Enclosed are two news articles describing the conditions prevailing in an Egypt that has returned to harsh military rule.
Reach of turmoil in Egypt extends into countryside
By Mayyel Sheikh, New York Times, Sept 15, 2013
AGA, Egypt – Rami Abdel Aal’s body was gently washed and then wrapped tight in a white death shroud, all in accordance with Islamic mandates for preparing the dead for burial. But for Mr. Abdel Aal and his family, that is where ritual and tradition ended.
In this small, close-knit and rural Nile Delta town, it is customary for the community to gather behind the family for the procession to the graveyard. Mr. Abdel Aal, however, was greeted with epithets – someone called him a dog, someone else an infidel. One family even held a wedding at the same time, something unheard-of.
The turmoil shaking Egypt has extended far beyond the big cities, Cairo and Alexandria. Even in the countryside, where tradition has long been inviolable, the political crisis is tearing communities apart. Mr. Abdel Aal was a leader in the country’s biggest Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. He was one of hundreds gunned down when the military cleared a sit-in at the Cairo square of Rabaa by opponents of the military takeover that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Since then, the military-installed government and the machinery of the state, including the news media, have vilified Islamist supporters of the ousted president as something other than Egyptian, calling them traitors and terrorists. Mr. Abdel Aal was a 28-year-old doctor and a father of two who lived in Aga all his life, but that did not matter for his neighbors when his body was brought back for burial.
After preparing his body, the mosque’s staff turned off the lights and the microphone for fear of residents’ retaliation if they learned it was a funeral for an Islamist.
“We are aliens in our own country,” said Hossam Farahat, a Brotherhood supporter from Aga. “I don’t know how life in Egypt can go on like this.”
Two months after Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi declared he was removing Mr. Morsi from office, scenes of village life suggest the divisions have only deepened. Neighbors have turned against one another and families have been torn apart. General Sisi’s supporters call their Islamist neighbors “sheep” for their supposed obedience to their leaders, while Islamists shout back that the military’s backers are “slaves,” “army-boot-lickers” and “Christians, enemies of Islam”
“Something in the community here fractured,” said Ahmed Yassein, a local leader in the liberal but pro-military Al Dostor party in the provincial capital, Mansoura, near Aga. “And it will never fully heal.”
In Mansoura and other Nile Delta towns, protests against the military takeover have set off deadly confrontations between civilian political factions. When thousands of Mansoura Islamists marched through the streets in mid-July, other residents attacked them with machetes, clubs and shotguns, killing four women, one of them 17 years old.
Salma Ayyash, 19, a college student among the marchers, ran to neighbors’ doorways in terror looking for refuge. “They wouldn’t take us in during the shooting,” Ms. Ayyash said. “A friend of my mother’s was thrown out by a neighbor who told her to ‘go burn.’ ”
Since then, Ms. Ayyash said, she is afraid to go out. She fears that cabdrivers will turn her in for being a member of the Brotherhood, and she is convinced that her neighbors were staring at her waist-length head scarf. Standing on the street with a friend near her house a week after the shooting, she said, a group of men in a small pickup truck stopped when they saw her and pointed a gun at her head.
“I pretended I didn’t see them,” Ms. Ayyash said in a shivering voice. “Everybody walked by and looked on as if it was the most normal scene in the world.”
Signs in the streets near her house thank security forces for fighting terrorism.
“What terrorism?” Ms. Ayyash asked. “We are your neighbors.”
At the entrance to Aga, a spray-painted sign declares, “Sheep are not allowed to live in the country of the brave.”
Many of the businesses in Aga that are known to be owned by Brotherhood members were ransacked, including several Islamist-owned pharmacies. Residents spared one pharmacy because it was owned in part by someone who is not an Islamist, said Reda al-Helaly, 37, who was among the attackers.
Hostility cuts so deep that those who support the military offer little sympathy for their longtime neighbors who face random arrest and the violent suppression of their demonstrations. They say Mr. Morsi’s failures overshadow any empathy for his supporters.
Some in Aga complained that Mr. Morsi had applauded the police for cracking down on protests opposing his rule. Over 100 demonstrators were killed by the police on his watch, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an independent group.
The support for the military’s crackdown on Islamists, several residents said, stems also from fear. A bomb went off in front of Mansoura’s police headquarters shortly after the takeover, killing one officer and reminding military supporters of a decade of terror in the 1990s, when some Islamist groups took up arms against the state and killed scores of citizens and police officers.
“I know what’s being done to the Islamists is wrong,” said Hassan Habeeb, a local official at the leftist pro-military movement of Al Tayar Al Shaaby. “But I’m still all for it because it’s necessary and because they wouldn’t have showed us mercy had the roles been reversed.”
In a street cafe here one recent afternoon, three residents applauded the crackdown on the Islamists, and they boasted about the assaults on Brotherhood-owned businesses. “If my finger hurts and I can’t stand the pain, I would cut it off,” Mr. Helaly said. “The military is realizing this is the solution for our problems with the Islamists.”
That message has been made crystal clear to Mr. Farahat, 35, and Ahmed Abbas, 31, both friends of Mr. Abdel Aal. They say they have each had serious discussions with their wives after burying Mr. Abdel Aal over what to do if they are arrested or killed.
“We wrote wills and put them in our wallets just in case,” Mr. Abbas said.
Mr. Abdel Aal’s father was arrested at the Rabaa sit-in, and Mr. Farahat and Mr. Abbas said they had searched for days for him with the family. They finally found him in Abo Zaabal prison, where at least 37 Islamist detainees were killed by the police while in custody over claims they were trying to escape.
“Dying would be better than this,” Mr. Farahat said. “The streets aren’t safe, our businesses aren’t safe; even prisons aren’t safe for us. The only safe place in Egypt now is the grave.”
Egyptian authorities recapture Islamist-held town
Morsi supporters had held Delga since his overthrow in July and unleashed a campaign of terror against Christian minority
By Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian, Sept 16, 2013
Minya province, Egypt–Egyptian authorities have finally recaptured a town in central Egypt that had been under the control of hardline supporters of ex-president Mohamed Morsi for more than two months, locals have told the Guardian.
Armed crowds in Delga, a remote town of 120,000 people in Egypt’s Minya province, first scared away its meagre police force following Morsi’s overthrow on 3 July. They then unleashed a campaign of terror on the town’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up around a sixth of the local population.
Two earlier attempts to retake Delga failed, but in the early hours of Monday morning police launched a third and decisive assault, and have now re-entered the town, residents said by telephone.
Further assaults on up to 10 other towns in the region where Islamists have also weakened state control since July are also planned, Minya’s governor, Salah Zeyada, said.
The move on Delga may have come too late for much of the town’s Christian community. Up to 100 Christian families have fled since July, with dozens of Coptic properties – including three of Delga’s five churches – torched and looted. Some Muslims stood by their Christian neighbours, but many Coptics were forced to pay protection money, and were unwilling to roam the streets freely in case they were attacked.
“Nothing can stop anyone in Delga. It’s a free-for-all,” one local Christian activist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said before police re-entered the town. “Copts tend to stay in their homes without work and our lives are unbearable.”
The violence peaked on 14 August, the day soldiers and police slaughtered hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters at two protest camps in Cairo, where about 350 Muslims from Delga were among the thousands demonstrating.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who form about 10% of the country’s 85 million population, have long been targets of sectarian attacks, said Minya’s bishop, Anba Macarius. But the hatred heightened this summer after Copts were blamed for Morsi’s overthrow by some of his backers – even though his removal had strong support from Muslims and Christians alike.
During August’s anti-Christian backlash, Minya province, 150 miles south of Cairo, was the worst affected.
“As soon as the crackdown in Cairo started, all the loudspeakers at the main mosques in Delga issued calls for jihad,” said Samir Lamei Sakr, a prominent Christian lawyer who fled from the town later that day. “One of them was as follows: ‘Your brethren are being killed at Nahda and Rabaa [the two Cairo camps]. Everyone with a weapon, come out to save them from their killers – the Christian infidels, the police, and the army.’ It was a call made across the village.”
According to Christians in Delga, huge mobs carrying machetes and firearms then attacked dozens of Coptic properties, including the 1,600-year-old monastery of the Virgin Mary and St Abraam.
“Everything was looted,” said a Delgan church worker who asked not to be named. “Even the electric wiring was ripped out. The pews were taken and the place was burned afterwards. Twenty icons were burned or stolen … The gates were also stolen so the place was open for 10 days and people could just barge in when they felt like it. So some idiots showed up and started to dig in the garden hoping to find treasure.”
Nearby, Sakr’s home was among 60 Copt-owned properties targeted by the mobs. Escaping with his wife, two children and his mother, Sakr was hit by 13 shotgun pellets, while his mother survived a pellet that hit her below the eye. Sakr’s cousin, Iskandar, who owned a barber shop, was not so fortunate.
According to Sakr, a mob “broke through his shop, and beat and killed him inside his home. There is a video [seen by the Guardian] showing him being dragged from the first floor. His body was then attached to a tractor and driven around town. Some of his Muslim friends got hold of his body and buried it right away – but the attackers unearthed him again and kept dragging him around town.”
In Delga, as across much of Egypt, state officials have been criticised for failing to protect Christians. “On 14 August, when we were calling for help, no one answered. Not the police, not the army, not the fire service,” said Bishop Macarius, sitting in a Christian compound in Minya this week. Nearby churches – within sight of the provincial police headquarters – still bore the marks of arson. On one of the compound walls, a sectarian slogan attacked Tawadros II, the Coptic pope: “Tawadros is a dog.”
The police said that on 14 August they had their hands full dealing with attacks on police property. “There are many reasons why there was not 100% protection for the Copts on the 14th,” said General Osama Metwaly, the province’s new police chief, appointed last week. “One reason is that the police were under attack themselves. Another is that the churches were in very densely populated areas and the police did not want to go in and create more damage.”
The situation has raised concerns that Egypt’s government – already fighting Islamist militants in the eastern Sinai peninsular – could eventually face a smaller insurgency in central and southern Egypt. The areas were already known as strongholds for Islamist terrorists during the 1990s, and officials say there was a surge in smuggled weapons during Morsi’s lax year in office.
For their part, local Islamists deny responsibility for the sectarian attacks, claiming they were the work of criminals who used peaceful pro-Morsi protests as a smokescreen for vandalism. Officials and activists blame members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their hardline offshoot Gamaa Islamiya for inciting the violence – claims rejected by their representatives. Ali Delgawy, a Delgan member of Gamaa Islamiya’s political wing, claimed his group “has a history of resolving conflicts between thugs and Copts, and of restoring property of Copts”. .
“A minority of the Christians blew matters out of proportion, going on the internet to denounce their Islamist brethren,” added Mohamed el-Awamy, a former member of the regional parliament from Delga. “In fact, the Islamists told the thugs to stop attacking churches, saying it was forbidden.”
El-Awamy’s argument was undermined by comments made by a Minya-based imam, who twice told the Guardian at a pro-Morsi protest in July that Morsi’s downfall would prove “very bad in particular for the church in Upper Egypt, because everyone knows they have spearheaded this campaign against the Islamic project”.
Ahmed Salah, a local human rights lawyer whose clients include Islamists, argued that Islamist groups carried the “moral blame” for creating an environment in which sectarianism was so rampant. But he expressed caution about the imminent police crackdown in Minya province, arguing that officers were unlikely to have properly investigated who was involved, and risked arresting the wrong people.
“They have a retaliatory doctrine,” Salah argued of the police, whose brutality was a major cause of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, but who have become more popular after backing Morsi’s overthrow. “Their doctrine is not to protect the people but to take revenge on those who attacked them and stole their weapons.”
Minya’s governor Zeyada, a former police general, said that the police crackdown in Delga and other areas “will only arrest criminal elements without harming peaceful elements”.
But for Delga’s 20,000 Christians, facing their twelfth consecutive week of sectarian oppression, such arguments were academic. “We want security to return to Delga so that we feel that we are people of value,” said the church worker. “Right now we feel we are worthless.” For many of his neighbours, any intervention is too late. “I have nothing,” said Sakr, now staying with relatives in Cairo, “to go back to”.
Additional reporting by Marwa Awad