“Set Egypt on fire”
The first time we heard the expression “set Egypt on fire” was once the first presidential elections after the 2011 revolution were over on 17 June 2012. In the early hours of 18 June, and as the vote count had barely begun, Muhammad Mursi’s supporters staged a sit-in in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square
The first time we heard the expression “set Egypt on fire” was once the first presidential elections after the 2011 revolution were over on 17 June 2012. In the early hours of 18 June, and as the vote count had barely begun, Muhammad Mursi’s supporters staged a sit-in in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, declared Mursi the winner, and threatened to “set Egypt on fire” if the election results gave a contrary outcome. It took the supreme elections committee a whole week to announce Mursi as Egypt’s new president, and that was even before looking into serious claims of fraud, including a claim that thousands of voting cards had been forged in Mursi’s favour while yet in the official printshop. The entire manner in which Mursi came to power—and that was by a narrow margin of 51.7 per cent—thus left Egyptians seriously questioning whether he was indeed a ‘democratically elected president’. There was wide conjecture that the election results had been in favour of his competitor Ahmed Shafiq, but had been flipped over to favour Mursi upon US pressure or even threats to the military. The obvious US meddling in Egyptian affairs, and the unabashed American support of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), lent that story plenty of credibility.
Terror no one can dream of
The oppressive, non-democratic year-long MB rule in Egypt, and their obvious Islamist loyalty which took precedence over loyalty to Egypt, drove Egyptians to rebel. The nationwide protest staged on 30 June, exactly one year since Mursi was sworn in as president in 2012, drove the military to give Mursi an ultimatum to come to terms with the wide opposition
or face a “Roadmap for Egypt’s Future”, jointly drawn by the military and the opposition, that obviously did not include him. Mursi belligerently rejected the ultimatum, the army stepped in, and Egypt moved forward on a new path to democracy sans Mursi and the Islamists.
That was when again we began hearing threats to “burn Egypt”. Mursi’s supporters, despite—or maybe because of—their being in the minority, threatened to set Egypt on fire and declared jihad, holy war in the name of Islam, against the Egyptian army and people. They swore they would turn life in Egypt into a living hell until Mursi was returned to power.
The threats were sent out by the MB leaders Essam al-Erian, Muhammad al-Beltagui, and the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers Muhammad Badie. Beltagui even said the attacks against the Egyptian army in Sinai would go on till Mursi was reinstated. Meaning that the MB were indeed behind the handing over of Sinai to militant Jihadis during Mursi’s term as president. This had remained a strong albeit undocumented suspicion with many Egyptians, but it took Beltagui’s declaration to confirm it.
Another MB leader, Sheikh Safwat Higazy, took to inciting the MB demonstrators to attack the military and promised “escalating measures to levels no-one can dream of” if Mursi is not back.
Mursi supporters were true to their word. They launched a war of terror against Egyptians on several fronts: the home front, the Coptic front, and in the Sinai Peninsula.
On the home front the Islamists have been viciously attacking their opponents who are more often than not peaceful and unarmed, whereas Mursi supporters are armed. When Mursi opponents retaliate and defend themselves, his supporters cheekily cry foul. And, like other Islamists around the world especially Palestinians in Gaza, they have no qualms at using their women and children as human shields. Three women in niqab were shot last week as they marched at the front line of an Islamist demonstration in the east Delta town of Mansoura. Yet the after-death reports declared they had been shot at close range from the back, meaning their fellow demonstrators had shot them and considered them ‘martyrs’. Children as young as three have been seen carrying shrouds in a typical Egyptian move which indicates a readiness to die, and wearing on their chests T-shirts which read: “future martyr”.
The notorious clashes of 8 July between Mursi’s supporters and the military in which some 50 Islamists lost their lives occurred when the Islamists attempted to break into army barracks. They claimed the army shot at them as they performed dawn prayers, and splashed on the Internet photos of children who had been shot, but it turned out they had started the fight, and the photos were of children who had died in Syria a year ago. It turned out there were no children at all among the MB dead or injured.
A couple of days later, three bombs where found in Cairo, luckily before they exploded. One was found near the Giza zoo, and the two others in the Tahrir metro station—one of them was activated two minutes before it should have gone off. And last Tuesday, a bomb exploded near a police station in Mansoura, killing one policeman and wounding several civilians.
In Cairo, Mursi’s supporters are centred in two ‘base camps’ where they are staging sit-ins and from which they fan out to various spots in Cairo to conduct protests characterised with aggression against anyone who stands up to them or who just happens to be there. One campis in the east Cairo public square in front of the mosque of Rabaa al-Adawiya; the other
is in al-Nahda Square in front of Cairo University in Giza, west of Cairo.
The figures of the dead and injured have been appalling. Until Watani went to press, the official figures listed some 70 dead at the hand of Islamists. Yet death by gunshot of Mursi supporters is a ‘mercy killing’ compared to the sort of death dealt to those whose ill luck leads them into the Islamists’ hands. These are brutally tortured to horrendous deaths. Three bodies were last week found in the Giza district of Umraniya, bearing the signs of ferocious torture, bundled in sacs and thrown on a deserted piece of land. The Cairo daily al-Masry al-Youm printed on 23 July the story of a policeman, Mahmoud al-Sayed, who fell into their hands. He said he prayed to God to take his life to release him from the torture he was being subjected to. The policeman was later thrown by a desolate sidewalk between life and death, where passers-by found him and rushed him to a hospital.
The Islamist atrocities knew no limits; in Alexandria, an Islamist was video-taped as he hurled four teenagers to their death from atop a building.
Copts, the eternal easy prey?
It was almost predictable that the Copts would fall as the easiest prey. The Islamist demonstrators cried: “Oh what indignity, what disgrace! The Christians are now revolutionists!” as well as the incendiary: “Islamic, we want it Islamic…No to a crusader revolution”. Such cries had the potent effect of making poorly-educated Muslims, especially in rural areas, turn against Copts.
In the Upper Egyptian Minya village of Dalaga, the guesthouse owned by the Coptic Catholic Church was attacked and plundered. The priest, who resides there, was rescued by the neighbours who let him flee across the adjacent rooftops. Three Coptic-owned houses were ruined and set ablaze. And, to inflict terror in the hearts of the Copts who had stayed in the [relative] safety of their homes, the Islamists went about banging at the Copts’ doors and windows with clubs, and screaming threats.
In the Luxor village of Nag Hassaan, four Copts were killed, 23 homes plundered and torched, and some 70 extended families forced to flee the village for fear for their lives, or to take refuge at the local church.
Churches in Port Said on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and Marsa Matrouh on the west were attacked, damaged, and shot at. Many churches across Egypt had to close down their community service activities such as pre-school nurseries or children’s summer schools for fear for the safety of the children. They only held their regular worship services.
But the most painful incidents occurred against the Copts of North Sinai. The Arish priest Fr Mina Aboud was shot dead in town, and the 64-year-old Magdy Lamei of the town of Sheikh Zuwayed was kidnapped and three days later his body found beheaded, his head placed on his belly, his hands and feet chained, near the local cemetery. In both cases, the culprits were masked Jihadis.
Sinai: Egypt’s heartache
It took Mursi only a few days since he became president of Egypt last year to open the Rafah crossing, flinging the doors of Egypt open to the Palestinians who were then able to cross freely, without inspection. The Gaza tunnels also operated in full force, smuggling Egyptian vital goods into Gaza and causing shortages in Egypt, while the Mursi authorities looked the other way round. Egyptians, for the first time in recent years began viewing the Palestinians with suspicious then outright hostility, equating them with the Islamist Hamas, and recognising them as a strong force behind and ally of Mursi. This should have come as no surprise, seeing that Hamas is the MB branch in Palestine. It didn’t help that Mursi was handing Gazans Egyptian fuel while Egyptians had to sustain grinding shortages of power and gasoline.
Islamists were not entirely new to Sinai. Since the turn of the millennium, Islamists—among them a majority of Palestinians—attempted to set up base in Sinai. They conducted terrorist operations there in 2004 and 2005, killing some 120 tourists and Egyptians. They were hunted by the Egyptian police and army, however, and despite clashes with and clampdowns on Sinai Bedouin and Islamists for outlaw and terrorist acts respectively, Sinai remained under Egyptian authority.
The rule of Mursi and the MB was a godsend for Sinai Jihadis. What Egyptians had once harboured as a strong suspicion during the year-long Mursi term in power was proved true once he was no longer president. Both the military and the police owned that, under Mursi, their hands were tied where the Sinai Jihadists were concerned. Is it any wonder then that North Sinai towns and police stations came under the control of masked, armed men who spoke in a flagrant Palestinian accent, and patrolled the land on motorbikes and vehicles, carrying the black jihadist banners with “No god but Allah” splashed across them?
Christians especially were targeted; their church in Rafah was partially ruined and they received threats for their lives unless they left. They did leave town; Rafah, on the Egypt Gaza border, was emptied of its Copts.
But the most painful attack by Sinai Jihadists occurred last Ramadan when 16 Egyptian soldiers were shot dead as they prepared to sit for their Ramadan meal at sunset. That was barely a month after Mursi was in office and, to add insult to injury, he did not even attend their funeral. No culprit was identified or caught.
And when six Egyptian soldiers were kidnapped last May and released two days later, Mursi advised care for both the kidnapped and their kidnappers.
Under Mursi, 26 Egyptian soldiers were killed in Sinai and none of the killers was caught. Since the end of the MB rule on 3 July, more than 21 Egyptian soldiers and civilians were killed. It looks like Beltagui’s threat is already taking form. The army has vowed to purge Sinai of the Jihadis who declared jihad against Egypt, but this is an uphill battle on a mountainous, cave-riddled terrain.
A threat which promises ominous risks was unleashed by Mursi days after he came to office when he ordered the release of all the Islamists who had been in prison on charges that ranged from terrorism to murder. Among them were the Zomor brothers who had been implicated in the murder of President Sadat in 1981, as well as notorious Jihadis and Takfiris including Muhammad al-Zawahiri, brother to al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri. These Islamists are bound to join—and lead—Islamist terrorist movements not only in Egypt but around the world. The Islamist believed to have been implicated in the attack against the US embassy in Benghazi in September 2012 in which four Americans lost their lives, Muhammad Gamal Abu-Ahmed, was among them. All in all, Mursi had freed some 400 prisoners, 80 of whom belonged to Gamaa Islamiya. The whole world stands to pay the price.
24 July 2013