Egypt: resentment towards Brotherhood fuels crackdown support
The killing of more than 600 people in Egypt this week has prompted international condemnation and alarm, but the military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown on the .
State media unequivocally portrays the Islamist movement as "terrorists" who are fomenting sectarian divisions with the support of a sinister western-led conspiracy allegedly targeting the Arab world's most populous country.
Government statements and popular prejudice against the Brotherhood are fuelling a defiant nationalist narrative that translates into the backing of millions for General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who deposed President .
Egypt's profound polarisation has been evident since late last year, but the since Morsi was overthrown in early July provided shocking evidence of callousness.
"They deserved it. They wanted to destroy the country, so that's why the military had to step in," Salah Amin, a 17-year-old student from Sharqiya, said on Friday as fresh violence erupted in Cairo. "I'm with the army and the police against the Muslim Brotherhood, who want to ruin and run it the way they want."
On Wednesday residents of the Rabaa al-Adawiya area in eastern Cairo were seen cheering as the there and at Nahda square across the capital, using live fire to devastating effect.
"We agree with what happened at Rabaa and at Nahda," said Mohamed Khamis, a spokesman for the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign, which mobilised public opinion against the democratically-elected but deeply unpopular Morsi. "We don't like what the Brotherhood did."
Others make a distinction between political hostility to the Brotherhood and their feelings about so many Egyptians being killed. "Even those like me who have a clear position and say we are facing a terrorist entity can't help but feel sorry for all those victims," the liberal commentator Hisham Kassem said.
Analysts cite growing hostility to the Brotherhood since the 2011 revolution and especially over the year of Morsi's rule. "I would estimate that 80% of Egyptians are completely disillusioned with Islamism as represented by the Brotherhood and want to see it uprooted from political life," said Hazem Kandil, an Egyptian political sociologist at Cambridge University. "Some support the army while being suspicious of where things are heading. Some are calling for Sisi to take power."
Brotherhood supporters are demanding Morsi's reinstatement and accuse the army and the civilian government it installed of seeking to return to the dictatorial style of Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in February 2011 in one of the high points of the Arab spring. The Brotherhood's opponents make the same accusation against it.
"Egyptians have not been dehumanised," insisted the veteran left-wing journalist Hani Shukrullah. "But they do want this battle over. They want to get on with their lives. The intensity of hatred of the Brotherhood's rule was really unprecedented, more even than against the Mubarak regime, precisely because you had an attempt to re-create an authoritarian system."
Egyptian officials and liberals blame the western media for one-sided reporting, while ignoring their own government's deficiencies in explaining and justifying the actions of the security forces. There is also anger at what is seen as a credulous approach to the Brotherhood, especially by the US and Britain. "First the diplomats got Stockholm syndrome and now it's the media," quipped Kassem.
Ordinary people appear sharply aware of international attitudes. "I'm here to support the military and police," housewife Hamida Mohameda said at a pro-government rally. "We don't want Qatar or Turkey or America interfering. We don't want their aid. The Egyptian people should govern themselves."
Kandil said: "I have never seen Egyptians so angry with the west. They feel it is blowing the horn for the Brotherhood. People are becoming anti-western and pro-military at a dizzying pace."
Pro-Brotherhood TV stations remain shut, though the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera still gives the Islamists a sympathetic hearing. State-run newspapers which backed Morsi during his year in office changed tack overnight and now lead a shrill propaganda campaign against the Brotherhood, along with privately-owned TV channels.
Al Akhbar, one Egypt's most popular newspapers, reported Wednesday's carnage under a headline that said: "Egypt confronts terrorism" and highlighted the 43 fatalities suffered by the security forces as well as claims of the use of weapons and torture at Rabaa, which the Brotherhoodstrongly denies.
Al-Ahram tagged its coverage:"Days of Decision.""Nothing explains the hugely disproportionate [security force] response," said Shukrullah. "But the Brotherhood did have arms. And they still do in the provinces. The standard line is that they are terrorists and were torturing people. There were instances of people who were suspected of being spies. It happened. How big it was is debatable. The problem is that both sides lie constantly."
The Guardian's own experience during six weeks of reporting at Rabaa al-Adawiya suggested that the vast majority of protesters there, including many women and children, were peaceful. . Reporting during the second and third massacres suggested the same.
Many Christians, alarmed by the sectarian nature of Brotherhood discourse and by a spate of attacks on churches, are openly supportive of Sisi. "Breaking up the protests was the right thing to do," said Eman Said, a clerical worker. "Christians like me are really afraid of what the Brotherhood is doing."
Magda Haroun, the president of Egypt's tiny Jewish community, said: "Egyptians are a Mediterranean people. They can't live like they do in Saudi Arabia. People believed that the Muslim Brotherhood didn't believe in the country, but in an ideology. [By acting on Wednesday] the army and the police saved Egypt from a civil war."The events shaking Egypt are of such magnitude than no one can remain indifferent. But some feel a sense of fatalism or inevitability about what is happening. "I am really depressed," said Mohammed, a 30-something engineer.
"The Ikhwan [Brotherhood] had the right to protest and it was a mistake to break up the sit-ins. But this sort of thing happened in China, even worse. It happens in all revolutions. And we will recover. The problem is how long it will take."