The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged maspero
The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

✚ The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

Wonderful piece by Yasmine Fathi in al-Ahram English profiling Mina Daniel, the revered Christian activist killed on October 9, 2011 during the Maspero massacre. It begins by talking about Tarek al-Tayeb, a Salafist who met Mina Daniel in Tahrir Square during the anti-Mubarak uprising and instantly became his close friend:

Despite the closeness of the two, El-Tayeb still struggled to overcome his discomfort at having a Christian friend.

"I never told him how I felt about Christians," says El-Tayeb. "He would sometimes tell me that he loved me and I would respond by saying that I hate him. It was just hard for me to get rid of these fanatical ideas all at once. It took time."

Since becoming a Salafist, El-Tayeb made sure he was civil to his Christian neighbors and colleagues, however, being friends with a Christian was simply out of the question. Danial was different.

"I just could not hate him. For the first time in my life, I found that I could not hate a Christian. I could not put this barrier of religion between me and him," El-Tayeb explains, "The emotions I felt towards him destroyed all of these shackles. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now. What is it about Danial that made him have this impact on people?"

The revolution, or whatever you want to call it, was a remarkable transmogrifying moment for many people. We tend to forget it.

A year ago: The Maspero massacre

A year ago today, the Egyptian army violently repressed a protest led by Coptic Christian activists across from Maspero, the building where Egyptian state TVand radio are headquartered in Central Cairo. Panicking soldiers crushed protestors with their APCs and fired live ammunition, and state television incited against Christians. Later that evening, mobs of Muslims attacked Christians and Muslims who had taken part in the protest. Twenty-seven protestors died during the clashes, as well as an unknown number of soldiers.

The Egyptian military in charge at that time promised an investigation but also alleged that "hidden forces" were responsibile for the clashes to discredit the military. The investigation has not yielded any results thus far. There is a march at Maspero today to commemorate the massacre. 

Below is our coverage at the time:



In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.


By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

These corpses are fighting to preserve the glory of their martyrdom in the gloomy morgue of a poor government hospital. They are fighting against the insanities of the Mubarak era claiming that an autopsy would harm the sanctity of the deceased and won’t bring them the triumph they deserve. They are fighting against the domination of the sultan’s theologians and priests who want us to believe that those seeking justice in this life are abandoning their right for justice in the afterlife. They are fighting against Mubarak’s politics of division, which made the poor believe their enemies lie among the poor, thus turning their attention away from those embezzling their daily bread.

A couple days spent with merciful death and merciless shame. My God, why do most of our martyrs belong to the poor? How were they discerned by the tank and the gun? Don’t we all bear the same blood and lie in the same grave? Still, it seems we have let the martyrs down, over and over again.

Our Egypt is incredible. It only picks the best of us. Meena Daniel was its right choice. It was him who sealed our triumph in the morgue.

Blessed are the meek

They came to the hospital by the hundreds, searching for wounded bodies to treat and murdered bodies to bury. They came searching for a shelter from the night that embodied all their fears. They came searching for anyone willing to share their anger and seeking strength in numbers. They came as the “church’s flock.” The hospital was surrounded by plainclothes assailants (perhaps these are the honest citizens cheered day and night by Mubarak’s military?), backed by the defenders of our security and revolution, seeking to assure these people that their only hope is to belong to the church’s flock.

We came looking for our friend from the Square, the guy with the charming smile, Meena, who belongs to us and to whom we belong. Martyrdom chose Meena as he belongs to the church’s flock as much as to the revolution. These were the words of his family members who insisted on involving his buddies in every decision – we are his buddies after all. Meena struggled from his afterlife hoping we’d be accepted by the families of the martyrs, making us a group of comrades in the same struggle. We all bleed and weep the same, don’t we? Just as the truth – hushed on television stations – kept sprinkling out of the tears of the mothers of martyrs, it shows in our tears. They understood we were Meena’s buddies; that was enough for them to forget to ask our names in their usual suspicious manner.

So the hospital issued its report on the Maspero incident: did they die of cardiac arrest or was there a fight? The priests came forward with their advice: let’s bury them quickly as it’s hot outside and there is no refrigeration in the morgue. This is where we intervened, strong with the arrogance and naïveté of our revolt: What about justice? What about punishment? This is our last chance to uncover the criminals; we need the forensic report.

How insane this was of us! Do we really mean to ask for an autopsy in our quest for justice we have never seen before, not even once? Not even by coincidence? What justice are we seeking, we, the poor? What justice are we seeking, we, the Copts? What justice are we seeking from the criminals ruling us? Don’t you understand that we’re vulnerable?

Still, Meena was one of us. His sister was the first to agree to an autopsy and this was enough to convince others, one after another. They were reluctant and we were insistent. Lawyers encouraged us amidst hours of weeping, hugs and debates. We were running against the clock, bringing every ice cube and every miserable fan we could find, hoping that our affection would be enough to maintain the purity of the bodies.

The next morning, the prosecutors arrived to find half of the families demanding an autopsy. This is when the noble judge issued his rule: I could either issue burial permits or forensic requests, aren’t we all equal in death? Of course, the priests were here to spice up the atmosphere: our monsignor will celebrate the mass for their companions in a short while; so you’d better hurry before it’s too late. Have mercy on your children, their reward in Paradise is grand.

We stood unified in our fight against the regime. This time, however, the battle field has changed. This time, it’s about reason, logic and compassion. We made it in defeating the regime which faced our resolute rows of anger, bricks and solidarity. This time, however, we needed to lead a long debate before the prosecutor agreed to an autopsy for all the corpses… provided that we take charge of the forensic work.

What a sad truth this is turning to be! We had, first, to manage the security of our demonstrations. Next, things evolved and we had to ensure the smooth running of public facilities. Now, we have the duty of ensuring the work of public servants, on behalf of the government! Why, thus, would we bother to ask the police and the army to do their job. After all, it shows clearly on the corpses of our martyrs.

We had the families understand that the autopsy is a lengthy procedure. Thus, it was wise to move the corpses to the Zeinhum morgue where the services are convenient. Fear invaded the place again; it’s true that Meena made them believe in our country, still, rumors never stopped spreading while the gangs of “gentlemen” standing outside kept on terrorizing the crowds all night long. While we didn’t admit it openly, we got the message: We won’t leave the Coptic neighborhood because God knows what evil awaits us over there.

So we had to secure the hospital. We had to ensure appropriate working conditions for the forensic team. We had to evacuate thousands of scared souls from the building and control the reactions of thousands of angry people. There were just a handful of us to manage this whole procedure. Ironically, we had to assume the role of the Central Security Forces too. It seems we have a new battlefield to take over with our only weapon being our solidarity.

The forensic team started its mission, guarded by us and supervised by our lawyers and doctors, our unseen soldiers who experienced all kinds of injustice and who knew how to unveil evidence of murder, torture, crimes and massacres, much better than forensic experts. The team began its work while we were frightened by the idea of letting a family member see the infuriating scene of a scalpel cutting through the corpse of a dear son. We were frightened by the idea of seeing our ranks crumble in the face of the “gentlemen” attacks or the outrage of the bereaved.

My kingdom is not of this world

It is true that the unity of our ranks worries all those opportunists; the traders of the cause being the most treacherous of them all. They are everywhere around us: Do you really trust this lawyer? She’s so young and unproven… I have a much broader experience, and who are these? All of these are Muslims! How could you trust them? You have warned us for months, dear Meena, when you said: it is crucial that Maspero joins forces with Tahrir Square. It is crucial that the demands of the Copts remain the demands of the people and vice-versa. The choice is so hard, dear Meena. While the oppressive authorities are hitting indiscriminately, these opportunists know well how to hit where it hurts most. So we spent the rest of the day fighting their deceitful rumors and fake accusations. Our goal was to return confidence and tranquility to the souls of our people.

In the beginning, we assumed a role we thought was similar to that of the Central security forces. We soon realized how both roles were so different. I will never understand how security forces anywhere in this world could believe that violence is the way to bring discipline back into masses of angry or scared citizens. I also wonder who recommended to the world’s governments that using guns and bullets in the face of the masses would deter them. The only thing we thought of as a weapon in front of the waves of anger surrounding us was our chests. We threw ourselves in front of the crowds and we cried for our martyrs. This is how we were able to drive out the delusions of a sectarian military reality and to spread the truthful dream of a free Egypt.

Dear Meena, our revolution is so fragile! Any stray bullet could topple it. Dear Meena, our revolution is so strong! One powerful sole would suffice to save it. Dear Meena, you made me grasp the teachings of the prophets. When will the military do the same? As soon as the forensic team started its work, complaints started on the lack of means, on the poor circumstances and on the nuisance of the surrounding guards. Still, the team had to accomplish its mission. When it was known that the team is almost done with the autopsy and is about to put up its report on the causes of death, someone began spreading rumors of false reports being prepared. Since the cause of death could refer to a single mortal wound, while the corpses are filled with scores of them, this was enough for the families of the martyrs to believe what they heard, and it was enough for the waiting crowds to burst in outrage. This was also enough to cause our ranks to collapse.

On the brink of victory, we found ourselves facing the toughest ordeal. The families believed in the dream of justice; they let us dissect the corpses of their sons while they delayed the funeral mass that was to be celebrated by the monsignor, which led in turn to another night’s delay of the burial. They made all the sacrifices we asked of them despite their initial reluctance. Now, they demand assurances; they want to experience the justice they are after. In return, all we had for them was a bunch of incomprehensible technical and legal stuff. Indeed, why does the report say run over by a “heavy vehicle” when truth is clear and we all know it was an armored tank? Why doesn’t it say it was an armored tank? Why is there a mention of fiery projectiles? Why is there no mention of “security service bullets”? Haven’t we been promised justice? Why can’t we read the name of the criminal who is known to all of us?

I didn’t grasp the victory we achieved while we were inundated by tons of details. At one moment in time, I looked around and saw that our unified ranks gained the sympathy of the hospital staff, the doctors and the priests! What have you done, dear Meena? Is it the vulnerability of our families that awakened their conscience or is it your strength that burst out their imagination? Did we really succeed in overcoming all these obstacles in just a few hours? I can claim that even the forensic doctors joined our ranks too. The only solution was to sit with each family, explain the causes of death and point out the details that will be shown in the forensic report. That’s in addition to explaining the role of the prosecutor and lawyers. Our unity was contagious enough to attract the forensic doctor who forgot he was just a public servant and who made himself our judicial representative. When he sat with the families and explained the content of the reports, something he was only used to doing with the powerful class, he may have remembered that justice is always by the side of the vulnerable. I saw them describe the features of the martyrs to their families, a way to make them believe that they are not just corpses and to prove that they know them and care for their memory. I finally witnessed the dream, for which you reached martyrdom turn into reality, even for a short moment.

On our way to the church, our victory was total. None bothered to check who carried the martyrs and who led the acclaim. Was it a Muslim who was shouting “We either bring them justice or we die like them”? What a silly question. Don’t we all have the same blood and cry out the same tears?

Turn the other cheek

Before moving to the Coptic hospital, we were in another hospital, away from the battle scene, waiting for the X-ray of Ahmed’s foot, injured with a live bullet.

We picked up Ahmed from Talaat Harb Street while he was trying to save his homeland by joining his companions gathered in the Tahrir Square. The fall of our martyrs had happened just a few hours earlier. Our youth did not bother to have a count and see which group outnumbers the other. They did not either think about what action to take in the face of the “unarmed” forces (according to the press conference) showering them with bullets.

They were only worried about the gravity of events that might follow if they left the Square to the demonstration of mercenaries shouting “Islamic! Islamic!”… a demonstration organized with the blessing of the army and the police. We all knew it was a fabricated demonstration, an attempt to bring a civilian touch to a military-driven massacre, thus directing the blame towards the Salafis.

We saw in Ahmed a mythical hero when he resisted his friends and refused to be hospitalized claiming that his wound is superficial and is just an impact of a tiny projectile. Still, we managed to convince him and take him away on our shoulders. On our way by taxi to a private hospital, away from the events’ scene, he told us how he was arrested and tortured by the “honest” military and how he was allowed a “fair” trial in a military tribunal. He told us how he got shot during the Abbassiya battle of treachery. His injuries did not prevent him from rejoining his companions who were facing the horror of live bullets.

Once at the hospital, and after we confirmed he was hit by live bullets and not just tiny projectiles, we were visited by a police investigator. Ahmed’s resolution was impressive, replying cold-bloodedly and defiantly to the officer’s questions. He impressed us further when he showed his disgust following the officer’s asking his name: “So you’re a Muslim”… Would he have refused his release from the hospital if he were e a Christian? The only moment during which Ahmed showed his vulnerability, just like ours, was when he cried while the doctor was sterilizing his wound. We haven’t noticed his young age until he replied with fear to his mother calling him on his mobile: “Maspero? What do I have to do with that Mum? I’m hanging out with my friends…”

Does Major General Hamdi Bedeen realize that some of us fear our loving mothers more than they fear bullets and tanks? Did the Marshal hear us shout “O Marshal, O Marshal, here comes another bridegroom from Tahrir” while taking Meena on his last visit to the square? Does anyone of the military realize the deep meaning out of seeing the mother of Khaled Said visiting the mother of Meena Daniel? Or did they forget the value of blood, tears, hugs and dreams? They no longer have a place amongst us but we are more tolerant towards those who let us down in the beginning.

In Translation: Amr Hamzawy on the civil state

In this week's translation from the Arabic press — as always courtesy of translation service Industry Arabic — we turn again to Egypt. Amr Hamzawy is a political researcher who worked in Washington for several years for the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs, a think tank, and become over the past decade a prominent commentator on political reform in Egypt and the Arab world. After the January uprising, Hamzawy returned to Egypt, began teaching at Cairo University and quickly became a popular guest on television shows and a rising political star of the liberal movement. He is currently a candidate for the Masr al-Horreya Party, which he co-founded, in a central Cairo district. Hamzawy's relative youth (he is in his late 30s, I believe), his telegenic style and progressive views have made him popular among young Egyptians close to the liberal side of the revolutionary movements. His public declaration of love to the actress Basma, several weeks ago, after the couple was carjacked late one evening outside of Cairo, added to his celebrity status. Although some dismiss him as too inexperienced in politics to be taken seriously, in some ways Hamzawy's outsider status (compared to the old opposition) make him an interesting example of the new space being carved out for progressive liberal politics in Egypt, even if that space is small. One supposes the parliamentary elections will tell.

In his regular column for al-Shorouk this week, Hamzawy reacts to the recent events at Maspero and argues that not only the return to civilian rule must be quick, but that a civil state is the only hope against sectarianism.

On the Necessity of a Civil State

By Amr Hamzawy, al-Shorouk, 18 October 2011

To tell you the truth, today, and in the days following the events of Maspiro, I have become more convinced that the establishment of a civil state – by which authority is transferred from the military establishment to elected civil bodies, the relationship between religion and politics is arranged, and equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens – is the only way Egypt’s situation can be fixed. The coming parliamentary elections are an important stage along this path: they will either bring us and the civil state – defined as neither military nor religious – closer, or will spread us apart.

The longer the transition period has lasted during which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) runs Egypt’s unstable affairs, the more SCAF has become mired in clashes with political and social powers and transformed from an authority standing at everyone’s side to a party in clashes and conflicts over politics and public affairs. The longer the period has lasted since the SCAF has undertaken the job of the standing security forces in protecting and securing public facilities, and at times controlling the movement of protestors and strikers, the more the military has become mired in violent confrontations, which both it and society could do without.

If the SCAF wished to push Egypt towards a democratic transformation, to reconstruct civil authority, and to have the military return to its inherent function of protecting national security and state sovereignty, then it would have determined a timetable that does not go past next midyear for completing the transfer of power after parliamentary elections, drafting a constitution, and for electing a president. I repeat for us all so that we realize: the military is no longer an authority between different parties, but rather has transformed into a party involved in political clashes and confrontations. Some national entities quarrel with the military (though the issue of military tribunals for civilians recently witnessed a positive development after the SCAF chairman [Field Marshal Tantawi] barred the trial of civilians militarily), demand an investigation into its actions (a civil and independent investigation into the events of Maspiro), and call upon it to change its position (the election law and the absent timetable). A safe and quick exit from this dangerous style of running national affairs is an imperative, not only for the protection of Egypt and securing a democratic transformation, but also for the military and state institutions.

A civil state is unique in its capacity to arrange the relationship between religion and politics, in that it prevents frightening transgressions from occurring – the likes of which we have increasingly come to suffer. Religious extremism from some radical Islamist groups and over-zealous sheikhs denies equal citizenship rights for non-Muslims and ostracizes dissenters by excommunication. In contrast, there is a sectarian discourse propagated by some priests who fail to distinguish between: 1) the legal right of Christian Egyptians to defend their full citizenship, the role of both their religious belief and freedom, the demand for the enforcement of the law against people involved in acts of violence directed at them, and the public investigation into the recent events of Maspiro, and between 2) inciting sectarian sentiment and driving the Christians’ momentum inside the Church rather than pushing for their presence outside of it in the public-civil sphere. This space is open to us all, regardless of our religious affiliation; it is also capable of facilitating solidarity and consensus on equal citizenship rights.

Only a civil state can legally prohibit the exploitation of religion and its use in driving away people of another religious affiliation or opinion, ban sectarian slogans, and prevent, by way of legislative and executive mechanisms (the parliament and the government, respectively), the monopolization of speaking in the name of religion by the few. A civil state is capable of confronting extremism and protecting the public sphere as a place of equality among all of us by virtue of its socio-political and cultural composition. Truly, we want to build a civil state in order to change direction towards democracy and the rule of law. A civil state is also what guarantees official religious institutions the practice of their true role – the supervision of adherence to divine laws – and what separates divine laws from any unacceptable sectarian or political exploitation.

One more thing about Maspero

For the last week, I and most people I know in Egypt have been shell-shocked by the events of October 9. It is partly because they came after a period of growing unease about the SCAF's handling of the post-Mubarak transition, and partly because the event appears like something new, previously unseen, in the Egyptian context in several ways.

One is that the military fired on protestors after its whole claim to be a protector of the revolution came from supposedly refusing to fire on protestors — I say supposedly because whether or not Hosni Mubarak asked the military to do this is unclear, according to SCAF head and minister of defense Tantawi himself. And it is new because it has been a long time since Copts became under the direct assault of state agents (i.e. soldiers and policemen) in what seemed to be explicitly sectarian terms, particularly in the context of state media presenting the incident as one of Copts attacking the military. Finally, equally shocking is that large numbers of people appeared to respond to sectarian incitation in a way that might be not so unusual in rural Upper Egypt, but has rarely been seen in Cairo.

So Maspero cristallized the rejection of SCAF that many revolutionaries have felt and that it being echoed widely on the internet these days. But we forget that it may have also cristallized the majority of Egyptians in another direction: that of supporting the army, and condemning challenges to it, precisely because they believe the best way to avoid a worsening of the situation is reducing tensions. Among Copts in particular, no matter what they may believe privately (and I think that is mostly fear, anger and anguish), this appears to be a common public position. Hence the meek response of the Coptic Orthodox Church to the massacre: it rather work towards a calming of tensions (and, hopefully, obtain long sought-after concessions such as the new anti-discrimination law and a new law regulating places of worship) than an escalation of the kind called for by more radical figures. This is partly because Pope Shenouda is old and ill, and not the man for this confrontation, but probably mostly because church leaders are scared for their flock — that things could much worse and October 9 could be a harbinger of a much worse crisis.

More generally, though, the way the SCAF is perceived has changed. Most people not only long for stability, but also see the military as the only institution left standing in Egypt. Calls by radical activists for unknown, and supposedly well-meaning, younger officers to overthrow Mubarak's generals do not convince many. Maspero may have accelerated the trend to stay quiet and let the army get on with things, and added to the chorus of voices calling for a period without "sectoral demands" — i.e. protests and strikes by particular social and professional groups — so that the transition can go ahead. Along with this are mounting calls by the political class for SCAF to go and a president elected as soon as possible, and continued (in my anecdotal appreciation) commitment to civilian rather than military government. In short, I see a rising consensus (which I am merely observing, not endorsing) to let SCAF get on with things so that it can be disbanded.

Where I disagree with this is that I don't think Egyptians can afford the luxury of letting the SCAF simply "go ahead" with the transition. It has done far too poor of a job so far. Parties and activists need to push hard to get their way, and marshall the population against a transition plan that will be palatable to all. To do this they will have to think beyond protests, which are increasingly alienating good parts of the population, and offer an alternative that combines desire for change with stability.

In the statement below, leading Egyptian human rights groups reject the SCAF's fact-finding committee, on the grounds that it has no credibility to investigate on the military (i.e. itself) and that its previous claims that abuses will be investigated have proven hollow. It's hard not to agree, and not admire their resolute stance after what happened in Maspero.

Press Release by 21 Egyptian human rights associations
— 16 October 2011

Maspero: State Incitement of Sectarian Violence and Policy of Extrajudicial Killings

The undersigned organizations condemn the unprecedented extra-judicial killings and acts of violence committed by military police and central security forces, on the 9th of October in the Maspero area and central Cairo. Peaceful protesters demanding rights for Coptic citizens were attacked, leading to at least 25 deaths and 300 injuries, some critical. We further condemn the arrest of an unknown number of demonstrators and their referral to a military tribunal for investigation. We call for an independent investigation committee, and categorically reject any investigation by the military prosecutor; as it a part of the military establishment charged with the killing and wounding of demonstrators, and cannot therefore serve as a neutral party to the case.

The demonstration consisted of a peaceful march, which began in Shubra at around 4pm, and a silent protest outside the state television building. The demonstrators were protesting against the demolition of the Church of St. George, in the village of Al-Marinab in Edfu District, Aswan Governorate, as well as against the complicity of the Governor of Aswan and security forces in said demolition. The church, which had been carrying out religious services for eighty years, was destroyed on the pretext that it did not have a licence, an argument increasingly used by some extremist Muslim groups to justify attacks on churches. Rather than deterring such crimes by enforcing the law and punishing the instigators and perpetrators, the authorities have borrowed the methods of the ousted Mubarak regime. In an open violation of the law, security services persisted in holding ‘traditional’ reconciliation meetings in which victims were denied their rights and criminals escaped punishment. As such extremists came to realize that they would not be held accountable before the authorities.

According to video footage and eyewitness testimonies from Maspero, military police and central security forces dispersed protesters by opening fire and by using military vehicles to run them down. Demonstrators threw stones at security personnel and set an army vehicle on fire; the two sides then threw stones at each other.

Events took a final twist at around 9pm when people in civilian clothes joined the army’s assault on protesters. A large number of witnesses stated that these were Muslims from the areas of Bulaq Abul Ela and Ghamra. The army and police continued to fire tear gas and bullets late into the evening; the hit and run attacks also continued. The military police also arrested a number of people, who were then detained for 15 days pending investigation.

We also condemn the storming of the offices of the satellite TV channels Al-Hurra and 25 January TV by teams of military police during the Maspero events, cutting off their live broadcasts. We also condemn the inflammatory role played by the official state media. A direct link can be traced between the outright incitement against demonstrators by state media and the events at Maspero – to say nothing of the subsequent sectarian clashes which took place between demonstrators and residents from the surrounding areas. Official state television threw professionalism to the wind and reported that Coptic demonstrators had opened fire on soldiers, killing three and wounding others, without referring to the victims amongst the demonstrators, who were completely ignored. State media broadcast an inflammatory appeal to Egyptian citizens to take to the streets and protect the army from ‘attacks by Coptic demonstrators.’

Monday morning saw a joint meeting between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the transitional government to discuss what had happened at Maspero. This led to a declaration by the Military Council tasking the Cabinet with the formation of an investigatory committee. It must be noted that over the past few months both SCAF and the transitional government have failed to reach any conclusions in a string of official investigations. These range from the virginity tests inflicted on Egyptian women arrested in Tahrir Square, to the dispersal of those gathered in Tahrir Square on April 9th 2011 during which several were killed, to the killing of Rami Fakhry at an army checkpoint on the Cairo to Ismailiyah road, to what happened at Nour Mosque in Abbassiyah on the evening of July 23rd, 2011, which led to the death of Mohamed Mohsen.

The undersigned organizations are deeply skeptical of all of the investigations announced by SCAF since it took power. We also emphasize our disappointment at the lack of a speech by the Prime Minister, and at the press conference held by SCAF, during which they took least possible of responsibility for this heinous crime. Both SCAF and the government were keen to describe the killings as clashes between Muslims and Christians, along with unidentified ‘foreign elements’. Both ignored the involvement of the armed forces, whose direct responsibility for the killing of civilians was evidenced by eyewitnesses and television cameras. SCAF, rather than opening an investigation into the official media’s coverage of the events, instead praised its neutrality. It ignored the media’s culpability in calling on citizens to take to the streets and protect the army, which constituted direct incitement of sectarian clashes. This confirms the unwillingness of both SCAF and the government to break with the policies of Mubarak’s security regime, which exacerbated the problem of sectarianism and made religious minorities, along with their property and places of worship, into targets for various forms of attacks without fear of consequences.

Therefore, the undersigned organizations reject the fact-finding committee established by the Cabinet, and demand the following: An independent committee, including both the judiciary and civil society groups, with broad powers including the power to question members of the armed forces. The committee should examine the extra-judicial killings at Maspero on the night of October 9th 2011, and the groups wearing civilian clothes who participated in the clashes – a scene which is repeated every time tensions develop between demonstrators and the government. It should also include an investigation into the official media’s incitement against Copts. The committee should announce its results at a press conference after a period of no more than three weeks, identifying the perpetrators and the necessary judicial proceedings, including judicial referrals of all those proved to have been involved – not excluding military officers, soldiers, and police.

SCAF and the government must shoulder their constitutional and legal responsibilities. These include ensuring due respect for the law by all citizens and groups, providing essential security to all, renouncing double standards, and strictly applying the law to perpetrators of sectarian violence and attacks on places of worship.

The scenes of the 9th October are a reminder of events still fresh in the minds of Egyptians. Yet the extent of the violence, its sectarian nature, and the unprecedented degree of media incitement, threaten to exacerbate the ongoing crisis of sectarian violence, which has been documented by the reports and recommendations of the National Council for Human Rights and other independent bodies. These bodies have conducted a number of investigations in previous cases of sectarian violence. A number of recommendations, which have been ignored by authorities both past and present, have stated that the solution begins with the state. The state can still defuse the crisis of sectarian violence and save the country from the threat of civil war looming on the horizon. Yet the necessary political will must exist. The state must adopt policies which uphold and respect the rule of ordinary (not extraordinary) law, which do not discriminate between citizens, and which establish the values of citizenship and the foundations of justice and equality.

Signatory organisations:

  1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  3. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
  4. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  5. New Woman Foundation
  6. Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of the Conditions of Childhood
  7. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  8. Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights
  9. Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture
  10. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  11. Habi Centre for Environmental Rights
  12. Hisham Mubarak Law Centre
  13. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination
  14. Egyptian Democratic Institute
  15. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  16. United Group of Lawyers and Legal Advisers
  17. Organization of Coptic Solidarity
  18. Al-Helaly Inistitute for Freedoms
  19. Arab Penal Reform Organization
  20. Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
  • Land Center For Human Rights
  • More on Maspero

    Comedian/commentator Bassem Youssef ("Egypt's Jon Stewart") takes Egyptian State TV to task for its coverage of the Coptic protests and its contribution to the violence that followed (in Arabic).

    Youssef does his usual great job of collecting egregious examples of the media coverage, including footage of the break-in at the private TV channels in Maspero (which were shut down the night of October 9). 

    As Youssef drily notes: "Copts are often protesting about superficial things, like the fact that 6 churches have been burnt down in under a year and no one has been prosecuted. And there were "infiltrators" in the protest...there were Muslim sympathizers!" 

    Also, the site Maspero testimonies is collecting eye-witness accounts of the violence. 

    This is part of Khaled El Sherbiny's testimony. El Sherbiny is a pharmacist who rushed to the clashes to help the wounded. 

    All I saw were a burning armoured vehicle and some burnt cars, so I went into the backstreets behind Maspero to see what was happening there.

    I can’t find words to describe what I saw there, except massacre... or genocide, with loud screams and the smell of tear gas.

    The Copts (men, women, children and elders) was being beaten by thugs…no not beaten, annihilated.

    In short, anyone who was carrying a cross was brutally attacked with knives and rods.

    I tried, with a friend who was accompanying me, to help Christians get away, and we did succeed in helping a few escape and in moving some of the injured to Ramses Hilton Hotel and out of danger’s way.

    Thugs were breaking the cars parked behind Maspero.

    The injuries were serious, most cases resulting from the use of sharp and semi-sharp metal.

    Women were being attacked by thugs, some of whom I saw on the day of Abbassya, which means they were mercenaries, but serving whom? Most Christians hid in a garage adjacent to Maspero. Suddenly I heard very loud screams. Thugs had entered the garage.

    My friend and I with the help of some decent passers-by carried the injured and took them away from the scene of the crime. 

    And this is part of Hani Bushra's. Bushra was attacked by a Muslim mob and protected by sympathetic police officers. 

    I mentioned that I was a Christian being attacked by a mob, and the officers told me that I should not mention that I am a Christian because they may not be able to protect me. This was in the midst of at least 400 members of the police! At that point, I was assigned two handlers to stay with me at all times.

    I stayed with the CSF [Central Security Forces] units and observed the following:

    1) Four bodies in the lobby of an apartment building that the Egyptian ambulances could not carry because the blood was everywhere and because some of the bodies were in pieces. When I asked my CSF companions (we had became friends) about the bodies, they told me it was three Christians and one Muslim shot by the army and driven over using a humvee (yep, my tax dollars in action, btw, the U.S. gives two billion dollars a year as aid to the Egyptian military).

    2) The members of the CSF were armed with live ammunition, and the order was given in front of me.

    3) One of the CSF companions told me that he beat senseless a Christian man he arrested because it was said that this man was carrying a gun and shooting the people.

    4) The army and not the police were the ones attacking the protestors. In fact, the police was not doing anything.

    I was there for about two hours, and then suddenly a mob came to the police saying “Christians where are you, Islam is here”. They were not stopped by anyone but cheered by army units that were parked by the CSF cordon.

    Mariz Tadros on Maspero
    This part of her excellent MERIP article highlights the state media complicity in the violence:

    The second action was to announce on state-run television that “Copts” had put the army itself in peril. Subtitles at the bottom of the screen read: “Urgent: The Army Is Under Attack by Copts.” The presenter called upon all “honorable citizens” to go to Maspero to help defend the soldiers. Around this time, a report was also circulated that that two officers had been martyred at Coptic hands. Viewers at home were not unmoved. Indeed, that evening, many residents of Bulaq and other nearby working-class districts armed themselves with clubs and other weapons, before heading off to Maspero to assist the army in beating up and even killing protesters. One corpse had its head split in two, clearly by a sword or another sharp instrument, not an army-issue weapon.

    At its October 12 press conference, the SCAF stuck to its story that the protesters had placed the soldiers, and by extension the institutions of the state, in danger. The army spokesmen showed footage of the priest who had threatened the march on Maspero predicting as well that the Aswan governor would be killed if he were not dismissed. The carnage at Maspero could have been much worse, the generals claimed, were it not for the soldiers’ “self-restraint” despite their terror. “Thank God the soldiers didn’t have live ammunition or else it would have been a real catastrophe,” said ‘Imara.

    The demonization of the Maspero protesters is partly in keeping with standard operating procedure for the Egyptian state in dealing with political dissidents, whether they are Copts, workers or youth activists. The state always presents itself as protecting a silent majority from an unruly few. When the dissidents are Christian, however, the demonization is served up with a twist: Copts are implicitly or explicitly depicted as lacking patriotism, even as traitors. This portrayal extends beyond the state into the wider public realm. When such groups as the Maspero Youth began to be active, prominent commentators did not celebrate Coptic agency independent of the church, but suggested that young Copts had become too big for their boots. [9] Worker protest is demeaned as “special-interest” pleading, but Coptic protest is denounced in stronger terms as divisive. This state of affairs persists despite the fact that Copts are not calling for additional rights, but simply for due respect for their citizenship and proper application of Egyptian law amidst a backlash targeting perfectly legal churches and other property, as well as people. The renowned Hasan Abu Talib, editor-in-chief of the prestigious annual al-Ahram Strategic Report, told al-‘Arabiyya said that the Maspero demonstrators had provoked the public sentiment against them by asking for international protection, though this request was nowhere on the protest’s agenda. The army and the January 25 revolution are “one hand,” and the army is the protector of Islam, Abu Talib continued, so Egyptians are bound to react negatively to such veiled criticism of the institution. The fact that the protesters made very specific demands for civil rights makes no difference to the perpetrators of such discourse, because protest under the banner of Coptic identity is seen as illegitimate.

    On October 9, however, the SCAF and state media went well beyond the usual insinuations that protesting Copts are overly demanding, ungrateful or unduly provocative: The messages crawling along the bottom of the TV screen were an open incitement to civil war.

    Bullets from Maspero

    These bullets were shown to me by relatives of the victims of the October 9 massacre at Maspero. Anyone have any insight on the type of ammunition used or the markings on the casings? Click on the pics for a larger size.

    Notes from a shell-shocked Egypt

    Here are links to pieces I read yesterday about the massacre at Maspero on October 9, in no particular order, while above is Rawya Rageh's report for al-Jazeera English last night. A longer post is forthcoming, but the mood in Egypt is one of mourning and suspended life (Cairo felt eerily empty yesterday), with the political outcome unclear. There has been some focus on whether elections will be postponed (SCAF says no), but I think this is besides the point: the real question is whether political parties and civil society will push for genuine accountability (for the military and the state media), and more generally whether the parties and revolutionary movements have the appetite to take on SCAF. More on all this later.

    My testimony about the attack that I suffered in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011 — a heartbreaking account of by Hani Bushra:

    At that point, I was alone, and so I began to walk back to Tahrir. I was tweeting at that time. Someone saw me tweeting and came to me. He asked my name and so I said Hani Sobhi, he then grabbed my wrists to see if I had a cross tattoo, and when he did not find it, he asked for my full name. I said Hani Sobhi Bushra. He asked if I was a Muslim or a Christian, and I said that I was a Christian.  

    At that point he began to scream for others that he caught a Christian, and people began to gather. They wanted to search me and my bag, and I said that I will not let them, and that it was best to go to an officer. At that point there was about 30 people around me, with some of them punching me on my head.  

    I began to walk quickly to the cordon of the police that I had just came from. At that point, someone yanked my gold chain from across my neck and took the cross. All I did was to tell him “wow, you are such a man” and I clapped for him. That pissed the people who were with me, and so someone snatched my phone from my belt.  

    I kept shouting at the thief to give me my phone back, and he said that he will give it to me in front of the police officer. By that time, I was being hit from many people, my ankle was sprained and I was called a “Nossrani (Christian)” dog.  

    We reached the officer (rank of general), and the first thing that I did was to show him my U.S. passport and told him that I am now under his protection. I told him that I was attacked because I was a Christian. One of the men who is a policeman but wearing civilian clothing began to talk to the general that I was a Christian and that I institigated the mob to attack me and that I am carrying weapons in my bag. The officer, who had seen my passport, told him to shut up. This policeman in the civilian clothing seemed to be the coordinator between the mob and the police.

    A firsthand account: Marching from Shubra to deaths at Maspiro by Sarah Carr for AMAY:

    It was immediately met with gunfire in the air. As protesters continued moving forwards, the gunfire continued.

    Suddenly, there was a great surge of people moving back, and something strange happened. Two armored personnel carriers (APCs) began driving at frightening speed through protesters, who threw themselves out of its path. A soldier on top of each vehicle manned a gun, and spun it wildly, apparently shooting at random although the screams made it difficult to discern exactly where the sound of gunfire was coming from.

    It was like some brutal perversion of the military show the armed forces put on for the 6th of October celebration three days before. The two vehicles zigzagged down the road outside Maspiro underneath the 6th of October Bridge and then back in synchronicity, the rhythm for this particular parade provided by the “tac tac tac” of never-ending gunfire, the music the screams of the protesters they drove directly at.

    And then it happened: an APC mounted the island in the middle of the road, like a maddened animal on a rampage. I saw a group of people disappear, sucked underneath it. It drove over them. I wasn’t able to see what happened to them because it then started coming in my direction.

    Sherif Abdel Kouddous

    Egyptian Military attacks Alhurra TV — you can watch remarkable footage from the live studio as the army comes in here, with the presenter staying amazingly cool.

    The Last Choice — Sandmonkey:

    After engaging in a street brawl where not a single person could tell who is with who or against who, they stopped and started chanting. One team started chanting “The People and the Army are one hand” and the others started chanting “Muslims and Christians are one hand”, thus providing us with the choices that we as Egyptians were told to make yesterday. And then, strangely, both sides at the same time changed their chants to “One hand”, and both sides started chanting that fiercely, stopped fighting each other, and joined each other into one big marsh chanting “One hand, One hand”, and thus showing us that they made the right choice. They were presented with the choice between the Army and National Unity, and they refused to make that choice and collectively and organically made the only correct choice: Each Other. Egypt. In the midst of the battle, they realized on a very basic level that they can’t chose one over the other, and that , even if they have prejudices, they really do not want to fight each other. There is a lesson in that incident for all of us, and it may just hold the key to our salvation.

    Ian Black of The Guardian

    SCAF asks government to form fact-finding committee on Maspiro violence - AMAY

    SCAF offers condolences, blames deaths on provocateurs - AMAY

    Fears grow at Egypt’s Coptic Hospital over autopsy reports - Bikya Masr

    Egypt religious leaders to hold crisis talks: TV - DNE

    ☞ Here is the statement by the US Embassy in Cairo:

    We are deeply concerned by the violence between demonstrators and security forces in Cairo October 9, which resulted in a number of deaths among both sides.  We express our condolences to their families and loved ones.  We note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation, and appeal to all parties to remain calm.

    Contrary to press reports, the U.S. has made no offers to send troops to protect Coptic places of worship in Egypt.

    Obama urges restraint as Egypt’s Christians vent fury at army after clash

    Egypt: Anti-military chants at protesters’ funeral - AP

    Egypt’s delaying tactic - WaPo editorial

    Factbox: Attacks on Christians in Egypt - Reuters

    ☞ Finally this video shows pretty clearly a soldier shooting into a crowd: