The year is 2013, the army has just unseated Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and pro-army and pro-MB factions clash on the streets. A reporter and photographer are arrested and thrown into the back of a police van, which is the sole camera setting; soon, other demonstrators from both sides are chucked in – along with, in one particularly chaotic scene, a lenient cop. They are crowded in there for hours in the boiling heat with no water and a plastic bottle to pee in. Through the grille-meshed window they get glimpses of the turmoil on the city streets.
At first, it looks like a no-budget movie with about a dozen people shot in a single location, but the director, Mohamed Diab, stages some spectacular riot scenes outside, which are all the more staggering for intruding on this enclosed space so unexpectedly.
The movie stunningly replicates that sense of inside and outside that must be felt by witnesses to any historic moment: the private debate, the enclosed conflict, and the theatre of confrontation unfolding beyond. What a dynamic piece of cinema.
Coptic demonstrators cry out the name of Magdi Abd el-Ghaffar in anger outside the bombed churches.
Mina Thabet, a Coptic Egyptian and director for the minority and vulnerable groups programme at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), says …’We blame the security services. In the Tanta incident, the terrorist [as seen on camera] went through the front door of the church and moved all the way to the front without the security guards even stopping him’
Astonishingly there had been an earlier warning. A senior police official told Reuters that a bomb was discovered and disabled just outside the Tanta church about a week ago. “That should have been an alarm or a warning that this place is targeted,” said Amira Maher, who was waiting for her injured brother at a nearby hospital.
Both Thabet and Maher were part of groups of worshippers digging graves for the victims of the bombings in the basements of the devastated St George Church in Tanta and at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria.
Rania al-Malky writes: ‘As I understand, Your Holiness plans to visit Egypt on 28-29 April. While as an Egyptian Muslim citizen, I would be honoured by your visit to my country, I beseech you to reconsider this trip.
My reasoning is clear and simple: apart from the palpable physical danger of being in Egypt at this volatile moment (note that Coptic Pope Tawadros was the target of Sunday’s Alexandria bombing as he was inside St Mark’s Cathedral when it happened), such a trip could only serve to legitimise a murderous administration that is complicit in the killing of tens of Christians and hundreds of Muslims.
Your Holiness is best advised not to associate with ruthless dictators like Sisi who will be the only one to gain from your visit at the expense of thousands of unjustly incarcerated Egyptians with no recourse to a fair trial and often with false charges levelled against them.’
Twenty-six people have been killed and more than 70 others were injured during a bomb explosion inside the Church of Mar Girgis (St. George) in Tanta. The device was placed under the first row of pews inside the church. Meanwhile a second explosion occurred outside the Saint Mark’s Church in Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a Palm Sunday service.
DEASH/ISIS has supposedly claimed the attacks, but a rush to judgment on mere claims is unwise, given that terror attacks on churches in Egypt have in the past been linked with government figures seeking to garner additional support from the West.
Putting aside the widespread killing and torture of Egypt’s Muslim population, we should not forget that in October 2011, 27 Coptic protesters were crushed to death by Egyptian armoured personnel carriers guarding the state television building (Maspero). To this day, not a single army officer has been held accountable for that atrocity (as for any other).
The timing of the two recent Church attacks, immediately after Trump’s raid on Syria, appear to signal a deep anxiety on the part of the Egyptian junta to keep the US on side in its ‘war on terror’. The fact that Trump called Assad’s bluff is significant in the eyes of the Egyptian junta leader, because Sisi and Assad support each other and follow each other’s bloody progress closely.
Nevertheless, Sisi was unable to criticise his masters in Washington and Tel Aviv over the ill-treatment of his brother-in-arms in Damascus… in fact, no official statement was made at all – as if nothing had happened.
General Mohamed Mansour tells the Egyptian people to ‘shut up and go hungry’. In typical Egyptian boneheaded display of military public relations he says to the assembled hoi polloi… ‘it is rude to ask [your government] for food’.
Recent leaks aired on Mekameleen TV help us to understand the utter political bankruptcy of the current Egyptian régime.
The first leak, broadcast on 31st January, involved a phone call between junta leader Sisi and Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry regarding Egypt’s participation in the Lausanne Syrian Conference last October. The second leak aired on 10th February, involved a phone call between Sameh Shoukry and Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, Yitzhak Molcho, regarding the border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and issues related to the handing over of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia.
These leaks demonstrate the total capitulation of a once powerful nation at the heart of the Arab world. Since the January 25th Revolution, the unparalleled repression that has beset Egypt has taken the country into a cultural and political abyss.
The institutionalisation of abdication
The first leak reveals the extent to which the current system of repression has undermined the very ability of Egypt’s institutions to perform. Irrespective of any personal diplomatic capacity or professional intentions on the part of Sameh Shoukry, while speaking to Sisi on the phone, it became blatantly obvious that institutional competency as a whole is a victim of the general decline in standards.
Egypt’s invitation to attend the Lausanne conference on the part of Iran, was clearly a sensitive matter given that the US had sought to deny Egypt a place at the table on the basis of its irrelevance to the Syria issue. However, Shoukry was instructed by Sisi to announce that it had been John Kerry who had proffered the invitation, without any regard for the Iranian foreign minister’s position, clearly demonstrating a total capitulation on the matter to US interests.
These events help in understanding other absurd diplomatic incidents such as Egypt’s vote in favour of the Russian draft bill in the UN Security Council regarding Syria last October, allowing for the continuation of the bombing of Aleppo, and its withdrawal under pressure of the UN draft bill condemning Israeli settlements, at the end of last year.
In the second leak, Sameh Shoukry is heard agreeing with Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yitzhak Molcho, on the border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supposedly an issue par excellence regarding Egyptian sovereignty.
There is no longer a reason of state behind Egypt’s diplomacy. But the problem goes much deeper, and the risk to Egyptian society is an institutionalisation of despair.
The military degradation of the Egyptian mind
The insidious qualities of the Egyptian military and its capacity for boring through all moral and institutional social structures in the country with its nihilism, is the subject of an Al-Jazeera documentary: