EGYPT IS BURNING

Protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt

On August 14, catastrophe struck Egypt as its army openly attacked thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in a protest encampment in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood nestled between a mosque and the university. Overnight, Rabaa al-Adawiya became Egypt’s Tiananmen Square as the image of a veiled woman standing in front of a bulldozer went viral. Barely six weeks after seizing government control from democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, the Egyptian military chose to kill hundreds of its citizens and leave thousands more wounded.

“Irony just died. Taliban condemns the violence in Egypt – AP,” tweeted Middle East observer Dalia Ezzat. Estimating the death toll at 377 civilians, Human Rights Watch concluded Rabaa to be “the most unlawful mass killings” in modern Egyptian history.

Despite the army’s claims it used the “utmost degree of self restraint” in its clashes with protestors four mass killings of have occurred since July 3 and nearly 1,000 lives have been taken. Daily bloodshed orchestrated by brutal military crackdown and civilian retaliation threatens to descend Egypt into chaos unknown in its 60-year history as an independent republic.

Ever since Egypt shocked the world by toppling its longstanding dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011, the embers sparked by the fire of the Arab Spring continue to burn. Two and a half years later, President Morsi stood accused of mishandling, mismanaging and misrepresenting the interests of the citizens who elected him and Egyptians reoccupied Tahrir Square and other landmark sites of the revolution to demand his removal—leaving the world to ponder the validity of a “democratic coup.”

The coup has left members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters as primary targets of violence by the General Abdel Fattah Sisi’s armed forces.  Yet tensions remain high throughout Egypt, liberals fear a return to the police state of the Mubarak era and Coptic Christians fear their safety. In the wake of August 14’s bloody crackdown, liberal Vice President Mohamed ElBaredei; a former Nobel Laureate resigned his post in protest, a move that garnered the disapproval of ElBaredei’s long-time supporter, Egyptian ally and American President Barack Obama.

Adding to the pressure cooker of rising sectarian violence, foreign governments that have poured billions of dollars into the Egyptian state remain embattled over whether to halt assistance in lieu of humanitarian violations. On Wednesday, August 21, the European Union will hold an emergency session to determine the fate of $6.7 billion worth of financial assistance. Across the pond much hangs in the balance for Egypt’s American allies. Heavily reliant on the Egyptian army to maintain tenuous stability in the region and broker peace between neighboring Israel and Palestine, the United States must determine whether to withdraw $1.5 billion of aid to Egypt of which it spends $1.3 billion in security forces alone.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently pledged Arab and Islamic countries would supplement the loss of Western aid, it can do little to restore the people’s confidence that this military leadership can secure a free, fair and representative Egyptian democracy.

The future of Egypt remains uncertain even to Middle Eastern scholars whose opinions diverge. While Egypt expert and Century Foundation scholar Michael Hanna recently quipped to The Washington Post that “Egypt might just be ungovernable,” political analyst Abdallah al-Sennawy told Al Jazeera that he believes, “The Egyptian state is strong and is backed by strong popular support.” 

History proves that democracy can often be a bloody, tumultuous, lengthy, non-linear endeavor and that cleavage along ethnic, religious, class and ideological lines have regularly stained the path to global democratic rule and Monday’s murder of 25 police officers in the Sinai desert and growing military repression do little to quell the murmurings of looming Egyptian civil war.

What the Egyptian relentless military mobilization against protestors in recent weeks unequivocally shows us is that it has learned little about the Egyptian people’s power to overthrow tyranny. The Economist writes, “The generals’ worst mistake, however, is to ignore the chief lesson of the Arab spring. This is that ordinary people yearn for dignity.” Like Mubarak and Morsi, this tyrant too will fall and this time, like last time and the time before, the world hopes that the Egyptian nation will stand and 85 million citizens will rise.

Jamila Aisha Brown is a freelance writer, political commentator, and social entrepreneur.  Her consultancy, HUE, provides sustainable development solutions to social justice problems impacting the African Diaspora. Contact her via Twitter: @MsJamilaAisha and at www.hueglobal.com