Imagine if even a fraction of that amount was killed in a western country, the reaction would’ve been completely different. Think what would happen if British police mowed down 50 people on a busy street?
In Pakistan, the month of August has a special place in the heart of many Pakistanis. As August sets in, there’s a palpable energy and glow on the faces of many people. This is the month when Pakistan became independent and 14 August is when the Independence Day is celebrated. Green flags are seen everywhere and the young and old alike are enamoured of their country.
For Egypt, the day of 14 August will always be remembered for something completely different as compared to Pakistan. On 14 August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided two camps of protesters in Cairo: one at al-Nahda Square and a larger one at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. The two sites had been occupied by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who had been removed from office by the military a month earlier, following mass street protests against him.
The raids were so brutal and vicious that Human Rights Watch described it as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” Following the massacre, the Egyptian health ministry claimed that over 600 people were killed. Human Rights Watch estimated the death toll to be over 1,000. The Muslim Brotherhood maintained the death toll was over 2,500. However, the exact death toll of the crackdown is still unknown and that is largely because the Egyptian regime imposed hurdles in collecting the data about the massacres. Adding to the hush-hush was the fact that many victims were burnt and pictures of charred bodies started circulating on social media.
DNA reached out to analysts and writers on the Middle East to take their view on this horrible massacre and to discuss why even after three years, the world at large is quiet about the massacre and why did the Egyptian media and a majority of Egyptians also gave their tacit approval to this carnage?
Talking to DNA, Daniel Wickham, a human rights activist and columnist for the London-based Alaraby said, “I think the reaction to the Rabaa massacre was muted in some quarters because it targeted Islamist protesters. Had the roles been reversed, and an Islamist regime had massacred 1,000 secular or liberal demonstrators in a day, I think we would have seen much more outrage in the West”.
Imagine if even a fraction of that amount was killed in a western country, the reaction would’ve been completely different. Think what would happen if British police mowed down 50 people on a busy street? What would be the media coverage in Germany if, say, 80 people were brutally silenced by the police in Munich?
Sadly, when it comes to authoritarian or third-world countries nothing really happens. Security forces in Bahrain between 7 October 2011 and 18 August 2012 were responsible for 35 deaths, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). Bashar al-Assad’s regime has committed massacre after massacre since the uprisings started in Syria. Even in our very own Pakistan, police on 17 June 2014 is responsible for the death of at least 14 people in Model Town, Lahore. Despite these killings in these countries, the reaction at large has always been muted.
Most of Egypt’s international allies care more about international political and security concerns, like Suez Canal passage, counter-terrorism cooperation, or Israeli security, than they do about rights and rule of law inside Egypt itself
In the case of Egypt, the media played a horrible role in covering the massacre and in the view of Daniel Wickham: “Some Egyptians are understandably scared to speak out, but there is also a sizeable section of the population which supports the government and believes the clearing of the Rabaa protest camp was necessary. The Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a terrorist organisation and a threat to national security and stability by this segment of society. Egyptian media’s extremely negative coverage of the Brotherhood, often involving conspiracy theories and allegations of involvement in terrorist plots, has helped to fuel this perception, but there is also a lot of anger against the Brotherhood because of their behaviour in power.”
Besides the media, the international community at large is also quiet on the killing of protesters by the Egyptian regime.
Sam Charles Hamad, a Scottish-Egyptian writer based in Edinburgh, while talking to DNA, said the world is quiet on it because the international community, especially the US, have accepted it — in fact, in 2014, after Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won his fake election; John Kerry called the preceding year ‘progress’. He was essentially saying that the mass repression of the democratic opposition, the murder, the death sentences, the torture, rape, etc, was ‘progress’ and he then released half a billion dollars worth of aid for the regime, Hamad added.
“The world was always uneasy with a democracy in Egypt, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They saw not just a democracy in the largest Arabic-speaking country, but a democracy that had allowed Islamic democrats, namely the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), to gain some power. Saudi’s population, the majority of whom are just standard Hanbali Sunnis, were inspired by Egypt’s democracy. The UAE is the same — it would much rather do business with tyrants than democrats,” Hamad said, and added, “So, when the coup happened, Saudi Arabia and the UAE backed it and the US refused to call it a coup. Then when the massacres happened, they just saw it as el-Sisi doing what is necessary.”
Sam Charles Hamad suggested that el-Sisi’s regime successfully portrayed Rabaa as ‘Islamists’ and theocrats versus secularists, even though in reality, the real dynamic was supporters of an elected government and democracy in general versus an anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary regime. Egyptian liberals and leftists, he said, helped sell this lie to Westerners.
“So, the 800-1200 people exterminated in Rabaa and Nadha have never received worthy victim status in the West because they’re Sunni Muslims who were perceived to be assaulting secularism. None of it was true,” concluded Hamad.
DNA also talked to Thanassis Cambanis, a fellow at the Century Foundation in New York and author of the book ‘Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story’.
Rabaa will not be given its proper framework because they need el-Sisi fighting ISIS instead and stabilising a bordering nation to Israel.
In Cambanis’ view, “Western governments, including the United States, refused to criticise the military coup that brought Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power in Egypt and unseated modern Egypt’s first elected civilian president. The massacre at Rabaa al Adawiya in August 2013 effectively ended popular effort to restore Morsi to power. The Brotherhood in Egypt governed so terribly, and with such indifference to the rights of Egyptians who were not active Brotherhood supporters, that they had alienated almost every imaginable constituency in the country. By the time the military coup took place, most Egyptians were enraged by the authoritarian and incompetent methods of the Brotherhood. Unfortunately for Egypt, the country embraced a far worse alternative: a military dictatorship that has been by far the most violent and oppressive of any in Egypt’s post-colonial history.”
Award-winning journalist Cambanis further commented about the reaction of Egypt’s allies and said: “Most of Egypt’s international allies care more about international political and security concerns, like Suez Canal passage, counter-terrorism cooperation, or Israeli security, than they do about rights and rule of law inside Egypt itself. This short-sighted choice comes into play not only with regards to anti-Brotherhood crackdowns. The Italian government has been reluctant to pressure the Egyptian government over the murder of an Italian graduate student this year, apparently by Egyptian security services, because it doesn’t want to endanger business deals between the two countries.”
Egyptian independent journalist Amr Khalifa describing the response of the Egyptian religious establishment wrote: “For a nation that prides itself on religious piety, whether Christian or Muslim, one thing is sadly clear: that façade was blown to smithereens by the Rabaa massacre. Deconstruct metaphysically or existentially any Holy Book you wish but the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all have respect of human life as a core practice and religious outlook. Rather than denounce this massacre, however, the religious establishment added fuel to a highly combustible scenario.”
Khalifa, while talking to DNA, said Rabaa will not be given its proper framework because they need el-Sisi fighting ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) instead and stabilising a bordering nation to Israel.
The response from the Egyptian religious establishment was a show of support to Sisi regime and Ali Gomaa, the former Grand Mufti, said: “Hit them as hard as you can. Do not let your soldiers die at the hands of these Kharijites. Have no fear, religion is with you, Allah is with you, His messenger is with you, the believers and the people are with you. Paradise is for those who kill them.”
Cambanis, while noting the lack of condemnation from most Egyptian circles, noted: “Ironically, it was the secular human rights community in Egypt and internationally that condemned the Rabaa massacre — the same rights and rule of law activists that the Brotherhood had spurned and trampled on during its year in power. After Rabaa, the Brotherhood found that only groups like Human Rights Watch and an array of brave Egyptian organisations were interested in defending the rights of the slain protesters. Today in Egypt, there is even less freedom to demonstrate or criticise the state than there was under Morsi or Mubarak.”
The life of Muslims tends to be cheap. More than 400,000 of them have been killed in Syria, but the world at large is more worried about keeping the refugees at bay. One can argue that the life of Islamists is even cheaper. Multiple massacres in different countries have shown that if you massacred Islamists you will most likely get away with it and the world will stay quiet. Hafez al-Assad got away with Hama massacre, Islam Karimov got away with Andijan massacre, Punjab government got away with Model Town massacre and el-Sisi continues to get away with the massacre at Rabaa al-Adawiya.