|by Carlos Latuff|
On the evening of October 9th, the Egyptian people tried to tear themselves out of the army’s iron grip. The facts will assuredly be debated in newspaper columns and cafes for weeks to come, but as of now, 25 Egyptians, mostly Copts, were brutally killed, and around 300 were injured. Coptic Christians, 10% of Egypt’s 85 million, have faced state-sponsored persecution throughout Egypt’s ancient and modern history. Although they stood by their Muslim brothers in the height of the revolutionary days, they have since feared a possible Islamic government. Old sectarian grievances have been stirred, recently in the form of a burned church in the south, where much of these tensions are sown. Local Muslims purportedly prevented it from being rebuilt, a common episode over the years. Copts in the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra started a protest toward downtown in the afternoon, only to be heaved into a one-sided battle versus the army’s live ammunition and rampaging tanks. There is disturbing footage all over the web. This took place upon reaching the abhorred state television building, Maspero, which spent the evening spouting more lies. Muslims, too, came out, some in response to state TV telling them to defend their army, others to stand by their Coptic compatriots. Thugs in plainclothes were rumored to be inciting clashes. Soon enough, downtown Cairo was aflame with burning cars and tear gas, and the Coptic hospital was flooded with the blood of its children. Accounts of the nightmare still feel muddled, and I am no journalist, so I leave you with a number of eyewitness accounts and commentaries:
Although the facts are important in that they must lead to justice served (and many are calling for a non-military investigation), the “facts” of this tragic incident are being abused as a tool of distraction from the real issues at hand. Furthermore, few disagree that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which now runs Egypt, fomented this incident in order to justify their continued implementation of the emergency law. The emergency law was the centerpiece of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, and he wielded it to forbid other political parties, stifle freedom of speech, and arrest and torture any dissenters. SCAF has since beefed up this scandalous law, which is nothing short of an insult to the Egyptian people and a nod to Mubarak in his cushioned jail cell. And the SCAF is indeed using this law to shut down media outlets airing footage of its tanks running over protesters on the night of the Maspero protests, try civilians in military trials, and stay in power.
Why? As I cry for Egypt and her stolen children and revolution, I ask myself why the SCAF is doing what it is doing. I wonder what they want. I see only greed. The military controls anywhere from 30 to 40% of Egypt’s economy (official statistics are rarely available for anything in Egypt), in the form of factories that manufacture weapons, toy, and even food products. Safe from investigation, it is hard to fathom how its generals must lavishly live. The Egyptian military also enjoys top of the line war toys, as it receives 20% of its military budget from the United States. Coupled with the military’s greed is total political ignorance, in that these generals have never had to answer to the people and release political decisions. In that vein, I wonder why they want to say in power, when their mandate to do so (granted by the post-revolution March referendum) has run out. People are ready for a civilian government, and they want a timetable as to when that will happen. Instead, SCAF is stating that presidential elections may not happen until the end of 2012.
I recently saw a short video that is a brilliant allegory for the chaotic traffic jam that is Egyptian politics today. It tells the story of a group of Egyptians who get on a bus, all heading to the neighborhood of Imbaba. When the bus driver, who is just trying to make a living, overcharges for the fare, one passenger refuses to pay, so the driver stops the bus in the middle of the street, and what ensues is a classically Egyptian argument, with everyone talking at once and trying to express their own needs and priorities. They all share the same goal - to get to Imbaba - but they cannot agree on a common path to get there. It is generally understood that most want Egypt’s uprising to blossom into a functioning democracy. They want the end result to be a civil state couched in Islamic values. They want jobs, security, and their human rights. But agreeing on how to get there? Well, that’s another matter. The video is in Egyptian colloquial, but I suggest you watch a bit - Egyptians convey so much, even if you don't understand the language.
Now, I fear that this bus carrying Egyptians toward Imbaba is being rammed on all sides by military tanks. Instead of continuing their quest, the bus has been stopped in its tracks by violence and hatred. Even if it takes them years to get started again, the yelling match amongst the bus’s passengers must go on. There are so many issues to discuss in order to ensure they make it safely to their destination. Now is not the time to let the military dictate traffic. I pray that Egyptians will unite, not in their demands for how they want Egypt to look, but in their opposition to a military that is not “one hand” with its people, as the refrain commonly says. They must oppose the dangerous distractions the military is trying to divide them with, and they must move forward with discussions about the electoral law, the new constitution, the inclusion of minorities in civil society, workers’ rights, and so much more.
I leave you with two requests. I ask that you keep Egypt in your thoughts - her murdered children, but more importantly, her way forward. I also ask that you think about a question my Egyptian friend asked me the other day: what about the Americans’ bus? Where does it want to go, and what’s the best way, Wall Street, or what?