Hundreds of thousands were out in Tahrir Square and hundreds of thousands more, perhaps millions, were in the streets by the presidential palace. State television played rousing patriotic music. Military aircraft hovered above, in protective fatherly fashion, as protesters playfully flickered their green lasers in the sky. Huge Egyptian flags were strung out over ecstatic protesters’ heads for maybe 20 metres or more. Hawkers displayed a range of trinkets and souvenirs bearing the soft-features of charismatic army leader and saviour of the republic Abdulfattah al-Sisi.
What for some was a second, corrective revolution to free Egypt from the demonic grip of an Islamist cult has collapsed in pools of blood, with the clashes between security forces and protesters that, however they began and however some protesters may have behaved, left scores dead, many if not most deliberately shot in the head and chest. What started as a genuine popular movement by activists to force a disastrous Islamist president leading a failed government to call early elections was hijacked by a nexus of ancien regime military-security-business interests with links to angst-ridden Gulf powers to enact a coup against a new order they feared would one way or another check their power and privilege. Islamist control of the state, as ruinous as it was, was never more than at the pleasure of the military-security establishment but their enemies conspired to worsen the economy and security of the country for the sake of speeding up the Muslim Brotherhood’s demise.
There was always the possibility things would end this way. Sisi began to work on charming his audiences in January with a call for rivals to talk at a roundtable of his choosing; in April, microphone in hand, he cooed, “I want to tell you something – don’t worry about Egypt, don’t worry about Egypt” and the audience melted in his hands; on July 3 he said he was restoring order to a troubled country by the removal of the Brotherhood president Mohammed Mursi. Within a week his army had shot 55 protesters dead in one early morning incident and two weeks later he summoned protesters onto the streets to give the army/security apparatus the fig-leaf they needed to break up Islamist rejection on the streets with lethal force. One columnist was so smitten by the sweet-talking tough guy in the fatigues that she wrote she would willingly be his sex slave. That was on the eve of Saturday morning’s carnage.
There should be no surprise that the military acted in this manner. In October 2011 the army, with security forces as always in tow, caused the deaths of 28 people, mainly Copts who were protesting outside the state television building over the demolition of a church. The army then barefaced lied about any role in killing protesters. An investigation commissioned by Mursi himself into army abuses showed how the institution that sets itself above all Egyptians and Egyptian institutions as the embodiment of the nation itself had killed, tortured and abducted protesters; it suggested army doctors had even been ordered to operate without anaesthetic on the wounded when the military were still officially in charge in May 2012 before Mursi won the first post-Mubarak presidential elections. (In miscalculated hope of appeasing them, Mursi tried to suppress the report and the Brotherhood infamously refused to join protesters battling security forces during the period of military council rule or condemn the arm’s role in the Mohamed Mahmoud street clashes in November 2011.)
It was under military rule that security forces beat and dragged a woman along the ground exposing her midriff and a blue bra in an iconic image that for many came to define army contempt for ordinary Egyptians and the notion of over civilian oversight of the military. Even in February and March of 2011 reports emerged, later documented by Amnesty International, of female demonstrators being beaten, given electric shocks, strip-searched, threatened with prostitution charges and forced to submit to virginity checks – at the hands of military intelligence inside the Egyptian Museum, the locus point of the historical memory of the world’s oldest civilization. The dystopian symbolism could not have been starker.
The evidence that the army planned this in advance is now overwhelming. Generals have talked about their anger over Mursi’s close ties with Hamas when 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed by militants in Sinai in August last year. A military official noted that Mursi brought 19 members of the Brotherhood’s top leadership body with him for his first briefing last year by then-head of General Intelligence Agency Murad Muwafi, who Mursi later removed. Investigators who spent time with Mursi over the past three weeks of his detention have revealed that they have secret recordings of his conversations over the year of his presidency.
The charges finally brought against him on Friday include conspiring with Hamas, which runs Gaza independently of the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, and similar charges could follow regarding Qatar and Turkey. They also include breaking out of Wadi al-Natroun prison during the Jan 25 uprising, in an operation that left 14 dead that the military suspect was coordinated with Hamas.
In the months preceding the July 3 move, military officials held meetings with the Brotherhood’s political opponents in the National Salvation Front, formed by Mohammed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi and others, in which they made clear they could only act if they had mass protests to authorize their intervention. And there have been reports – less well substantiated – of even more sinister trysts involving the likes of Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, though nothing directly with Egyptian players.
Sisi has been able to count on Egypt’s formidable state media and a range of private media interests owned by crony capitalists who made their million in Mubarak’s corrupt police state, staffed by presenters who rose to prominence during Mubarak’s time. Their rabid rants against the Brotherhood – in response to the rabid rants of Islamists in turn in their media – was one thing, but since July 3 there has been a remarkable lack of sympathy for the dead. The official discourse is that the Brotherhood deliberately places people in danger near sensitive state installations and in built-up areas like Nasr City to provoke violent responses to create martyrs for the cause – an argument used by Israel against Palestinians.
The Egyptian republic is no stranger to the use of mass media and street moblization to realize political objectives. Observant of Nazi Germany’s mastery of these tools, the Free Officers announced their coup in 1952 via radio and swiftly moved to promote a whole musical and cinematic culture for glorification of their revolutionary enterprise. The popular movement calling on Nasser to stay in office after the debacle of the 1967 defeat against Israel was a skilfully organized show before Egypt’s adversaries to keep him in power and began plans to get Sinai back.
The use in recent weeks of Interior Ministry hired thugs as agents provocateurs has also demonstrated the close coordination between the security and military apparatus – the kernel of the modern Egyptian state – as well as the continued abuse of the Lumpenproletariat, the most blighted Egyptians in the poor neighbourhouds who are cynically put to work in the process of repression, manipulation and control.
The truth is, as activists at the heart of the uprising understand well, the army did not care for Jan 25, and after shepherding millions onto the streets this week it will not care for any future revolutionary shenanigans. Perhaps the only respectable thing to do on Friday was to join the #ThirdSquare protest against both military and Brotherhood or stay at home – not to take part in a Blue Bra Revolution that’s been exposed as the latest act in the military’s deadly management of the post-Mubarak order.