Dec 9, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: The Worst So Far
Posted on Dec 20, 2011
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about a new surge in army brutality in suppressing protest.
CAIRO—Foreboding and warning. Egypt should have felt it coming. This was the worst so far. Hope is gone. The people are in despair. As our imam shouted Friday at noon prayer: Will it get worse before we have cleansed the land of Satan?
Authorities are now accusing 164 people of being involved in the new violence and interrogations have begun, with even injured people being questioned in hospitals. Many of the suspects are under 19 years old. Some are children, street kids accused of throwing Molotov cocktails. Some of the doctors at Omar Makram field hospital are being detained. At least one of the detainees has died from his injuries; activists accuse the army and security forces of torturing him in the headquarters of the national Cabinet.
Yet in my neighborhood Thursday night, a time when most Egyptians still were unaware of the beginning of this catastrophe, there was a hopeful festiveness stemming from the opening of a restaurant by a famous takeout food company. Blasting Egyptian dance music through the mosque speakers till midnight, the event was like a wedding celebration, full of lights and decorations.
The spanking-new restaurant brought some prestige to our garbage-strewn and unpaved market area. Groups of cute girls, dressed up, and guys from a nicer area a few blocks away are showing up for El Shabrawy takeout.
Many lower-class and lower-middle-class women in their 20s are putting on the niqab at a time when their mothers favor a more liberal style of hijab.
The voting day in parliamentary elections was difficult here in my neighborhood; a group that arrived at 9 a.m. was unable to cast votes until about 5 p.m. There were pamphlets around from an organization called Shahid, or Witness, that listed emergency phone numbers and other information for use if trouble should arise at voting stations.
Our district’s vote went to the Muslim Brotherhood, but the overall area is large and the support for the Muslim Brotherhood did not reflect the wealthy, well-educated liberal section. To liberals, the elections represent the beginning of a democratic Egypt, but also the possibility of a party that favors Islamic law coming to power.
That possibility has already affected the Christian community. Since the Jan. 25 beginning of the revolution, 100,000 Christian families have emigrated, according to Naguib Gibrael, the Coptic Church’s lawyer.
Violent confrontations between religious groups have been common, though many Muslims and Christians say that most incidents grew out of personal feuds that escalated into religious battles. Private Muslim and Coptic television channels hurl outrageous accusations and justify violence against the other side in the name of God. Any Muslim or Copt hearing and believing the rhetoric well might become enraged. Adults program this hatred into children.
“He didn’t advocate violence,” the widow of Sheik Emad Effat, moderate senior clerk of the great Al-Azhar Mosque’s influential Dar Al-Ifta religious authority, said. “He was here for the protests in January and February, he was there now to show solidarity with the protesters.” He died Friday of a gunshot wound sustained when military police attempted to violently dispersed the sit-in that his widow spoke of.
At his funeral Saturday, thousands mourned his death, including Al-Azhar officials, political activists and Coptic Christian figures, among them prominent Coptic priest Felopateer Gamil and members of the Maspero Youth Coptic activist group.
Afterward, we went home and wept in shock at videos of the violence showing innocent, fleeing people being beaten to death. Heads were stomped on by soldiers; a girl’s hijab was ripped off, revealing her underwear, and her ribs were kicked in. The world saw the heroic military of the revolution’s heart—“the people and the army, one hand”—throw concrete, furniture and urine onto the protesters from above, laughing. It was there for all the world to witness.
This occurred as the military-assigned “interim” prime minister was on television denying that the military was using violence. The savagery came from “someone else,” he said. But we all watched it live on TV and online, in images clear enough to see the grins on the soldiers’ faces as they dropped concrete and other debris onto the protesters. The videos went out despite soldiers destroying cameras and video crews’ material.
Why did the army do it? What actually happened? It seems that a fight between a young Ultra (a member of a nationwide group of football fans who have been involved in the protests) and the military in which he was beaten mercilessly was the spark that set off this frenzy of brutality in Cairo’s tinderbox.
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