Today’s news is that between 100-150 people have been killed in two protest camps in Cairo as police attempted to clear them out.
When I saw the headlines, I immediately pictured a big tent city, and then government security forces coming in and opening fire on the unsuspecting crowd. Just as quickly, I realized that’s not necessarily what happened, and that furthermore we are unlikely to ever know what really happened, because those reporting on it are either biased and/or because it’s not always easy even for eyewitnesses to know what’s happening in such situations. The area is large; gunfire can come from different directions. Who fired first? And why?
Let’s take a look at CNN’s report:
The violence began with Egyptian security forces storming the two massive makeshift camps filled with Morsy supporters, bulldozing tents and escorting away hundreds of protesters.
Chaos ensued. Many protesters refused to leave, even in the face of bulldozers and surrounded by the injured and dead. “They said they’re prepared to die,” CNN’s Reza Sayah reported from Cairo.
“It’s an open war,” one protester told Sayah.
Along with smoke, bursts of rapid gunfire continued to fill the air. It was unclear who had the weapons, and who was shooting at whom. People could be heard wailing.
State TV reported that snipers from the Muslim Brotherhood — Morsy’s party — were exchanging gunfire with Egyptian security forces near a university building.
Several newspeople were killed or injured in the melee, as well.
That was not the only violence:
Morsy supporters besieged various churches in Sohag, setting fire to Saint George’s Church, a tour bus and a police car, Egypt’s state-run EgyNews reported.
Interior Ministry sources told CNN that Muslim Brotherhood supporters also attacked three police stations around Egypt.
Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who helped found the anti-Morsy Free Egyptian Party, said his party had video of Muslim Brotherhood members “shooting machine guns on civilians, on police. So anyone who wants to call this a peaceful demonstration would be wrong.”..
But Ahmed Mustafa, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CNN from London that Sawiris was trying to misrepresent video of masked people with weapons…
The Interior Ministry said security forces did not use gunfire and instead were attacked by “terrorist elements” inside the camps.
“Egyptian security forces are committed to the utmost self-restraint in dealing with the protesters,” the ministry said.
Representatives of both sides insisted they oppose violence…
The government has accused the protesters of packing the sites with their children to use them as human shields.
The propaganda war is almost as hot (although not as bloody) and definitely as important as the actual war. And I challenge anyone to figure it out at this point. But I do know that deliberately provoking violence from security forces and then using the resultant casualties as propaganda as a common tactic. And I also know that violence and then the declaration of a state of emergency by the government is a common way for authorities to gain more power, especially if that state of emergency is continued indefinitely, as was done by Mubarak for thirty years.
Let’s look at how the WSJ covered the incident:
“This only has one name: terrorism,” said Hassan Mohamed, a 25-year-old Egyptian who supported the government’s crackdown on the sit-ins. He pointed to a factory that he said Brotherhood supporters had set on fire, the flames consuming the entire 10-story building. “They are terrorizing the city and they are terrorizing us.”
His comments exemplified the existential challenges consuming Egypt, in what has emerged as a neighbor-against-neighbor battle for the country’s political soul and whether it will become a secular or Islamic state.
“With our blood and with our soul we will sacrifice for Islam and bring Sisi down,” protesters screamed and clapped on the street, referring to the leader of the armed forces who orchestrated the coup against Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood-dominated government following a massive popular uprising.
Civilians battling the Brotherhood supporters responded by chanting “the army and the people [are] one hand!”
One thing is fairly clear, which is that many of the Morsi supporters are ready and willing (perhaps even eager?) to die for the cause: “With our blood and with our soul we will sacrifice for Islam and bring Sisi down.” And so it is not difficult to imagine the instigation of violence could be on that side.
But the best and most accurate quote was probably this one, allegedly spoken by a soldier who blocked newspeople from going to one of the scenes:
“You can’t go in. We’re shooting at them, they’re shooting at us. Everyone is shooting at everyone,” the soldier said.