An American Spring?

23-08-2014 11:00 AM

Mervat Ayoub

Numerous Egyptian analysts and politicians applauded the statement issued last Tuesday by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry which said it was “closely following the escalation of protests” in Missouri, sparked by the shooting of an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager by a white policeman on 9th of August. Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Ati referred to a statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying that it “represented the position of the international community towards these events, especially the call for restraint and the right to peaceful assembly and expression.”

Echoing US language
Many Egyptian politicians saw that the Foreign Ministry’s statement, which echoed the language used by the US to criticise Egypt breakup of violent Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protests last year, revealed that Egypt felt free to disapprove US actions with no fears. Observers said that the Foreign Ministry acted positively, strongly, and respectfully. Only last week a Human Rights Watch s report said Egyptian security forces systematically used excessive force against Islamist protesters. Egypt said the report was “characterised by negativity and bias”.
For her part, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said “We here in the United States will put our record for confronting our problems transparently and honestly and openly up against any other countries in the world”. She added: “We would call on other countries to do the same. And unfortunately we haven’t always seen that, so we’ll keep calling on them to do so.”
Muhammad al-Meneissi, former deputy Foreign Minister said the wording and timing of the Foreign Ministry’s statement were perfect. “It is the same wording,” he said, “which the US used to criticise how Egyptians dealt with the violent, armed Islamist protests and sit-ins that followed the overthrow of the MB rule in July 2013.”
The Egyptian Interior Ministry also chimed in with five pieces of advice to the US police on how to deal with the protests in Missouri. Hani Abde-Latif, spokesperson of Interior Ministry, said over a phone call with the independent TV channel Sada al-Balad that the US police should take care not to use excessive force with peaceful protestors, and must hold a dialogue with them to avoid the spread of chaos and violence to other States. He insisted that the policeman who killed the black protestor must be brought to justice, and that the continued use of force against the protestors will lead to serious problems.

On the Egyptian street
The Egyptian government’s position not only reflected the sentiment of the Egyptian authorities, but also echoes what Egyptians in their wide majority felt. Mainstream Egyptians see that, even though the protests in Ferguson are peaceful, the US police deals with them brutally. History will register that the Islamist protests in Egypt were violent, destructive, armed, and explicitly called for terrorism.”
On social networks, Egyptians criticised the murder at the hands of the US police of the 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the manner in which the US police dealt with the street protests against the crime. But especially, they mocked US double standards. Countless comments described the events in Missouri as the “American Spring”, and ran along the line: “let America drink from the same cup it required Egypt to drink”.
One blogger advised Americans: “There will be acts of robbing and looting; you’ll have to bear with them; it is tax you pay for revolution”. Other posts demanded that Obama should respect the rights of the protestors, and avoid excessive violence against his own people”.
A page under the name of “We are all Michael Brown” was created on Facebook, in the same vein as the Egyptian “We are all Khaled Saeed”. The hashtag “Tweet as a US activist” also posted comments that made strong parallels with between US official response to protest and the Egyptian one—with the reservation, of course, that US protest was peaceful and Egyptian MB protest was violent.

Rights activists
The Ibn-Khaldun Center for Developmental Studies (ICDS) held a press conference to launch its annual report. Executive manager of the centre, Dalia Ziyada, said during the conference that they the manner in which the US police dealt with the protestors raised the wrath of Egyptians and many across the whole world. She said the ICDS denounces and condemns the way the US police dealt with the protestors; demanding of President Obama not to use firearms against the protestors, and to respect human rights. She said the ICDS has formed a factfinding commission to investigate the Missouri incident.

Professor of political sciences at the American University in Cairo Mona Makram Ebeid said that the murder of the black teenager Michael Brown by a white policeman reveals that racial discrimination is still alive and kicking in the US. She said the US appeared to dislike the same criticism it dealt so freely to Egypt. She wondered where was Human Rights Watch from all that was taking place in Missouri. “Washington is exercising its notorious double standards,” Dr Ebeid said. “The US claims that it is the stronghold of democracy and human rights, but it doesn’t apply where its black citizens are concerned. It never respected them in Afghanistan, Iraq, or all the Middle East, and now it doesn’t respect them in Missouri.”

Islamist supporters
To MB supporters in Egypt, however, the official and people’s response was not too palatable. Using the hashtag #EgyPoliceTipsToUS, they have been sending satirical tips to police in Ferguson, advising them to mirror the tactics alleged to have taken place by the Egyptian police during the breakup of the Islamist Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in August 2013.
“Don’t fire rubber bullets, it’s a waste of time and money. Fire real bullets instead,” one user posted. ” He was ignoring the fact, however, that it was the MB who used live ammunition and killed the first policeman long before the Egyptian police fired any shots.
There was by no means a consensus on the matter, though. An Arabic hashtag #مصر_تطالب_أمريكا_بضبط_النفس, which roughly translates as “Egypt asks America to show restraint”, has appeared more than 6,000 times, and used to express support for the Egyptian government’s remarks. “That’s the Egypt that us Arabs are proud of,” said one, and “Obama, you should try to be as wise as Sisi is,” said another.

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