Massacre in Cairo: Egypt on Brink After Worst Violence Since 2011 Revolution

Democracy Now*

CairoHAVANA TIMES – At least 525 people were killed in Egypt on Wednesday when security forces cracked down on two protest camps filled with supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood says the actual death toll tops 2,000, and has called new rallies for today. The Egyptian military has defended the crackdown and declared a state of emergency.

We’re joined by three guests: in Cairo, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who covered Wednesday’s violence and visited the makeshift field clinics overrun with the dead and wounded, and Lina Attalah, chief editor and co-founder of the Cairo-based news website, Mada Masr; and in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Chris Toensing, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project and co-editor of the book, “The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have called on followers to march in protest in Cairo today after at least 525 people died when security forces raided two protest encampments filled with supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. More than 3,500 people were injured. The Muslim Brotherhood says the death toll may top 2,000. Police and troops used bulldozers, tear gas and live ammunition to clear out the two Cairo sit-ins. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood responded by storming and torching police stations. Forty-three police officers were reportedly killed. Wednesday marked the third mass killing of Islamist demonstrators since Morsi was deposed six weeks ago. Egypt’s army-installed government declared a month-long state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the capital Cairo and 10 other provinces.

Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, resigned hours after the crackdown began, saying the conflict should have been resolved by peaceful means. European envoy Bernardino León said Western allies warned Egypt’s military leaders against using force to crush the protests. León said, quote, “We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side (the Muslim Brotherhood). They could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary.”

AMY GOODMAN: International response has been mixed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the violence, but the Obama administration announced no moves to cut some $1.3 billion in annual aid to the Egyptian military. The Turkish prime minister, Erdogan, called on Thursday for the U.N. Security Council to convene quickly and act after what he described as a massacre in Egypt. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates expressed support for the crackdown, saying the Egyptian government had, quote, “exercised maximum self-control.”

Four journalists died in Wednesday’s violence, including a reporter from the United Arab Emirates, 26-year-old Habiba Abd Elaziz, who worked as a journalist for the Dubai-based Xpress. The other journalists killed were Mick Deane, a 61-year-old cameraman for Sky News—before that, CNN; Ahmed Abdel Gawad of the Egyptian newspaper Al Akhbar; and Mosab El-Shami Rassd, a photojournalist for the Egyptian RNN news network.

We’re going now to Cairo, joined by three guests: in Cairo, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Lina Attalah, chief editor and co-founder of the Cairo-based news website, Mada Masr, and joining us from Washington, Chris Toensing, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project and editor of MERIP’s publication, Middle East Report. We go first to Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, yesterday morning, when this all began, please describe what happened. Take us through the day.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, before I do that, just a slight correction, three journalists were killed yesterday; the photojournalist, Mosab El-Shami, was not killed. That was an erroneous report that filtered through the media yesterday.

But to answer your question, yesterday was, you know, a day of violence and chaos and bloodshed, the most violent episode that I’ve witnessed as a reporter in Egypt for the past two-and-a-half years. Walking around Nasr City, which is the northeastern neighborhood in Cairo where the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque was located, you could hear the crackle of machine-gun fire intermittently in the air. There was tear gas on the outskirts and in the sit-in that mixed with black smoke rising from tires set alight by the protesters. And just to give you a sense of what it was like to get in, for protesters to get in or out, you had to make this very perilous run across a stretch of open road that was exposed to sniper fire. When I was leaving once, a man next to me running was hit in the head with what appeared to be shotgun pellets. Many protesters had taken to writing their names in magic marker on their arms and the number of someone to call in case they were killed.

And, you know, the Interior Ministry had spoken for a couple of weeks about the plan to disperse the sit-in, that would go in stages and first involve surrounding the protesters and then a gradual escalation. But by all accounts, all the witnesses I spoke to have said the attack started sometime around 6:30 and came in very hard with tear gas, and the casualties started pouring in, most of them with live ammunition, very soon after that.

The scene inside the main medical facility in Rabaa was extremely tragic. People were being brought in, the dead and wounded, every few minutes. The floor was slippery with blood. The windows were closed to prevent tear gas from coming in, and it was almost unbearably hot. And the dead were everywhere. In one room alone, I counted 24 bodies just strewn on the ground, packed so closely you couldn’t even walk in; on another floor, another 30; on another floor, another eight. Doctors were overwhelmed with the casualties. So, it was a very difficult situation and one that I think will have deep implications for Egypt’s future, not just for years, but for decades to come.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sharif, there were also reports yesterday that the hospital that you mentioned near Rabaa, that they in fact even fired tear gas within the hospital, the security forces? Is that correct?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s been reports of that. I didn’t see it myself. I think what’s important to understand also is that there was no access for the ambulances to get to the—to get to the critically wounded, and so there was a lot of additional lives that were lost because these wounded did not have a safe passage out of—out of Rabaa. And this was the case around the sit-in completely. So, you know, I think it’s also important to remember that this was a day where we saw so many hundreds killed, and the death toll keeps rising.

There’s—I just came today from the Iman mosque, which is a mosque not far from Rabaa, which is really another massive morgue. I counted 230 corpses in the mosque alone. It’s another hot summer day, and family members are bringing in blocks of ice and placing it on the corpses, but—and there’s fans everywhere. But really the smell of death hung heavy in the mosque. And many of the bodies, or at least 10 that I saw, were charred, very badly burned. And these were bodies that were in Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque and in another field hospital that were completely burned to the ground when the security forces raided sometime around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Sharif, what about the warning before all this took place? What do you understand? What about the military saying they gave warning?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: All the witnesses I spoke to said they did not have a warning of the attack, that the attack began very hard with tear gas and followed very quickly by live ammunition. They came in with bulldozers and cleared the sandbags and makeshift barriers that they had erected. So, you know, none of the eyewitnesses I spoke to spoke of any kind of warning—and no real safe passage for people to escape the violence, had they wanted to.

AMY GOODMAN: Lina Attalah, can you describe what you witnessed yesterday?

LINA ATTALAH: So, I arrived to the site of the clashes just outside of the area that became completely barricaded by military and police forces. And in this area, even though it was supposed to be the area falling outside the scope of the sit-in, there was still extremely heavy gunfire, extremely heavy gunfire everywhere, tear gas being incessantly thrown at protesters, at what remained of Muslim Brotherhood protesters who managed to exit the sit-in.

And then, when I tried to move on to reach the sit-in itself, I was interested to know whether earlier reports of a safe exit that was basically said in a Ministry of Interior statement earlier in the day, if these reports were real. But what we figured is that there was really no safe exit outside of the sit-in. The sit-in was heavily surrounded by both military and police and special forces. Only one tight street was not—did not have a strong presence of military and police forces; however, this street was heavily subjected to gunfire by snipers from surrounding rooftops. And this was basically the main exit for those wounded and dead bodies who could not make it into the main medical facility that Sharif mentioned earlier.

Inside the medical facility, like Sharif said, it was a horrific scene of so many people. In fact, we met a lot of people who were hurt with birdshot and who could not get into the medical facility just because they sort of gave priority to live ammunition injuries and dead bodies. So a lot of people were precariously injured but had to stay outside of the hospital in what seemed to be a tighter and tighter sit-in once the police have moved on to tighten the sit-in completely on the Muslim Brotherhood. The way out of the hospital, when we decided to exit the hospital, was an extremely precarious moment of having to run through gunfire in order to exit the sit-in. So you can imagine how difficult it was to transfer injured and dead bodies in there. And then, just an hour after we left, this very medical facility was stormed and put on fire by the police.

I would say this is one of the most atrocious moments of use of force to disperse a sit-in that I’ve seen in the last three years, despite all the reports that we have gotten from the Ministry of Interior of using gradual force and basically, you know, resorting to first beseeching the sit-in and providing safe exit to the protesters, and so on and so forth. So…

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lina Attalah, could you also explain why the security forces decided to act with such unprecedented force?

LINA ATTALAH: I’m not sure if there was really a way for the security forces to act differently, to be honest with you. We have not seen any precedents of security forces basically using gradual force, for example, to disperse sit-ins or anything like that. So, anyways, we do not have a precedent, even though there were all those statements about, you know, being very careful of trying to minimize the death toll. We don’t have precedent, or we don’t even believe that the Ministry of Interior have expertise to basically disperse sit-ins in the least costly way, like we’ve seen yesterday.

What the Ministry of Interior has been saying is that both sit-ins, in Nahda and Rabaa Al-Adawiya, are armed, and hence this basically justifies their need to use force in order to both defend themselves and to disperse the sit-ins. But what we’ve seen also is that the Nahda sit-in, on the other side of Cairo in Giza, was basically dispersed in less than an hour, while in Rabaa Al-Adawiya we don’t have corroborative evidence of protesters firing at police. There might have been some use of force from the side of protesters, but there is no way this would have circumvented the police ability to disperse the sit-in completely. So we’re not talking about an equal—an equal amount of weaponry or anything like that between the protesters and the police. So, my main explanation is that the police simply has no other way than to disperse sit-ins using excessive violence. We don’t have any precedent; we don’t have any experience with them doing things differently, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, the military said something like, well, more than 40, 43 security forces, military forces, were killed. Do you know anything about that?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We have no information about how they were killed. As Lina mentioned, there have been reports of Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi supporters using firearms and firing back. We do know that at least one police truck was thrown off the main bridge here, and there’s photographs of police officers who were killed. We don’t know how those were killed.

I think it’s very important to also point out that there’s been a wave of attacks on Christian churches, monasteries, schools and facilities, mostly in cities south of Cairo. And, you know, the leading human rights group in Egypt, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, has called this reprisal attacks by Morsi supporters for these raids coming down. So there was—you know, once these raids began, it ignited a wave of violence across the country. Many police stations were also attacked. And the death toll—but the death toll is overwhelmingly, you know, on the side of the Morsi protesters, and it keeps going up by the hour. We’re almost approaching the total number of people killed in the initial 18-day uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011. So, it’s really a very, very bloody day in Egypt.

And to the shame of many of the political and business elite in Egypt—have praised the police force and praised the security apparatus for what they called “self-restraint,” as has Hazem el-Beblawi, the prime minister, last night. The one notable exception, of course, is Mohamed ElBaradei, you know, the acclaimed Nobel Peace laureate and probably the most prominent statesman in the interim Cabinet that lent a lot of legitimacy in the eyes of the international community to the military-led transition. He resigned yesterday, saying—and he was one of the lone voices, one of the few voices, that was calling for the sit-ins not to be forcibly dispersed. And he said he didn’t want to take responsibility for actions that were outside of his control anymore. And so, you know, I think this lays bare even further, if there ever was any notion, that this is a fully military-led transition and that the military is in control.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent, in Cairo along with Lina Attalah, co-founder of Mada Masr. And when we come back, they’ll be joined by Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research and Information Project. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo; Lina Attalah is with him there, co-founder of Mada Masr; and in Washington, Chris Toensing, Middle East Research and Information Project, co-editor of The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt. I wanted to go to Chris Toensing now in Washington to talk about the U.S. response. This is Josh Earnest responding—White House spokesperson. He said the U.S. would not term recent events in Egypt as a, quote, “coup.”

JOSH EARNEST: Well, we have said that we are, on a regular basis, reviewing the assistance that we provide to the Egyptians and that that review is ongoing. You’ve heard us say that we’re not going to designate the interim government as a coup because it’s not in the best interests of the United States, but we’re reviewing our obligations under the law. We made an announcement a couple of weeks ago about a shipment of F-16s that was delayed. So, this is a—the review of our assistance that is provided to Egypt is something that we do on a regular basis, and that’s something that we are continuing to do.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Josh Earnest—he is spokesperson for the White House—speaking in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Obamas are on vacation. Chris Toensing, you’re with the Middle East Research and Information Project. Talk about the U.S. response.

CHRIS TOENSING: Well, I think it’s been quite muted. Though it has been described by The Washington Post and elsewhere as a condemnation, it was not a very sharp condemnation. I think in the clip that you played from Secretary Kerry at the outset of this story here, you know, I think the second sentence out of his mouth was that he called on both sides to exercise restraint and to pull back from the brink of confrontation. So, that is a way of essentially deflecting the blame that should fall squarely on the shoulders of the military junta that is in control in Cairo. They are the ones who—

AMY GOODMAN: Chris, I just want to go to what Kerry said yesterday.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Today’s events are deplorable, and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy. Egyptians inside and outside of the government need to take a step back. They need to calm the situation and avoid further loss of life. We also strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law, and we call on the government to respect basic human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law. And we believe that the state of emergency should end as soon as possible. Violence is simply not a solution in Egypt or anywhere else. Violence will not create a roadmap for Egypt’s future.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Toensing of Middle East Research and Information Project, continue with your response.

CHRIS TOENSING: Well, in Kerry’s second sentence, he said “Egyptians inside and outside government” need to pull back, “need to take a step back,” that the implication there is that both the army, the Egyptian state, and the protesters at the sit-ins are somehow equally to blame for what occurred yesterday. And that’s simply outrageous, as we’ve heard from the very vivid reporting by Sharif and Lina on the ground. What happened in Cairo yesterday was a massacre, by any definition of the term. It was violence initiated by the army, perpetrated by the army, which was by far the more heavily armed party, and the overwhelming bulk of the casualties are among the unarmed civilian protesters. So this was a massacre.

It should have been spoken of, as Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey did, in those terms. And it should be on the agenda of the international community at the U.N. And the United States, if it were serious about promoting human rights and social justice and democracy around the world, would be not just reviewing its aid package to Egypt, but immediately seeking its termination, until such time as a genuinely democratically elected and legitimate government is in place in Egypt, and until such time as there is accountability for what can only be described as crimes against humanity carried out by the prime U.S. ally in Egypt, which is the Egyptian army.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Chris Toensing, you mentioned the question of U.S. aid. A number of analysts have pointed out, though, that since Morsi was ousted, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait possibly exercise more power with the military authorities in Egypt now, given that they have pledged $12 billion in aid. So how much leverage do you think the U.S. still has, given that they give—I think it’s $1.3 billion?

CHRIS TOENSING: Yes, I agree with the premise of that question, which is that the leverage of the United States is very limited. That’s, I think, been the case for a long time. The Egyptian army is going to do what it wants to do, by and large. Certainly with regard to domestic Egyptian politics, the U.S. voice in those affairs is very limited.

It’s important to note, in connection with that question, that the U.S. does not give $1.3 billion a year to the Egyptian military in order to prop up the Egyptian military or for the good of Egypt. This is to secure what have been viewed as U.S. interests in the region—namely, the sanctity of the Camp David treaty with Israel; the prevention of another multi-front war, Arab-Israeli war, in the Middle East; keeping the Suez Canal open to commercial and—traffic and U.S. warships, not coincidentally. These are the U.S. interests that the U.S. believes will only be protected by the Egyptian army for the foreseeable future.

We need to remember American policymakers have a remarkable capacity for self-deception. I think that Secretary Kerry and his predecessors half-believe the pieties that come out of their mouths at moments like these. They would like, ideally, Egypt to be a free and democratic country, but only if the government that is produced from that process agrees with our concept of what our strategic interests are in the region. And so, the dilemma for the U.S. is that they can either have autocrats who rule in accordance with U.S. strategic vision, or they can have a democratic system that—where the outcome is uncertain. And, sadly, to this point, not just in Egypt, but across the region, the U.S. has shown that it prefers the first option: autocrats who will toe the U.S. line.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Toensing, I want to ask you about the U.S. close relationship with the U.S. military. In fact, when the Egyptian revolution took place, I think a number of the generals were at the Pentagon when it happened two years ago. But I want to go back first to Lina Attalah, who I know has to leave in a moment, co-founder of Mada Masr, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, and ask you both about what the European envoy, Bernardino León said: said Western allies warned Egypt’s military against using force. He said, quote, “We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side (the Muslim Brotherhood). They could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary.” What was that plan?

LINA ATTALAH: The problem is that we’ve been hearing about negotiations that have been brokered by several European allies, Turkey and Qatar, but the problem is that there is no transparency at all about the terms of these negotiations. So the government wouldn’t reveal any details, on one hand, and on the other, whenever we would, as journalists, approach what remains of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders outside and who—outside of prisons, basically, and who may be taking part in this negotiation process, the main thing they keep telling us is that the main demand is for the reinstatement of President Mohamed Morsi, which does not seem to be a reasonable demand at all right now, especially that President Mohamed Morsi is basically going through a series of cases against him right now. So, the problem is, is that it’s very difficult to comment on whether a political plan was viable and was possible to basically avoid this violent dispersal of the sit in, because we don’t have any information about what are the terms of these negotiations.

We have a sense that the Brotherhood was intent on not being compromising at all, on one hand, especially that they are considered to be in a position of weakness right now. But at the same time, we are not also sure what has been offered to them in terms of political inclusion from the military, who are basically the de facto rulers at this point in Egypt, especially that some of the most important leaders are basically in jail right now. Others are having arrest warrants against them. So also there doesn’t seem to be a compromising position from the military. In this context, it’s hard to really know what kind of a political map or a political alternative to what happened yesterday.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And I think it’s important also to realize the context that all this took place. There was a very vicious campaign in the media to portray the entire Muslim Brotherhood and all of Morsi’s supporters as violent terrorists, a very shrill kind of repeated drumbeat coverage calling for the forcible dispersal of the sit-ins, demonization of the protesters, very heavy criticism of Baradei himself by, you know, members of the so-called liberal opposition when he called for the sit-ins not to be forcibly dispersed. So, you know, some are saying that they’re even baiting—you know, crushing these sit-ins and even baiting the other side, the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, to engage in some kind of violent reprisals in order to justify a mass crackdown and, you know, to go back to the situation we had in the 1990s, with kind of a low-level insurgency and a complete security clampdown, not only on, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood, but, you know, a security blanket that’s really a straitjacket and reasserts the—and re-empowers a very regressive authoritarian security state in the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sharif, a teenage daughter of a prominent Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official was among the over 500 people killed in raids on supporters of ousted President Morsi. On Wednesday, Mohamed el-Beltagy said his 17-year-old daughter Asma had been killed, and warned of a wider conflict, singling out the head of the armed forces.

MOHAMED EL-BELTAGY: [translated] I swear to God that if people don’t keep protesting, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will just drag this country into more troubles. He will drag this nation into a civil war, so he can escape the death penalty. Be aware, Egyptian people, and go onto the streets now to announce the end of the armed forces’ political life and to announce the end of the military coup and to announce that the officers and the soldiers of a military party which kills its own people should not respond to its instructions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Lina Attalah had to leave. That was—Egyptian state television now reporting that hundreds of Morsi supporters have stormed and set fire to a governorate building in Giza. Sharif, could you talk about that, and also explain—you had mentioned earlier that Brotherhood supporters have also attacked Coptic Christian churches in the country. Could you explain why these targets are being selected?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that report of the attack on the Giza security governorate just happened while we were on the air right now. And, you know, there’s been calls for mass marches today, mostly funeral marches for those killed yesterday, but of course there’s a seething anger within the rank and file of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters. And we’re increasingly getting into a situation of spiraling, you know, levels of violence across the country.

So, you know, this could—and we have to remember that there’s a state of emergency that was declared by the government yesterday, as well as a nighttime curfew that was first imposed yesterday. The state of emergency lifts due process rights, lifts the freedom of assembly, allows for the indefinite detention without charge of civilians, and basically allows police to crack down on all protests. Of course, it must be noted, Egypt has lived under a state of emergency for 30 years under Mubarak, and even when it was lifted last year, police forces and the security apparatus acted with impunity, regardless. But I think it’s noteworthy to add that this new interim government, which is claiming to start a new transitional phase, revived one of the most hated, repressive tools of the Mubarak regime in order to justify this crackdown.

With regards to the attacks on—it’s not just Coptic Christian churches, but all Christian facilities, monasteries, churches, buildings. In Sohag, a large—the Mar Gergiss church was set ablaze and burned down. Businesses were attacked. And this has been described as reprisal attacks for the—by Morsi supporters for the two raids yesterday. And there has been, for a long time now, coming out of the main stage in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and from supporters of Mohamed Morsi, very divisive religious rhetoric that borders on sectarian incitement. And we’ve seen that, you know, play out on the ground. It’s hard to make a direct link, but it certainly lays the groundwork for these kinds of attacks to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Daily Beast and Newsweek correspondent Mike Giglio was among a number of journalists who reported being targeted while reporting on the crackdown. He said security personnel surrounded him; took his phone, his ID; removed his laptop from his bag; demanded the password to unlock it. When he refused, they beat him. He wrote, “At one point there were several cops punching and slapping me in the head, so I relented and typed in the password.” Giglio was then arrested and held for about four hours. He added, quote, “I was arrested along with an Egyptian freelance photographer, Mahmoud Abou Zeid, and a French freelance photographer, Louis Jammes. … Both were beaten after identifying themselves as journalists.” And then, of course, there was a woman, the reporter from the UAE. There was the Egyptian journalist. And there was the reporter from Sky News. Sharif, do you have a sense of journalists being targeted?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, yesterday was such a violent day, and we’ve seen the security forces target journalists frequently in these kinds of mass crackdowns. You know, those were just a taste. Another Reuters journalist was shot in the leg. Another Reuters journalist was held and had his phone taken and had his photos erased. And let me just point out that the reporter for the Dubai-based paper is actually Egyptian. Habiba Abd Elaziz was an Egyptian reporter; she’s not from the UAE. And there was the other reporter, the veteran cameraman, 61-year-old, Mick Deane, who was also killed.

It was a very, very dangerous and bloody situation. It was impossible to know when you were safe. There was gunfire that was happening all around you. So, you know, both in terms of that kind of deadly violence, it was a very difficult day, I think, for many journalists, but also the security forces and the army and the apparatus, in general, acting in the same kinds of ways that we’ve seen in many instances over the past two-and-a-half years in terms of trying to clamp down on the press and stop them from doing their jobs.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Chris Toensing, I want to turn to you to ask—you know, the day before the crackdown, 19 military generals were installed as provincial governors in Egypt—sorry, 25 were installed, including two loyalists of the Mubarak regime. Could you talk about the significance of this?

CHRIS TOENSING: Well, I think that if you look at the events of the last two years, capped by yesterday’s massacre, I think what we’re seeing is a counterrevolution that’s occurring, more quickly than many people thought it might. The powers behind the throne in Egypt, who have been the powers behind the throne for some 50 years—the army, the secret police, their allied civilian politicians, their civilian faces, if you will, the so-called Egyptian deep state—is afraid of the Egyptian people. They don’t want civilian oversight over their prerogatives. They want to maintain their impunity, their ability to operate above the law. And we’ve seen what lengths they will go to to preserve those privileges.

What they’re doing is seizing the opportunity presented by political turmoil and chaos in the wake of the ouster of Mubarak and in the wake of the misrule of the Muslim Brothers and the arrogance that Morsi and his compatriots displayed when they were given a taste of power. They’re using that opportunity to sort of consolidate their grip on the country, at the same time presenting themselves as the sort of horse—sorry, the knight riding in on a white horse to save the country from disaster.

And, you know, Sharif can confirm this, but my impression from afar is that many, many Egyptians, perhaps a majority, agree with the army’s version of events. That’s partly because they’re not being provided with enough information to judge for themselves, because the military has shut down any media outlets—most of the media outlets in Egypt that would actually report independently. But it’s also because there is a deep yearning among Egyptian citizens for a return to normalcy, a return to stability, and they see the army as the only force in national politics that can credibly promise such a scenario. It’s a very—it’s a very sad situation, as Lina described.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, if you could comment on the return of the Mubarak regime, if that’s what you’re seeing, and also the power of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi? The last time we talked, you talked about his image, you know, big posters, the iconography around him right now.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, you know, there’s been a lot of talk about the return of the police state and so forth. I think it’s important to note that the police state never went away. They were killing and arresting people with impunity under the rule of Mohamed Morsi, who, let’s remember, thanked the police for their efforts after they gunned down 60 civilians in Port Said in January—also under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. What I think—I think Chris is right—is that there is—the elements of the former regime, but also the security apparatus, is riding—rode this wave of popular anger against the Muslim Brotherhood and against Mohamed Morsi to reconstitute themselves and try and instill this more regressive authoritarian order.

But I think if we’ve learned anything over the past two-and-a-half years, one is that you cannot enforce stability. The idea that you can enforce stability only leads to more chaos, and we’ve seen that time and time again. And two is that I think the one thing people will not stand for, at least in the long term, is to have this kind of regressive security state inflicted on them. Once the target of this authoritarian apparatus moves away from the Islamists and starts imposing itself on other sectors of Egyptian society, then I think we might see, perhaps, once again, a popular uprising against that kind of crackdown. You know, time and again, there has been these mass uprisings against authoritarian rule. Successive state elites have tried to co-opt the old regime, including the Muslim Brotherhood. And we’ve seen these mass uprisings come up and force those in power to make changes to try and preserve the nature of the state. Having said that, we’re in a very difficult situation right now. The level of violence, the level of polarization is so deep that it’s hard to know when it’ll stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I want to thank you for being with us and for your bravery and reporting. We are going to link to your photos. We are featuring your Twitter stream at, right on the homepage. Your photos have been remarkable, and your video, as well. And we want to thank Lina Attalah, who had to leave, the co-founder of Mada Masr. And also I want to thank Chris Toensing for being with us, director of the Middle East Research and Information Project, editor of MERIP’s publication Middle East Report, co-editor of the book The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt.

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3 thoughts on “Massacre in Cairo: Egypt on Brink After Worst Violence Since 2011 Revolution

  • People DEFENDING or RELATIVIZING a military COUP in Egypt because of islamophobia. This is why I’m leaving for good. Just stopped by because of the ‘debate’ on Cuban medical staff in my country. Farewell!

  • Since the Arab Spring began in Egypt, thousands of Egyptian Christians have been murdered by Muslim Brotherhood mobs. In reaction to the army crackdown, the Muslim Brotherhood went out and torched dozens of churches and Christian homes. Yet this ongoing massacre gets scant mention above, and even then is excused away as a minor detail.

    The army was brutal, but the protesters were well armed and shooting back. These were no peaceful protests. Morsi had violated the Egyptian constitution prompting the army to remove him from office.

    Neither the army nor the Muslim Brotherhood are pro-democracy.

  • Praising terrorists who put unarmed civilians between them and the police so as to gain a political point is not a good.

    Morsi Muslim Brotherhood supporters deliberately and violently kill Egypt’s police in carrying out their assigned task of securing Egypt’s streets, Egypt’s police in justifiably defending themselves respond by killing Morsi Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

    The Muslim Brotherhood acted in complete disregard for human life, as expected of a genocide construct ,simply to gain political support in proportion to the lives the Muslim Brotherhood caused by their action to put their fighters within the public space of unarmed Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

    Humanity knows this to be true as we have seen the complete disregard for life Islamists have to enable women and children to be put in harm’s way simply to gain political leverage. To support the Muslim Brotherhood in anyway because of the deaths arising directly from Egyptian police having to defend themselves is obscene

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