As Islamist violence rocks Egypt, Egyptians in the throes of pain vow they won’t be brought to their knees
The mood in Egypt was cheerful and hopeful on Monday 23 December as Christmas Eve approached and, right on its heels, New Year 2014. That year was to mark Egypt’s endeavour to become a free, democratic State, as charted by its Roadmap to the Future. The first step was the referendum scheduled for 14 and 15 January to vote for a new Constitution, to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections by midyear.
But Egyptians were in for a rude awakening.
Those who had slept before 1am woke up on Tuesday morning to the tragic news of a car bomb that blasted the security headquarters in the Delta town of Mansoura, the capital city of Daqahliya province. The bombing left 14 dead, eight among whom were security officials and policemen; and some 140 injured, among them many civilians—Egypt is notorious for late-night activity, and the streets were teeming with individuals at 1am. The Daqahliya security chief Sameh al-Mihi who was among the injured lost an eye; his two aides died. The blast was so powerful it was felt within a 20km circle, according to Daqahliya governor Omar al-Shawatsi. Nearby buildings and vehicles suffered damages and shattered windows. The security headquarters building caved in. The Health Ministry spokesman said the number of casualties may rise in view of the critical condition of many of the injured, and since others are feared trapped under the partially collapsed building.
It took till Tuesday evening for the Islamist jihadi group Ansaar Beit al-Maqdis to tweet that the operation in Daqahliya was successfully completed.
All Islamists in one basket
A statement emailed in English—no such text was sent in Arabic—from the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and called for the perpetrators of the “cowardly crime” to be brought to justice. But Egyptians in their wide majority could see the characteristic stamp of Islamist violence all over the operation. They saw the MB condemnation as a bitter joke.
Egyptians today place all Islamists in one basket the main ingredient wherein is the MB; they believe Islamist groups are all allied and complicit in terrorism. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the MB, the Salafi Jihadis waging war against Egypt in the Sinai are Hamas protégés, Ansaar Beit al-Maqdis are Sinai based Jihadis; all are Islamist by any other name. The condemnation was, for Egyptians, a petty public relations move to persuade the ‘democratic, free’ world how good, peaceful, gracious the MB, aka Islamists, are. But the real bitterness on the Egyptian street was that everyone expected the western media to fall for the MB PR move.
It didn’t help at all that the MB gloated over the victims.
Social networking sites, major among which were Facebook and Twitter, were replete with messages for MB members or supporters expressing their joy at the carnage and bodies or body parts lying around. The official page of MB supporters who call themselves the Rabaa Heroes carried a post that “this is the destiny of the infidels, and our gift to [President] Adly Mansour on his birthday.” Many boastfully reminded of the threats by MB leaders Safwat Higazy and Muhammad al-Beltagui—both are in prison today—during the Islamists sit-in in Rabaa last July and August. Higazy had then said that the MB would inflict upon Egyptians “terrorism they never dreamed existed”, and Beltagui had promised that the war against Egypt in Sinai would directly end once [the MB Islamist president] Muhammad Mursi who was overthrown on 3 July by massive public protest and military action is back as president. They wrote that it was either “legitimacy or heads flying”, and that security would be back to Egypt’s streets only if Mursi was back.
The official page of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party accused the Egyptian government and the Coptic business tycoon Naguib Sawiris of being behind the bombing in order to rally a ‘yes’ vote for the Constitution in the January 2014 referendum.
Anger and tears
Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi declared the MB a terrorist organisation, as announced by the Premier’s spokesman Sherif Shawqy. He said the attack was a terrorist act to frighten the people and obstruct the Roadmap. “The black hands behind this act want to destroy the future of our country. The State will do its utmost to pursue the criminals who executed, planned and supported that attack,” he said.
The Minister of Interim Justice Muhammad Amin al-Mahdy broke into uncontrollable tears as he called for a moment of silence to mourn the victims.
Security was tightened over potential targets in all over Egypt: security headquarters, police stations, railway and metro lines and stations, banks, and churches.
For their part, Egypt’s various Churches all issued statements denouncing the terrorist act, mourning the victims, and offering prayers for Egypt.
Mansoura was the scene of public wrath at the MB, with protests marching the length and breadth of the town vowing to avenge the victims.
Yet the Mansoura blast was not an isolated incident; it was one among seemingly endless incidents of terrorist actions waged by the Islamists against Egypt ever since some 33 million Egyptians demonstrated on 30 June to bring down the Islamist MB regime and Mursi who was overthrown on 3 July.
Terror on campus
Even as Egypt mourned its dead, the MB charged ahead with their terror campaign against Egyptians. Male and female MB students continued their weeks-long violent acts against Egypt’s universities, the aim being to discontinue all academic activity. The violence has been especially jarring at the Islamic institution of al-Azhar University, given the high proportion of Islamist students there. The surprise, however, was that the female students emerged as the perpetrators of savage violence, as though competing with and outstripping the men.
On that fateful Tuesday 24 December, al-Azhar MB female students managed to close down the Faculties of Humanities and Islamic Studies in the al-Azhar Girl’s College, and joined the men in burning the university cafeteria. The women threatened anyone who stood in their way with acid and water mixed with hot red chilli which they aimed at the eyes. They assaulted two security guards and injured them. Twelve female and five male students were arrested.
But this was only the last in a long series of appalling terrorist acts inside the universities. In several instances, the deans of colleges were assaulted by MB male and female students inside their offices, and the rioting forced several universities to put off scheduled examinations. Non-MB students who wished to attend classes and office workers who intended to go about their business were assaulted and terrorised by the MB students. Campuses became scenes of perilous clashes. In Cairo University, the MB students forced the university guards inside their room close to the gates, locked them in and set the place alight. The men inside were saved from a terrible fate by the non-MB students who clashed with the MBs and rushed to rescue the imprisoned guards.
The Islamists even had the gall to burn the trees in and around campus.
The violence of MB women has been especially conspicuous since the overthrow of the Islamist Mursi. After they had historically been kept away from the public scene on grounds of decency, they suddenly came in handy as human shields on the front lines of demonstration, then as active terrorists. Given the suicide mentality which backs Islamist terrorism, this was not surprising. They worked to provoke and assault the police and army into retaliating; if they were injured or even killed they were sure of a place in Paradise since it was all in a good fight for Allah. According to the political analyst and scholar Abul-Fadl al-Esnawi, this marked a qualitative shift in the role of Islamist women. The notorious lynching earlier this month of the taxi driver in Mansoura who tried to drive through an Islamist demonstration and in the process ran through a protestor was executed by a woman in niqab, the Islamic full face veil.
In more than one case in demonstrations in Cairo and Mansoura last July, after-death reports proved men and women demonstrators were shot at close range from the back, meaning it was by their fellow demonstrators not by the police that was confronting them.
Last month Egypt’s activists were up in arms when a court in Alexandria sentenced 14 MB female students to prison terms that ranged from six months to 11 years on charges of rioting and blocking roads. An appeals court reduced the prison terms to a maximum one-year suspended sentence, and the women were freed. The movement they belonged to, the ‘7 in the morning’ movement so named because they began their violent street rioting at 7am, never stopped inciting or perpetrating violence. The incident, however, revealed the wide rift between mainstream Egyptians and ‘activists’. More than 90 per cent of the online comments on the sentences on the news site www.youm7.com were strongly against dealing leniently with the women, in view of the uncanny brutality they exercised and expected to get away with on account of being women.
Fair share for Copts
Not surprisingly, Christians came in for a fair share of the violence. One MB woman in niqab stood before the TV cameras during the sit-in in Rabaa and pointedly threatened Copts: “I say to the Nasaara (a derogatory word to denote Christians) ‘You’re close to us, we’ll set you aflame’.”
Last Monday, and for no clear reason, dozens of Muslim villagers in Tarshoub in Beni-Sweif some 100km south of Cairo mobbed the homes and shops of the Coptic villagers, destroying and burning a Coptic-owned house, shop, and tuk-tuk. They surrounded the village church of Mar-Girgis (St George) and attacked it with stones, pulling the priest out and forcing him to leave the village, and shuttering the 20 year-old church which serves 170 Coptic [extended] families.
The police rushed to the scene to prevent any further violence.
“Egypt will never be brought down to her knees”
A Mansoura female engineer in her fifties, a conservative Muslim, was poignantly passionate as she talked to Watani and strongly expressed the determination and steeliness of Mansoura people never to give in to the Islamists. “We won’t be broken,” she cried in tears, “Egypt will never be brought to her knees. Never!” She recounted how Mansoura residents rushed out minutes after the blast to help with the rescue operations and donate blood—she was herself in hospital waiting for her turn to donate blood. “We did the right thing to throw them off last July, and no matter how much we suffer now or how many of us are injured or killed, we won’t give in to them. They##re just proving how vicious, brutal, and inhuman they are.”
The determination to go ahead with normal life and do the best effort possible for Egypt is the best way for Egyptians to defeat those who wish to bring them down. So, as the New Year that should bring in a democratic, free Egyptian State hails, it is fitting to wish Watani readers a hopeful, triumphant 2014.
Reported by Georgette Sadeq, Mervat Ayoub, Mariam Rifaat, Girgis Waheeb
25 December 2013
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