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Egypt’s violent step backward

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout slogans as they rally at the Raba El-Adwyia square where they are camping in Cairo July 8, 2013.
Khaled Abdullah | REUTERS
Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi shout slogans as they rally at the Raba El-Adwyia square where they are camping in Cairo July 8, 2013.
Posted July 09, 2013, at 12:30 p.m.

First came the thugs. A few people with a range of weapons, standing on a bridge overlooking the protesters who were staging a peaceful sit-in at Cairo University. In the early hours of July 3, as the generals were getting ready to announce their coup, 18 were killed and hundreds injured. Yet media reports were of “clashes” between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi.

Then came a tentative escalation. The Republican Guard shot a man point-blank as he was trying to hang a picture of President Morsi on barbed wire at the guard headquarters, where many believe Morsi is being held. The incident Thursday was caught on camera and witnessed by a BBC journalist who reported: “Before they used any kind of tear gas, they resorted to live fire.”

On Friday, a group of anti-Morsi protesters were mobilized to attack a peaceful march from Cairo University, where Morsi supporters were still holding a sit-in, to the offices of the state television network. The anti-Morsi protesters say the procession was headed toward Tahrir Square and that they wanted to stop it. The march’s organizers insist that wasn’t the case.

What’s undeniable in all this is that the attacks were initiated by the anti-Morsi crowds, who clashed with pro-Morsi groups outside Tahrir Square, and that armored police vehicles did nothing to stop the violence. More dead. More injured.

Then came Monday’s tragedy. As before, the military opted to fire live ammunition into the crowds. Scores were killed. Hundreds injured. The army says a “terrorist group” tried to storm its headquarters. Witnesses tell a different story.

It is easy to get lost in the details of all that has happened recently in Egypt. We shouldn’t. Here are some stark facts.

First, Egyptians have seen and heard this before. The rhetoric the army is using to justify its escalating violence is the same rhetoric of the repressive Hosni Mubarak regime, whose violent security practices abrogated freedom, disregarded human dignity and crushed dissent. It is the rhetoric Egyptians rejected en masse in January 2011.

Second, military repression started with the first moments of the coup, with TV station closures, arrests of reporters and members of the opposition, detentions of political prisoners, and widespread violence. This military junta did not wait for justification.

Third, in stark contrast to recent events, President Morsi refused to authorize violence against protesters. A woman who walked into his motorcade was not harmed. More than 9,000 protests of some form were organized since last July, according to government data, yet there were were no arrests of protesters and no military response.

Fourth, the Western governments that pretend to be on the sidelines are facilitating this chaos. You cannot call yourself neutral while justifying and financing a military coup against an elected president. News reports have indicated there were five high-level conversations in as many days between the Egyptian government and the Obama administration, including a phone call with President Obama in the run-up to last week’s coup. Two additional attempts at negotiation involved a European ambassador and an Arab foreign minister. The veneer of ambivalence is thin. And it is unconscionable to try to maintain this pretense in the face of escalating violence against peaceful protesters.

Egypt is headed back into the dark ages — to the age of Mubarak and his cronies, security forces, military henchmen and corrupt judiciary. An age of a media machine that serves as a propaganda arm for a repressive state. An age of violence, death, torture, detention and daily violations of human dignity.

This is not just a military coup. It is a bloody coup.

Gehad El-Haddad is a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood.

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