Tragedy in Egypt

Published: August 17, 2013
The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

While Pakistan celebrated its 66 years on Wednesday, August 14, Egypt witnessed the worst mass killing in its modern history. Egypt’s military regime led a brutal assault on protesters, who were encamped in Cairo, demonstrating against the July 3 coup, which had led to the ouster of Mohamed Mursi. As of the night of August 15, the dead numbered 638 and nearly 4,000 people were reported injured. The security forces came at the protesters’ camps on the morning of August 14 without warning, with bulldozers, canisters of tear gas and guns. They killed with chilling precision, shooting civilians in their heads, necks and chests.

Egypt’s tragedy this week goes beyond the hundreds of precious lives lost and the thousands injured. It lies in the regression to a repression worse than in the autocratic Mubarak regime and in the apathy of many pro-military, anti-Mursi Egyptians to the massacre of their fellow citizens. Indeed, there are reports of many Cairo residents calling the military’s attack necessary and justified. True, the military regime, which controls the media, is propagating a violent image of the protesters and many Egyptians do not agree with the protesters’ stance. But despite differences in political affiliations, such a lack of empathy from one citizen for another is tragic for Egypt’s future. So is the lack of grief for the loss of democracy, which is now effectively dead in Egypt.

While the proportion of the military’s attack has been shocking, Egypt’s descent into violence is unsurprising. Because absolutely nothing good could have come out of the military coup on July 3, no matter how dreadful the Mursi regime was proving to be. This was clear at the time of the coup and has become painfully evident today. Western apologists for the coup, those who were ambivalent towards it, who refused to call it by its name, those who termed it a ‘transition’, all must live with the outcome of their decision to go soft on Egypt’s military. The US is guilty of, at least, some of the above, partly because it felt threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. It mollified its guilt by recounting Mursi’s deep unpopularity and insisting on a return to democracy as soon as possible. Notwithstanding Mursi’s policy failures, which truly democratic country’s leaders are ousted based on popularity rankings? Not George W Bush in America and not Asif Zardari in Pakistan. Democracies only vote once every four to five years: popular opinion is not an election and no justification for a coup.

On August 15, US President Barack Obama interrupted his vacation week to firmly denounce the attacks by Egyptian security forces and to call for a return to sanity. He cancelled the joint Egypt-US military exercises scheduled for next month. Both steps were the right ones to take. However, he did not cut off $1.3 billion in military aid, which would have been an unambiguous negative message for Egypt’s military rulers.

But focusing on the US’s response to the attacks is a futile exercise. And the difference America could have made this week is likely only marginal. America has far less leverage with Egypt’s leaders and in its internal politics than the rest of the world imagines. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with Egypt to fix itself. And the country’s all-powerful military seems ruthless and unable to think through the absurdity of its actions, unable even to understand the simplest and oldest of adages: violence begets violence.

Pakistan’s government on August 15 expressed “dismay and deep concern” over the violence in Egypt. On August 16, 1,500 Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) protestors demonstrated across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi in solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood and against the military’s attack. At first glance, both messages seem like the right ones. But would the JI have protested had the ousted party not been the Brotherhood? And as is par for the course in Pakistan, the JI protesters blamed ‘international powers’ for the chaos, notably America and Israel. Pointing fingers and indulging in senseless conspiracy theories is Pakistan’s special vocation, but let’s be clear: Egypt’s misguided military was solely responsible for this foolhardy violence.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Ali
    Aug 18, 2013 - 12:34AM

    Hypocrites……Why does Pakistan govt and JI criticize Saudi Arabia and GCC for supporting the army……….


  • Arifq
    Aug 18, 2013 - 1:33AM

    Jamat e Islami aided and abetted murder of hundreds and thousands of innocent East Pakistanis in 1971, this was followed by the so called Jihad in Afghanistan that led to the total destruction of that poor country. Muslim Brotherhood is the other name for JI, they both share the same philosophy i.e., forceful imposition of their agenda and will use any means to achieve their objectives.


  • Parvez
    Aug 18, 2013 - 1:42AM

    Always enjoy reading your views and most often agree with what you have to say.
    This one comes across as a desperate attempt to dress up a wolf in a sheep costume and proclaim loudly ‘ don’t be afraid its realy quite harmless ‘…………………no madam, its a wolf.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Aug 18, 2013 - 3:02AM

    Yes, you are right, JI would not have protested if the victim had not been Muslim Brotherhood, also majority of Pakistanis had not condemned Generals, if they had not been victims of our Generals. The truth is lost somewhere in between. Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Army were two opposing forces since long. It was an opportunity for both of them to reconcile and move forward but both failed and people of Egypt are paying the price. Muslim Brotherhood should have learnt from Pakistani politicians. Our political parties always backed off when fight was imminent. If Muslim Brotherhood had done the same, it could have regained power once again but now it looks impossible.


  • darbullah
    Aug 18, 2013 - 5:25AM

    If only the author would have condemned the repression of shias in Bahrain by Saudi forces and the tiananmen square massacre by Pakistan’s Chinese masters can we call her neutral.


  • Water Bottle
    Aug 18, 2013 - 6:14AM

    I remember, an Egyptian friend once telling me in support of Saddam Hussain that Iraq needs Saddam Hussain. If not for Saddam Hussain, there will be bloodbath. According to her, Saddam brought order to Iraq.

    And she was right. The aftermath of Saddam’s death saw more bloodshed than while he was alive.

    There was once a debate in Pakistan with the question, : “Hum qaum hai ke hujoom hai?” (Are we a nation of a crowd) In which one person argued that Pakistan is worse than a crowd.

    Now, look at everything happening in the muslim world across the globe.

    I think, Muslims are incapable of living in a democracy. Either Muslims should be ruled by oppressive dictators or by non-muslims (which also includes a secular government).

    Take the example of Turkey which is seemingly a successful democracy. If not for the European Union governing rules, Turkey today would be as bad as Syria.

    Take the other examples of Malaysia and Indonesia. Both these countries are slowly moving away from democracy with the spread of extremism in the society.Recommend

  • Solomon2
    Aug 18, 2013 - 8:17AM

    Ms. Afzal, I’m sorry to say that your analysis is quite superficial. It seems to rely too much on the Western media.
    As those of us who have paid close attention to Egypt’s revolutionary movement over the past decade know, Egyptian military leaders are not “misguided”: they work by a strategy to assure military preeminence and maintain the leading role of the Egypt’s wealthy and powerful ruling families. Having unjustifiable blood on the hands of their soldiers serves to make them the creatures of their commanders for the soldiers don’t expect mercy should they lose. This is a far greater danger to the future of democracy than simply removing the tyrannical M-B from power.

    To put matters into another perspective, note that the casualties in Egypt are not nearly at the scale of the deliberate killings in East Pakistan in 1971 (lowest estimate 30,000 civilians dead) or even the more recent offensive in Swat a few years ago (over 700 militants killed.)


  • expaki
    Aug 18, 2013 - 2:46PM

    @darbullah: “If only the author would have condemned the repression of shias in Bahrain by Saudi forces” Who were or ARE those MERCENARIES In Bahrain, who suppressed Shias on BEHALF of Saudi Arabia? Who was hunting Palestinians on Behalf of Jordanian monarch. NONE OTHER THAN “Our ZIA” Darbullah, please do not EXPECT logic from US, we are a nation for HIRE.


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