Is Egypt teetering on the edge of something even worse?
The death toll from last Wednesday is more than 600. The death toll from last Friday is at least 173. Yesterday at least 38 people died. The death toll from today will be ...
This is the paralysingly horrible bodies-and-yet-more-bodies nature of events in Egypt now. Every day is bringing new killings in their scores - or hundreds. It’s become a procession of death. How many grisly reports are we still going to have to read in the coming days (weeks?, months?) before this is all over? How many more terrifying videos of people reportedly jumping from bridges to escape gunfire are we still going to have to watch? It's genuinely hard to write about this ....
But here are a few words anyway. First of all, one basic thing needs to be said very clearly. While there have been attacks on the security forces (including on police stations), the Egyptian security forces have generally behaved with reckless trigger-happiness and on a massive scale. People - men, women and children - have been burned to death in their protest tents. Snipers in black uniforms have shot at people from rooftops, apparently sometimes firing at whoever was in their sights. A hospital and other medical facilities have been attacked as if they were military targets. Doctors have been stopped from getting urgent medical help for gravely wounded people. These are serious crimes from a security apparatus already saturated in the blood of (mostly) peaceful protesters (read some testimonies here).
The perpetrators - whether from the Interior Ministry’s Central Security Forces (CSF), its Special Forces, or some other wing of the police-army establishment - need to be brought to justice. Amnesty has called for outside intervention, including from Christof Heynes, the UN’s senior specialist on extrajudicial executions, and the scale of events surely warrants this. Plus the authorities have a dire track record of investigating past killings of this kind. With the country looking as if it could to be on the edge of something even worse - a descent into street fighting and martial law?, a “new dark age” of repressive military dictatorship?, a civil war? - this is surely the time for outside experts to try to avert the worst and undo some of the damage.
To make all this even more depressing, it’s not exactly come out of the blue. As I was saying in a post last month (just after the Republican Guards club “massacre”), Egypt’s security forces have time and again killed their own people. (The fact that the Egyptian army has sometimes been seen as the country’s “defenders” of the 2011 revolution is, I reckon, more a side-effect of their enormous financial and political power than anything else. In Egypt the army has a kind of “political glamour” which leads some people to badly misunderstand it). The blogger Omar Robert Hamilton writes about this very well here. (Be warned: he ends a heartfelt personal account of the last two-and-half years with this chilling and supremely depressing passage: “Today I am a coward who can only write. I see the revolution being dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave and I don’t know what to do”).
Yes, the revolution is being burnt and shot to death. But it’s sometimes too quickly passed over that more than 800 people also died - many at the hands of the security forces - during 2011’s 25 January-11 February anti-Mubarak mass protests and uprising. Those deaths haven’t been properly accounted for and others have followed. The revolution was bloody and, as Hamilton reminds us, state violence and repression have never been far from the surface ever since (whether under direct SCAF military rule or under Morsi’s short-lived presidency).
But this interim government of Adly Mansour’s has taken things to a terrifying new level. Last Wednesday was the bloodiest single incident since the 2011 revolution, but will even that be surpassed in coming days? It's a terrifying prospect. Like some of those desperate people wondering whether to jump from the 6 October bridge in Cairo the other day, a battered, fearful Egypt now seems to be poised on the precipice of something even worse.
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