Ongoing tensions in Egypt

The events of 30th June in Egypt, where the Egyptian Army stepped in to remove Morsi in the face of enormous popular protests, replacing him with the Head of the Constitutional Court as an interim measure until new elections could be held has been generally hailed as a positive move to enact the will of the people, and a necessarily step of avoiding civil war, but the Muslim Brotherhood, the organisation behind Morsi refuses to accept this intervention, tensions are escalating and some very worrying things appear to be happening in Raba.

After the mass flurry of international attention which was focused on Egypt in the wake of the events of the events of the 30th June, the international English language press seems to have gone very quiet.  Not quite a military coup, not exactly a revolution, not a democratic handover, but somekind of odd military facilitated,  change of democratic goverance, on the back of mass popular demand, the likes of which has no real precedent, which removed the elected Head of State – Mohammad Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Egypt is the epicentre of the Muslim Brotherhood. The election of Morsi was seen as a signal that the Brotherhood was in the ascendancy and securing US backing a consolidation of its power.  His overthrow, a challenge not only to the leadership of the Brotherhood in Egypt, but to its entire existence.  In the immediate aftermath, the dithering of the US in recognising the new government, before finally realising that international opinion was coalescing around support gave the Brotherhood hope that some kind of international pressure could be brought to bear to reverse the popular will.  As the days and weeks went on however and the new government managed to stabilise the situation, it became very obvious that Morsi was not returning.

Sisi, the Head of the Military who played an important role in managing to find a solution which was acceptable to both the protestors, wider civil society and the religious bodies which have great influence on the consciousness of Egyptians, has proven to be a skillful political operator.  Declining direct political power, but using the military to effect regime change in accordance with the will of the majority of the Egyptian people,  calling for “support demonstrations” to neutralise the planned demonstrations of the pro-Morsi elements and despite the deaths which have occurred at the hands of the military, keeping the bloodshed to a minimum.

But there are a substantial number of Morsi supporters who refuse to accept the outcomes of the regime change.  Fifty three people were killed after marching armed to the headquarters of the Republican Guard on July 8th, when the military opened fire after giving warnings for the crowd to disperse.  The last major surge was on 25th July when Brotherhood supporters marched to the presidential palace and started attemping to take over Tahir Square, with the military refusing to allow this.  The Brotherhood have claimed that on this occasion over 100 were killed, however hospitals have reported 66 deaths – still a significant number.  This  came the day after Morsi himself was remanded in custody at a secret location, although has been allowed to meet with European diplomats who have confirmed that he is safe and well.

The Brotherhood have taken over two public squares, Raba and Nadha, effecting an occupation.  At the moment, the authorities have been relatively hands-off, not wishing to provoke a conflict in a country, but the situation in Raba in particular is worrying.  The Brotherhood have occupied the area of Raba since before 30th June and have made it their stronghold.

Raba is a residential neighbourhood in central Cairo.  It is estimated that there tens of thousands of people are currently encamped there, causing enormous problems for the residents of the locale, whose movements are now restricted by the makeshift security cordons which limit people entering and leaving the area.  Human Rights organisations have been denied access to the encampment, and the Egyptian authorities claim that the Brotherhood is developing its own army within, with the support of Hamas, a claim which is denied by Hamas themselves.    A further claim made by the foreign ministry that Amnesty International have announced that there are heavy weapons inside the camp was refuted by by Amnesty in a statement issued, and the exact situation of the extent of the arms held there is unclear, however, video footage has emerged showing materials for petrol bombs being transported and unloaded into the area.

At the end of last month, the military called for the area to be cleared, but have been reticent to enforce it, and there seems to be no signs of the Brotherhood heeding their call, but the situation in Raba is definately worrying – there are suggestions that the Brotherhood have moved women and children to the edges of the camp, to be used as human shields/involuntary martyrs should the authorities decide to storm the area, and even that up to 200 children have been abducted from orphanages and the streets and taken to Raba on the promise of receiving 100 euros, new clothes for Eid and food.

There are hopes that with the coming of Eid tomorrow, the camp will disperse peacefully as people return to their families for the celebration, although that is likely to be wishful thinking.  What is clear is that the tensions in Egypt are not yet resolved and there remain a substantial number of people who are unhappy at the popular ousting of Morsi and who have backers from outwith the country.  How much influence they can have in an Egypt which is moving on without them remains to be seen and whether they can continue to command a significant enough level of support in a situation which is obviously politically lost.  The suggestion of weapons smuggling into the camps, and pugilistic declarations coming from within, may well mean that there are further chapters to go before the Brotherhood and its legacy are relegated to history.




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