News Column

Conciliatory Voices Go Unheard in Egypt

August 16, 2013

Walid Zaki and Anne-Beatrice Clasmann, dpa

Egyptian flag

"Stop the bloodshed!"

That was the message the Ministry for Islamic Foundations told Egypt's imams to deliver during Friday sermons. But the continued violence on Friday showed that large parts of the population are no longer listening to the voices of reason and reconciliation.

Fears of renewed violence, after reports of nearly 600 deaths the day before, hung heavy as Friday started.

Initially, the Islamic demonstrators and the security forces tried to stay out of each other's way during the "Day of Rage," called by Muslim Brotherhood members to protest the military's July ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi and Thursday's forced removal of protest camps.

The peace held only a few minutes. Then, in at least two provincial cities, the first stones and tear gas grenades went flying back and forth between demonstrators and police. Soldiers limited themselves to securing a few central buildings and streets - just as they did during the mass protests against ousted president Hosny Mubarak in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood have denied involvement in the violence.

"We strongly condemn any attack - even verbal - on churches and on Coptic property. ... Our revolution is peaceful and we will continue to demonstrate in the streets without any violence and without destruction," a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood said.

Nonetheless, Muslim Brotherhood supporters are widely considered to be behind more than 40 recent attacks on Christian institutions, another factor in Egypt's ongoing crisis.

Aside from the Brotherhood, there are few who seriously doubt that the armed groups that have attacked several police stations and street blockades in Cairo and in the city of Al-Arish do not have ties with radical Islamists.

"MB peaceful protests include armed gunmen with full approval of the peaceful protesters. R u getting the picture?" commented Egyptian blogger Mahumud Salim, aka Sandmonkey, sarcastically on Twitter.

The Islamist's opponents are not always peaceful either.

The first stones started to fly as a group of demonstrators neared the central rally point at Ramses Square in the poor neighbourhood of Bulak. Several shots were fired by several men in the crowd at surrounding houses.

Shortly thereafter, the Islamists met the naked hatred of Bulak inhabitants. With knives and sticks they barred the way of the demonstrators and chased them back to the Nile island of Zamalek.

Some of the politicians who have kindled these brushfires with rhetoric have kept quiet while the hatred has exploded on the street.

Others unsuccessfully preaching peace have withdrawn in revulsion over the violence. Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei was the first of them. On Friday, journalist Khalid Dawud resigned as spokesman for the National Salvation Front.

It is unlikely the political rivals will be sitting at the table anytime soon to find a way out of the crisis. Foreign negotiators at the moment are scarcely any closer to moving the opponents to a compromise.

And so what started as a protest against the ouster of a democratically elected president has become something more. The luckless Morsi - sitting isolated somewhere in military hands - is not the issue anymore.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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