For the first time since 2011, most citizens of Egypt obeyed a 2100h curfew, following the deadliest day since the country’s uprisings began in 2011. The nation has declared a month-long state of emergency following the deadliest day since the start of the 2011 revolution, with curfews in effect in 14 of the 27 provinces.
Following the removal of Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi supporters engaged in nearly six weeks of protest. Middle Eastern and Western diplomats attempted to negotiate a political resolution of inclusion, however the attempts failed and protesters remained firmly in place.
Interior Minister Mohamad Ibrahim declared “Zero Hour” yesterday morning (14 August), initializing a plan to remove pro-Morsi protesters from camps at Nahda Square in Giza, and the camp near Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque in Cairo. Operations began at 7 a.m. local time, with security forces first allowing safe passage for protesters to leave the site voluntarily prior to the clearing operations. Nahda Square in Giza was cleared within three hours; the camp at Rabaa Al-Adawiyah Mosque took 12 hours.
In a televised statement, the Egyptian Interior Minister described a scene in which protesters in Rabaa camp had created barricades, and were armed with weapons ranging from small firearms to “heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.” Early in the day, over 200 protesters from both camps were arrested for possessing firearms, bladed weapons, grenades, and gas canisters. Ibrahim continued, “Many protesters fired excessively from roof tops on security forces.”
Egyptian police troops and anti-riot squads continued with the forcible removal of the protesters. Violence escalated as protesters accused the forces of firing into the crows, igniting a rapid escalation of violence. Throughout the day, mayhem spread across Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked several police stations, including firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a station in Kerdasa, in Giza. A news broadcast showed Muslim Brotherhood supporters pushing an armoured vehicle off Cairo’s October 6 Bridge onto the road below. In addition, at least seven Coptic Christian churches, and over 40 Coptic-owned or operated institutions throughout Egypt were targeted, including bookshops and pharmacies. Coptic rights organizations say the numbers are a low estimate.
By mid-afternoon, Muslim Brotherhood protesters had attacked the historic Library at Alexandria and the Malawy Museum in Minya, with reports of looting of some of its contents. The attacks sparked an immediate and indefinite shut-down of all ancient or historic sites and museums across the nation. All branches of the central bank were closed, and train services running north and south were suspended to prevent transport of protestors.
According to the Ministry of Health, by 7 am on the 15th, there were 525 casualties, including 43 policemen, and 3,717 injuries. Representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood have placed the number of death at 2,000. Among those killed were three journalists: Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News; Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the UAE-based Gulf News; and Ahmed Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s state-run newspaper, Al Akhbar. Deane and Elaziz were shot to death; however there is no information on how Gawad was killed.
In Cairo, Interim Vice President El Baradei offered his resignation in protest to the violence sparked by the forcible removal of the protests. He had argued for a peaceful solution; allowing the protesters to remain in place and letting the gatherers decrease from attrition, as individuals became more resigned the reality that Morsi would not return, and they turn their focus to other issues, such as returning to work or finding means to support their family. In his resignation letter, he states, “It has become hard for me to keep bearing responsibility for decisions that I did not approve of and warned against their consequences. I cannot be responsible before God for a single drop of blood.”
The announcement caused very mixed reaction; some say the leader abandoned Egypt at a tough time. The Tamarod (rebel) campaign, which spearheaded the 30 June protests which resulted in Morsi’s removal from power, issued a statement on Facebook, calling El Baradei’s resignation an “escape from responsibility,” and adding, “We were hoping that El Baradei would do his role in explaining the situation to the global public opinion and international community and clarify that Egypt is facing organised terrorism, which highly endangers the Egyptian national security.” the statement read. Ahmed Darrag, a high ranking leader of El Baradei’s Constitution Party, denounced the decision and announced his resignation from the party.
Still others praised his decision. Khaled el-Masry, spokesman for the April 6 Youth Movement, says he “completely understands” the decision to resign from his post. In a statement, el-Masry said,
“El-Baradei has humanitarian biases as well as biases for justice and freedom that contradict bloodshed, especially if it happens while he is in a public post.”
The military actions received international condemnation and warning. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence used by Egyptian security forces to “in the strongest terms.” Through his spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, he said, “In the aftermath of today’s violence, the secretary-general urges all Egyptians to concentrate their efforts on promoting genuinely inclusive reconciliation. While recognizing that political clocks do not run backwards, the secretary-general also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challenges Egypt faces.”
In a televised statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the Egyptian military’s actions “deplorable” and ”counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.” Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said, “Violence won’t lead to any solution and we urge the Egyptian authorities to proceed with utmost restraint.”
Turkey President Erdogan has urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly: “It is clear that the international community, by supporting the military coup and remaining silent over previous massacres, has encouraged the current administration to carry out today’s intervention, instead of protecting democracy and constitutional legitimacy in Egypt.” Leaders from Iran have also warned of the risk of civil war.
The Egyptian Ambassador to the US called it “the least bad option.”
Since the initial uprising, police had largely and deliberately disappeared from the streets. As a result, Egyptians have complained about lax law and order, and an increase in criminal activity. However, since Mursi’s removal, the police have been more visible in the streets, while also implementing a public relations campaign to improve their image, despite Mursi’s failure to develop any police reform during his term in office. Ibrahim’s claim to restore security to the Mubarak era, while well-intended, brought reminders and fear of a notoriously oppressive security force.
The Muslim Brotherhood will not ended its protests, however it is likely that only hard-line protesters will remain resistant and active following the clashes of the 14th. With the actions taken yesterday, the Egyptian government has essentially established a baseline for what it is willing to tolerate.
The scale of violence during the security operations is likely to have put an end to any hope negotiations between the army-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, allegations of violence on the part of the Brotherhood supporters could be used to reinstate a ban on the group, including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. With less than 20% of Egyptians supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, it is most likely that outrage at this action would emanate from outside of Egypt, rather than inside, posing a threat from radicalised actors entering the nation and acting on behalf of the group.
In order for the existing government to remain effective, it is imperative not only to focus on the security situation, but the economy. Economic improvement, even with incremental change, will assure the Egyptian populace that conditions are trending upward. To many outside of Egypt, this struggle is abuot religious versus secular government. However at the root of the clashes is the dire need for economic stability at all levels of income. If the government is swift in enacting security, economic, and political reforms, internal confrontations are likely to decrease. Yet the threat will still remain in place from those who support the concept of an Islamist party-led nation.