America’s role in the violence in Egypt

I imagine a lot of Americans upon seeing news reports about the eruption of violence in Egypt will respond with a mixture of shock, dismay, and resignation. “This is what happens in the Middle East” — the observation that pretends to be an explanation, as though people across the region kill each other as a pastime.

And then there will be those who take note of the fact that Egypt’s security services are using Caterpillar bulldozers and Humvees — all paid for with U.S. tax dollars.

But the real enabling force behind the killing is an idea — an idea that ever since 9/11 to varying degrees most Americans have subscribed to: the idea of a war on terrorism.

Ever since that phrase was coined and popularized, it has served as currency for every dictator who wants to justify ruthless repression. And now in Egypt it serves as popular ideology as much of the population think the police and the army are now just doing their job, slaughtering members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the hundreds.

The New York Times reports: A man who sold eggs said the army had waited too long to attack the Islamists. An accountant said the police had stormed the protests with an efficiency he had not seen in years.

In the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba on Thursday, a teacher, Mohamed Abdul Hafez, said the hundreds of Islamists who died the day before mattered little to him. “It’s about the security of the country,” Mr. Hafez said.

Egypt seemed more divided than ever after a brutal day of violence here that left hundreds of people dead. Supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, mourned those killed, vowed revenge, planned their next moves. Many other Egyptians, though, directed their ire at the protesters who had camped out in the streets for weeks. For them, what occurred made sense.

“It was necessary,” Akmal William, standing in his auto-detailing shop on Talaat Harb Street, said of the raid by soldiers and police officers. “They had to be strict.”

Witnesses described a disproportionate, ruthless attack. Condemnations came from human rights advocates, a few Egyptian political figures, and from abroad. But many Egyptians viewed things differently, focusing on what they said were continuing threats from Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who were frequently referred to as terrorists. In their view, the army was the only force standing in the Islamists’ way.

Between the parallel realities, others were torn between the claims of the security forces of violent demonstrators who threatened the country — a view parroted by the state news media — and what they heard from Islamist friends about how the battle on the streets had unfolded on Wednesday morning.

In Imbaba, a neighborhood that seems to catch all the nation’s political currents in its congested alleyways, many people regretted the bloodshed. But they asserted that the alternative was worse. The Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi’s political party, was holding back the country with endless sit-ins and protests, many said. And the longer the army waited to act, the weaker Egypt seemed to them.

That conviction only grew stronger amid reports about Islamist violence, including the storming of a government building in Giza early Thursday. Mr. William, a Coptic Christian, was preoccupied by a spate of attacks on churches and Christian homes across the country, a spasm of collective scapegoating by some of Mr. Morsi’s supporters.

“They won’t go easily,” he said, adding that churches “are still being burned.”

Some people seemed to buy the relentless propaganda of the state news media, saying they had come to realize that the Brotherhood was actually the mysterious “third party” blamed by successive Egyptian leaders for all manner of evil deeds. At least one man just seemed anxious to heap praise on the country’s leaders, irrespective of their actions, as if Egypt were still frozen in its authoritarian past.

Others had arrived at their own conclusions, and explained in detail why the government had been forced to act against Mr. Morsi and his supporters, regardless of the consequences.

“I don’t like conspiracy theories,” said Ahmed Mustafa, 37, an accountant who sat in a cafe. “I’m against violence. I gave my vote to Morsi, and he disappointed me. They did things their way, and it was a false way.”

The authorities acted responsibly on Wednesday, he said, moving during daylight, so that “everything was obvious,” rather than under the cover of darkness.

“We delegated them to fight terrorism,” he said of the military. “And the Brotherhood wanted to show themselves as victims.” [Continue reading…]

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