutions and God knows what that we’ve been going through for the last three years, all of this has now been put on the back burner.

So in the name of anti-terrorism, we’re going to see some very bad years.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Noha.

RADWAN: You’re very welcome.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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