Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sectarian or Counterrevolutionary Violence?

Last night and into this morning, 13 people were killed in violence between Christians and Muslims. The sectarian balance is disputed, with official Coptic sources saying all the dead were Christians, while reports based on official government sources and the list of names claim some of them were Muslims. These clashes spiraled out of tensions over local conflict involving an interfaith love affair which led to the burning of a church. Copts protested for the rebuilding of the church, which the Egyptian government has already agreed to, as well as the failure of security forces to protect them. The violence last night took place near the Muqattam Heights, an impoverished area with a large Christian population concentrated in an area called Manshiyat Naser. Last night's Christian protest was attacked. al-Masry al-Youm claims the attackers were Salafis, but I'm not sure if that means they were theologically salafi or if the paper just uses that to refer to strongly conservative Muslims which you'd find many of in the impoverished neighborhoods around Cairo. One opinion current on Twitter is that the Copts were joined by sympathetic Muslims from their neighborhood, perhaps after the violence started, which might account for some of the confusion on sectarian casualties.

Interlocking with this narrative of sectarian violence, however, is another thread I raised here, and that is the actual role of the military in current events. The military did not act last month on behalf of the people or democratic values, but rather on behalf of stability hoping to maintain as much of the current order as possible. I also mentioned the role they played in attempting to clamp down on the many protests over particular interests which have proliferated since Mubarak's resignation. Here is what Jenna Krajeski found in the neighborhood this morning:
"Several residents I spoke to were adamant that, while thugs looted and burned their homes and cars, the Army had fired on them; they presented bullet casings as evidence, pointing to engraved numbers on the bottom. Their trust in the Army was eroding...

"On the second floor of a concrete building, an eleven-year-old boy was lying in bed, recovering from gunshot wounds to the chest and arm. His family showed us the bullets, also convinced they came from the Army. The boy’s father sat in the living room, smoking cigarettes and picking at shards of a flatbread crumbled on the coffee table. On the wall behind him, a large picture of Jesus divided two colorful landscapes, one a panorama of Upper Egypt and the other a painting of a colonial-style American suburban house, surrounded by a white picket fence."

I've also seen reports, I forget where, now, that doctors in hospitals identified military weaponry as the culprit in deaths. In addition, rescue workers say the army prevented ambulances from arriving to tend to those wounded.

Two other aspects of this stand as background. One is the military's attack on Coptic monasteries in Wadi Natrun. In addition, a purported state security document indicates that the Mubarak regime played a role in the Alexandria church attack. As with other such files, it was spread over the internet, and its authenticity has been questioned. It did, however, cause a Coptic protest in Tahrir Square several days ago, and confirmed suspicions held by many Egyptians that the government has played a role in keeping a level of insecurity around to serve as justification for its internal security policies.

Regardless of the exact interplay between anti-Christian sentiment on the part of some Muslims and the duplicity of the country's current rulers, today's protest outside the state television station held the military to account. Another protest, however, dominates today's headlines as the famous thugs were back attacking protestors in Tahrir Square. The army then forcibly removed demonstrators from the square, and demonstrators claimed afterward that soldiers had played a role in instigating the clashes with the thugs early.

Egypt's revolution is far from over.



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