Egypt: The military’s revenge

SCAF’s crackdown on recent protests is yet another mistake that will bring about its imminent downfall.

Protests in Egypt
Egyptian military and police response to the latests protests have been particularly violent and cruel [EPA]

Cairo, Egypt – Egyptian military and police have lashed out at young protesters over the past several days with vengeance. The clashes began on Friday in front of the Ministry Building, which is visible from Tahrir Square.

Protesters have been camped in front of the building since the Tahrir protests of November, which left dozens dead and ended with what many of the protesters saw as the unsatisfactory appointment of Kamal Ganzouri as Prime Minister, not only because Ganzouri – who was already Prime Minister from 1996 to1999 – is associated with the Mubarak regime, but also because the Ministry still has no real powers and is in essence, a puppet government for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

The way in which the military and police responded to protesters over the past few days was uniquely cruel. Zyad Elelaimy, the youngest of the newly elected members of the People’s Council, Egypt’s lower house of Parliament, was beaten on Friday by a police officer who told him sarcastically, “Let the People’s Council help you now”.

Members of the Sixth of April Movement, one of the key youth groups credited with the Revolution, were called out by policemen by name in the midst of a clash in Tahrir. Videos of soldiers dragging young women through the streets have since circulated, along with images of soldiers with their guns aimed at civilians running into Tahrir Square in large groups. Eyewitnesses stood helplessly as soldiers beat three protesters and threw them into the Nile. In one of the most provoking incidents, an Azhar Scholar, Emmad Effat, was killed by gunshot in what observers say was a very clear case of a targeted murder.  

Effat, the former Chief of Staff to the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, has quickly turned into a symbol of the ongoing revolution. His Saturday funeral in the Al-Azhar Mosque of Cairo’s old city was led by a weeping Ali Gomaa, a rare public scene for a man of his position. The event drew several thousands from a wide spectrum of political and religious persuasions. As the mourners marched from al-Azhar to the Sayyida Zeinab burial grounds, at times calm and at others roaring with anti-military chants, their numbers increased. After burying Effat, the mourners proceeded to Tahrir Square, where they were greeted by khartoush bullets and the remains of a dozen or so tents that soldiers had burnt to the ground earlier that day.

A different story

Situations are dealt with in the same way that they were under the old regime and nothing has changed.”

– Dr Manar al-Shorbagy

The scenes witnessed by those who were in front of the Ministry or at Tahrir Square over the past few days and videos circulating through social media tell a completely different story than the one that Ganzouri, SCAF and the state media continue to spew.

Ganzouri’s Saturday speech, in which he completely denied any use of force against protesters, showed the same disconnect of Mubarak and confirmed suspicions that the mindset of the old regime lives on. His claims that rocks were thrown at the Ministry building and cameras were destroyed while the police and military stood silently shows his complete ignorance of the situation and disregard for the human lives that were lost.

On Sunday morning, the Egyptian population woke up to state media reports that the Institute of Egypt, a historical research centre housing rare documents in Tahrir Square, had been burned down by protesters, who were referred to as “thugs”.

In stark contrast, those who were at the building could attest for the police standing atop the building throwing Molotov bombs and “fire balls” at the protesters below, while their colleagues sprayed water at protesters out of the building’s windows. When protesters responded with Molotov bombs of their own, the building caught fire. Some protesters rushed into the building in an effort to save what they could of the books, while the police took the hoses that they had aimed at protesters minutes earlier and deserted the scene without an attempt of putting out the fire.

Pending downfall

SCAF continues to drown in its own mistakes. On Saturday, eight members of the Advisory Council, created to satisfy demands of November’s protests, resigned in condemnation of the use of force against protesters. Dr Manar al-Shorbagy, one of the members who stepped down, complained that “situations are dealt with in the same way that they were under the old regime and nothing has changed”.

While SCAF may temporarily have a portion of the general public convinced that those in Tahrir are thugs wreaking havoc, as Mubarak had convinced many during the Revolution, their growing political isolation marks their pending downfall. The Egyptian military had the choice of etching its name in history as the pioneer of democracy in the world’s oldest civilisation, but instead chose to be a force more brutal than its loathed predecessor. 

While several of the newly elected MPs took it upon themselves to join the protesters in solidarity or make an effort to use their public position to bring calm, the larger victors of the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties, have yet to make clear substantial efforts to use their newly recognised popularity to end the bloodshed in Tahrir.

As the state media continues to tell its story of the events, a disconnect grows between a portion of the population and protesters who recognise the significance of the political moment and refuse to let the lives lost for the sake of democratic governance go to waste. With expected political clashes to come – over disagreements between the new Parliament and the current SCAF – appointed Ministry, over the Constitution and struggle for influence, and in the lead-up to presidential elections – SCAF does not seem to have the physical self-restraint, political acuteness, or national interest at heart to establish the basis for a durable, democratic government.

Sarah Mousa graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2010, and is a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.