May 19, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: The Worst So Far
Posted on Dec 20, 2011
The peasants and middle class and others in my bustling, dusty area are usually not impressed by events, but in this case there was a psychological impact: Thousands of phones rang as calls came in from relatives and friends who were on the scene or watching televisions; the cries of alarm were like a dull roar that came in waves.
Eman, a 22-year-old woman standing at the bakery, spit and said it was over between her and her fiancé Ali, a soldier—first a hero, now a monster. He is disgusting, she said. “They are like animals! Not human!” She and I agreed that the soldiers seemed like the vicious baboons the ancient Egyptians are said to have used to guard the temples.
“Eh da? Eh da? What is this?” we yelled at the images on the computer. (At first, the coverage was not broadcast on national television, and the satellite doesn’t work here.)
The science institute building was burning, and the roof was about to collapse as protesters pleaded with security people to put it out. They were ignored. No one knows whether the fire started inside or outside, but this important building was eventually saved by the protesters. It was the responsibility of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to protect the building and its content.
A massive explosion erupted, apparently having originated inside the building, and black smoke billowed. A dozen men in military uniforms on the library roof had been throwing concrete blocks and rocks at the protesters below and spraying them with hoses to push them away from the building. Protesters hurled stones as well as Molotov cocktails.
The Ministry of Culture reported that only two-thirds of the books and manuscripts of the Egyptian scientific institute were saved. But whether or not the original version of the 213-year-old “Description of Egypt” was burned is uncertain amid contradictory reports. The institute’s official report says the book was burned, but the general secretary of the People’s Assembly claims he has the original book along with other books and manuscripts from the French invasion in his own private library. And an Al Farj newspaper journalist claims he bought some of the manuscripts after the fire.
Some consider the library, constructed under Napoleon, to be the most important in Africa and the Middle East.
Much of the beauty of the spirit of Tahrir Square has now been destroyed, ripped apart by soldiers swarming like enraged red ants to attack protesters impotently throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
“The next parliament will not represent all the Egyptian people. But the constitution will affect all the citizens of Egypt. We are at the first stage of democracy,” a member of the SCAF, Maj. Gen. Moukhtar El-Mulla, has said. So that all sectors of society will be represented on the committee drafting the new constitution, El-Mulla said, the new parliament will be aided by the SCAF, which will act as an advisory body.
The Muslim Brotherhood had demanded that the new parliament be able to vote “no confidence” in the government should it wish to do so, something that was unacceptable to the military. The SCAF said the military would remain in full control of the executive branch until a new president was elected before the end of next June.
A full-scale confrontation over this issue developed in November, lasting a week and leaving 45 people dead and hundreds injured. Sources close to the SCAF maintained then that El-Mulla’s original statements had been misunderstood.
On the same day that the SCAF retracted the statements that had so angered the Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, made visits to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the president of the SCAF, to Prime Minister Ganzouri and to the headquarters of the Brotherhood, where the U.S. officials met with three top Brotherhood officials.
Judges supervising the elections and the vote counting threatened to boycott after some of the judges were attacked by military police in Sharqiya on Thursday night. Thousands of people had surrounded the voting stations in the governorates of Sharqiya and Beheira as well as in the Imababa and Haram districts in Giza governorate, obstructing the judges from entering to start the vote counting process.
“Military and police forces started cracking down on everyone outside the general committees, including the judges, in a bid to disperse the crowd,” said Mahmoud El-Sherif, secretary-general and spokesperson of the Judges’ Club. “Military police didn’t understand or respond when judges tried to explain their identity, and they continued to beat everyone in sight.”
More than 300 complaints of attacks on judges Thursday was received by the Judges’ Club.
Runoffs are scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday in phase two of parliamentary elections, and the third round of voting in the last nine governorates is slated for Jan. 3 and 4. Preliminary results of the second round were similar to those of the first, giving the lead to Islamist parties.
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