Disgust, shame, outrage. All these words apply to the disgrace of Egypt these past six weeks. A military coup, millions of enraged supporters of the democratically elected but deposed dictator – reports that indicate well over 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers slaughtered by the security police – and what were we told by the authorities yesterday? That Egypt was subject to “a malicious terrorist plot”.
The language speaks for itself. Not just a common or garden “terrorist” plot – but a “terrorist” plot so terrible that it is “malicious”. Naturally, the government acquired this use of the “terrorist” word from Bush and Blair, another Western contribution to Arab culture. But it goes further. The country, we are now informed, is at the mercy of “extremist forces who want to create war”. You would think, on hearing this, that most of the dead these past six weeks were soldiers and policemen, whereas in fact most were unarmed demonstrators.
And who is to blame? Obama, of course, for “encouraging terrorism” by his wimpish complaints last week – so claim the Egyptian authorities. And our old friend, the “foreign media”. It is the infidel channels – including al-Jazeera – which has been feeding hatred into the land of the Pharaohs, according to the Egyptian press (which is now almost as wimpish as Obama in its fealty to its new rulers).
Outside the al-Fath mosque in Cairo on Saturday, supporters of the military were roughing up reporters and cameramen, Italians and Germans among them, and even al-Jazeera briefly high-tailed it from the scene. The Independent took its chances, with Alastair Beach inside the besieged mosque with the Brotherhood. Outside, I was wearing a scruffy tourist hat among the security thugs and Army supporters, where an Egyptian friend helped me – rather unkindly, I thought – by explaining to men with clubs that I was an elderly English tourist who had just popped out from his Cairo hotel to see what was going on. I kept my notebook and my mobile phone in my pocket. “Welcome to Cairo,” I was repeatedly told.
To be fair, let me just recount one little, heartening moment amid Saturday’s mosque drama. Two Egyptian men walked up to me and said, quite simply, that “it is very unfair to keep these people in the mosque without water and food. They are human beings just like us.” The men were not Morsi supporters, but didn’t seem too keen on the police. They were just good, decent, humane Egyptians, the kind we all hope are in the real majority.
But this leads me to remember a typically Obama-like piece of lying last week. It came when the US president decided to take a break from his golfing holiday to comment on the violence in Egypt. He described Morsi’s opponents – now represented by a general, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the defence minister and the deputy prime minister – as “many Egyptians, millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians”. And there you had it – Obama had credited the coup with a majority following.
How General al-Sisi – who speaks excellent American English – must have been delighted with this little set of code words.
And it’s odd, isn’t it, how the supposedly malicious journalists have been playing down the murderous actions of the Egyptian security cops. They were repeatedly referred to on Al-Jazeera last week as “armed men” – as if they were not in uniform and shooting from the roof of a police station. Western editorials have described Egyptian police killings as “heavy-handed’, as if Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway had biffed a few bad guys over the head.
A trustworthy friend of mine put it to me the other day that our Western leaders are so sick of the demonstrators that plague G8 summits – where the usual “terror” warnings always apply – that they have an innate sympathy with policemen and a built-in hatred of protesters.
But it’s our dear friends the Saudis whom the Egyptian army and police can count on for help. King Abdullah himself has promised billions of dollars for poor old Egypt, now that Qatari generosity has dried up. But Egyptians should beware Saudis bearing gifts. The House of Saud is not really interested in helping foreign armies – unless they are coming to save Saudi Arabia – but it is very much involved in supporting the Salafists of the Egyptian Noor party. It is the Noor religious fundamentalists who won an extraordinary 24 per cent in the last parliamentary election – and who ruthlessly decided to ally themselves with General al-Sisi when Morsi was dethroned. The conservative Salafists are much more to Saudi taste than potentially liberal members of the Brotherhood. It is for them that the King is opening his purse. And if by some mischance, the Salafists can drum up a majority from disenchanted members of the Brotherhood in the next election, then the Caliphate of Egypt is a step nearer.
And the Other Side of the Story. It is true that gunmen have fired from Brotherhood crowds. A handful at most – and it does not justify the Egyptian press calling tens of thousands of people “terrorists” – but both my colleague and I have seen armed men among protesters. The attacks on the churches are real. Churches have been burned, Christian homes vandalised.
The anti-Christian fury is now political-ideological. It is persecution. Pope Tawadros might perhaps now regret having his photo taken alongside the coup supporters. But the sheikh of Al Azhar was in the same picture – and so were the Salafists.
Oh yes, and the government is now rumbling on about the need to “dissolve” the Brotherhood. Since members are already being rounded up by the cops, I’m not quite sure what “dissolution” is supposed to achieve. Didn’t the Brits once declare the IRA “illegal”? Did that make them go away?
I was crossing the 6 October bridge over the Nile after curfew on Friday when I found more than 30 young men in galabia gowns sitting on the pavement with their hands over their heads. Striding among them were black-uniformed cops with shotguns, and gangs of “beltagi” – the bully-boys employed by state security (I suppose we might call them the “good’ terrorists”) – and I suddenly saw what “state of emergency” means. Fear. No rights. No arrest warrants. No law.
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