Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Invisible Hand’ Playing With Sectarian Fire


By Cam McGrath

"CAIRO, Oct 13, 2011 (IPS) - Violent clashes in Cairo that left at least 25 Egyptians dead and over 300 injured on Sunday have deepened suspicions that unseen forces are manipulating the country's sectarian divisions for political gain.

The clashes broke out after about 2,000 protesters, mostly minority Coptic Christians, attempted to stage a sit-in outside the state television building in downtown Cairo to protest against a recent attack on a church in southern Egypt by Muslims. Demonstrators said they were assaulted by "thugs" armed with sticks, then by soldiers who they claim fired overhead with live ammunition, then into the crowd.

Video taken at the scene
shows soldiers beating demonstrators and army vehicles ploughing through the crowd at high speed, killing and injuring protesters. The violence spread as the demonstrators responded by pelting soldiers with rocks, and torching several military vehicles and private cars. Thousands of local residents reportedly joined the street battle after state media framed the clashes with a sectarian hue.....

An invisible hand is seen funding "counter-revolutionary" political groups, dispatching armed thugs to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, and infiltrating protests to direct them towards violent or destructive ends. More nefariously, it is purported to have orchestrated a string of attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christian community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.....

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa maintains that certain elements have a vested interest in destabilising the country. He says security officials, politicians and businessmen who grew fat under the former regime stand to lose their wealth and face indictment. Meanwhile, regional neighbours Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia have reservations about a strong Egypt.....

Just last week, loyalists of Hosni Mubarak's now-defunct political party warned of "extreme violence" if Egypt passes legislation that would prevent members of the former regime from participating in politics for at least five years.

Yet critics of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since removing Mubarak in February, suspect the identity behind the invisible hand may lie within the military council itself. They highlight the incongruity of entrusting the fate of Egypt's revolution to an institution whose leaders were hand-picked by Mubarak to protect his regime.

Even before Sunday's clashes, described as the worst violence in Egypt since Mubarak's ouster last February, many observers suspected the generals were exploiting the country's continuing unrest to delay promised elections and other reforms while they consolidated power. State television's skewed coverage of the clashes only heightened their suspicions.

During the clashes, state news anchors whipped up sectarian sentiment by claiming armed Copts had killed several soldiers (later found to be untrue) and by urging citizens to take to the streets to "protect the army from the Copts." Soon afterwards, bands of Muslim men carrying weapons were seen roaming Cairo streets and assaulting Christians.

Egypt's information minister blamed the inflammatory news reports on overly emotional anchors. However, one state television employee told IPS that all news reports at state channels are fastidiously reviewed by SCAF monitors and even live news broadcasts are tightly scripted.

"How is it that the SCAF allowed state TV to broadcast these lies, while two private satellite channels streaming live video of the clashes were shut down?" asks Maged Naguib, a Copt who was caught up in the violence.

He believes Egypt’s generals are intent on staying in power and have borrowed a dark chapter from Mubarak's playbook. The ex-dictator is reported to have stoked simmering Muslim-Christian tensions, and may even have staged various incidents, to give the impression that without his authoritarian rule the country would descend into a bloody chaos.

"It's clear the SCAF is playing some of the politics of the old regime," remarks Nafaa. "But to play with the sectarian issue would be a very dangerous game." "

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