By Juan Cole
This report first appeared on Juan Cole’s website, Informed Comment.
The killing of over 50 Egyptians outside the Republican Guards Barracks on Monday morning continued to roil the country on Monday, as the Freedom and Justice Party, the civil wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, called for an “uprising” against the interim government.
The word used for ‘uprising,’ intifada, is the same word used by Palestinians protesting Israeli rule, and has less dire connotations than its English translation might suggest. Interestingly, the Brotherhood didn’t call for a “revolution,” which is a much more thoroughgoing phenomenon than popular demonstrations of the intifada sort. That is, what the Brotherhood said on Monday doesn’t seem very different from what Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie said last Friday.
It now seems clear that the Egyptian military deployed a disproportionate use of force in front of the barracks and likely many innocent non-combatants lost their lives.
However, it also seems likely that there was in fact an attack on the barracks by armed men. Some accounts say that they were riding motorcycles through the non-combatant crowd after dawn prayers had ended, firing at the troops and clearly intending to storm the barracks (where they believe deposed president Muhammad Morsi is being held).
The New Yorker found an eyewitness, a physician:
” I heard people through megaphones encouraging jihad. Then I saw four to six motorcycles coming from the direction of the Rabaa intersection to the Republican Guard barracks. Some people were still praying, some were not, because the dawn prayer had finished by then. The men on the motorcycles were all masked, and it was hard to see them through the dark and the tear-gas smoke, but they seemed to be shooting, they were coming from behind the protesters, so they were shooting toward the protesters and the Army.”
The troops should have had rubber bullets, not live ammunition, for crowd control, and should have blocked off the roads so that a motorcycle cavalcade couldn’t come barreling down toward the barracks, guns blazing.
Another eyewitness account, in Arabic on Facebook by Omar Ahmed (known to Egyptian friends whom I trust) is here
He says that the army did use a microphone to demand that the crowd near the Republican Guards Barracks disperse, and that the Brotherhood used their microphones to announce that martyrdom so near Ramadan would be a great thing. The army fired tear gas.
Then Omar heard firing at the troops and screams from the military side. The sniping was coming from al-Mustafa Mosque. The troops were also being hit with molotov cocktails. Then the microphone of the mosque threatened the troops, saying they are baby-killers.
Then a Brother began firing wildly with an automatic weapon. The troops returned fire and after that there were just bodies falling and men being taken into custody by the army. At 5 am, an hour into the clashes, reinforcements of more police and military showed up, and the Brotherhood militants withdrew to the Rabia al-Adawiya square or found refuge with local families in their apartments, even though many of the latter did not approve of the Brotherhood’s actions.
The dead include at least three military, and some 51 others, most of them likely non-combatants in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(A video circulating on the internet seeming to show an army sniper on a building is not actually relevant to the barracks killings, since it is in the daytime, and these events happened between 4 and 5 am. I don’t know what the context of that video is, and don’t doubt the military is capable of putting snipers on buildings to control mobs, but it is something else.)
Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, appointed a commission to investigate the deaths. But he really should insist on troops having rubber bullets for crowd control, as well as training for that purpose, and the commanding officer and the shooters responsible for the big death toll should be brought up on charges.
On Monday evening, interim president Mansour tried to change the conversation by setting out a timetable for return to elected government. He said that within 15 days, a council of jurists must be appointed that would have two months to revise the 2012 constitution, after they would present it to the president, who would hold a national referendum on it within a month of receiving it. Parliamentary elections must be held by the end of the year or very early in Jan. 2014.
The date for presidential elections hasn’t been set yet. In the meantime, the president exercises all executive functions and the judiciary is independent. (That is, the military is not a junta and has no executive power; President Mansour maintains that his appointment as president comes from the demands of the 4 million youth in the streets, not from a military appointment).
Muslim Brotherhood official Essam Elarian criticized the plan, saying that a constitutional declaration by a man appointed by coup leaders would take the country back to zero.
Mansour also announced the constitutional principles that will guide the transition to a new elected government. In essence, he limited his own powers with the equivalent of a bill of rights. One rather glaring problem is that this constitutional announcement, like previous Egyptian constitutions full of high-minded ideals and extensive civil liberties, is being daily contradicted by the actual behavior of the army and police, especially toward members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mansour will have to convince Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the police to return immediately to a rule of law and to charge detainees with explicit crimes as defined in existing statutes, or release them. Otherwise, the below principles are not worth the electricity it takes to publish them on the internet.
Mansour retained a controversial amendment to the 1971 constitution that makes Islamic law as interpreted in the Sunni tradition the “principal” source of legislation. It had originally been “a” source of legislation, but Hosni Mubarak threw this bone to the Muslim fundamentalists.
The 33-point interim constitution recognizes popular sovereignty and sees the people as the source of the branches of government. The third paragraph says that the economic system is based on social justice and that no one shall be exempt from paying taxes (US corporations wouldn’t like that provision).
Para. 4 says that citizens are equal before the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of gender (al-jins), origin, race (naw`), language, religion or doctrine. The 2012 constitution did not guarantee equality before the law for women.
Para. 5 says that the private lives of citizens are sacrosanct and protected by the law, and that correspondence, whether mail or electronic, and telephone conversations, and other means of communication, are all sacrosanct and their secrecy is guaranteed except by the issuance of a warrant by a judge, for a limited period of time and in accordance with the law. (This one is now in advance of the practice in the United States).
It also guarantees against arbitrary arrest (which is hypocritical since the military is rounding up Muslim Brothers not known to have committed a crime).
Freedom of expression, conscience and religion is guaranteed, along with freedom of the press and printing. Censorship of newspapers is forbidden and no administrative impediment to them is allowed.
All citizens have the right to organize public meetings, processions and peaceful demonstrations in which no arms are carried, as long as the authorities are alerted to plans to hold them. Private meetings are protected and there is no need to alert the authorities. Security police may not attend private meetings. Citizens can form associations, unions,organizations and parties, as long as they don’t have militias and are not antithetical to the structure of society (i.e. no Ku Klux Klans). No political party may be formed that has as its basis the discrimination against citizens on the basis of gender, origin, or religion. No party may be dissolved except by judicial decree.
(The ability to form unions at will is a gain of the revolution; in the 2012 constitution, each occupation could have only one big national union, but that provision seems to be gone; workers *hated* it.)
Etc., etc. As I said, they are all nice words, but only significant if implemented.
Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi protest at the Republican Guard building in Nasr City in Cairo on Tuesday.