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On June 30, 2013, millions of Egyptians poured onto the country’s streets to demand the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, on the anniversary of his first year in office. On Monday, July 1, the Egyptian army issued a statement, giving the government 48 hours to resolve Egypt’s latest political crisis and noting:
The people have suffered and not found anyone to give care and kindness, and this presents a moral and psychological burden for the Armed Forces, which finds it necessary for all to stop anything other than embracing the people, who have proven their readiness to do the impossible if they feel loyalty and dedication toward them.
The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by many Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square and other public spaces across the country.
Only one year ago, Egyptians were cheering another milestone: the end of military rule. After 18 months in power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had done little for the country other that shoot at, arrest, and kill protesters. To say the least, these actions did not seem to cause the military much “moral and psychological burden” at the time.
From start to finish, instances of military violence during SCAF rule made global headlines for their scale and intensity. The assaults and attacks began on the eve of SCAF rule and continued with varying frequency until Morsi assumed presidential office on June 30, 2011. While in some cases the military’s culpability was less apparent, numerous examples of direct, unabashed military violence against predominantly unarmed civilians abound.
On March 9, 2011, the military violently dispersed a sit-in in Tahrir Square (conducting virginity tests against some female protesters arrested during this raid). On April 9, protesters were attacked again by military personnel.
On May 16, 2011, the military police (and Central Security Forces) used live ammunition, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse protesters gathered in front of the Israeli embassy to commemorate the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.
In early July 2011, demonstrators again gathered in Tahrir Square and other locations around the country, after months of recurring state violence, continuing impunity for state crimes committed during and before the start of the revolution, and SCAF’s failure to meet the revolution’s other demands. On July 23, demonstrators attempted to march from Tahrir to the Ministry of Defense, to protest SCAF directly. Violence erupted along the way. As described by one news outlet:
The army and the military police blocked the main entrances to the [SCAF] headquarters in Abbasiya. The protesters were trapped between alleged hired thugs, Abbasiya residents and army barricades.
And then came Maspero. On the evening of October 9, 2011, groups of peaceful Muslim and Christian protesters marched to Maspero TV station in Cario to demand equal rights for Egypt’s 8 million Christian citizens. In what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” protests turned deadly, leaving approximately 24 civilians dead and over 300 injured. Although the military denied responsibility, multiple eyewitness accounts and video footage proved otherwise. Several days after the tragic events, witnesses spoke at a press conference to counter the military’s denial of liability:
First to speak was Magda Adly, head of El-Nadeem Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture.
Adly had attended the autopsy of eight of the bodies of those killed on “Bloody Sunday” at the Coptic Hospital on the night of the protest.
Describing the autopsy results, Adly saidsix of the eight corpses were run over by “heavyweight vehicles”, and two received “excessive” gunshots.’
“The autopsy report was written in front of me. I just hope that would be the same report that will be submitted to the Prosecutor General at the end of the day,” Adly added.
Tony Sabry, a friend of Mina Danial, a Copt and a well-known Tahrir revolutionary, who was killed in the clashes, gave his account.
Sabry said he personally saw a body being thrown into the water of Nile by military police soldiers.
Sabry said he also witnessed the moment Mina was killed.
“He received a bullet from the front and one from the back”, he said.
The following speaker, Assem Kandil, one of the lawyers of some of January 25th revolution martyrs in the Mubarak murder trial underway in Egyptian courts, said he and a number of his coworkers were in their office in a building next to Maspero when the clashes began.
“We heard the gunfire from our office at the sixth floor, so I called the emergency police, and they said they were already informed of the incident,” Kandil recalled.
“A number of soldiers, or people dressed as soldiers of the central security forces and the military police, stormed the building and started breaking the glass on the floor windows, then they proceeded to break doors.
“They asked residents in other apartments for ID in order to find out their religion,” he added.
“After they left, we started seeing dead bodies being transferred into the building by protesters,” he concluded.
Max Soliman, another witnesses, started his testimony by showing a number of videos on a laptop screen, and explained where and when he shot the footage.
The first video showed military soldiers penetrating the protest, firing what he said he could confirm as live ammunition at the unarmed protesters.
The second video showed one of the military soldiers boasting to a group of people who were aiding the military police on the ground: “I killed two of those infidels” referring to Copts who were in the protest. The helpers responded victoriously with the chant “Allah Akbar” or God is great.
None of the videos that Soliman showed revealed any protesters carrying weapons as SCAF claimed in its press conference on Wednesday.
Soliman asserted that the footage was recorded off television with a cell-phone camera.
“No one can claim they were edited” he insisted.
An anchor in one of two Satellite TV channels located adjacent to the state TV building, which were stormed by the security and military police during the hours of the clashes on Sunday attended the conference to give his testimony.
Hossam Haddad of 25 January Channel said a central security officers accompanied by military police, stormed his station’s offices and told the crew they were looking for rioters.
“They asked for our IDs, and a central security officer kicked one of our cameramen in the face as soon as he read on his ID card that he was Christian.”
“They raised their guns on our anchor, an eight-months pregnant woman, who was in the midst of presenting live coverage of the protests and clashes and ordered live coverage must be immediately halted.”
From November 19 to 25, 2011, clashes between protesters, and security and military officials resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 people and hundreds of injuries. Again, the military denied involvement, while eyewitness accounts and video footage showed otherwise. During these events, the military reportedly resorted to particularly sinister tactics to weaken demonstrators resolve, including targeting protesters’ eyes. The Mohamed Mahmoud clashes are generally considered a turning point in the Egyptian revolution:
As the clashes raged on, former Minister of Defense HusseinTantawi appeared on television for the first time since the revolution and set an official date for the presidential and parliamentary elections. Following his appearance, the protests gradually fizzled out.
On December 16, 2011, the army struck again, dispersing a three week sit-in outside the Cabinet offices in Qasr El-Aini Street in Cairo. The sitting started on the last day of the Mohammed Mahmoud protests, November 25, in response to SCAF’s appointment of a Mubarak-era official as interim Prime Minister.
The military forcibly evacuated protesters, beating them with plastic batons and firing rubber bullets. The violence lasted for four days, and resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people. Video footage of the beating and stripping of one protester, later known as the “Blue Bra” woman, became an iconic symbol of military brutality.
On February 2, 2012, violence broke out at a football match in Port Said, resulting in 74 deaths. Fans of rival football teams had clashed at the end of the game, and, while security forces were present, nothing was reportedly done to stop the attacks. In the aftermath of Port Said, clashes broke out in Cairo between protesters and police near the interior ministry. Many blamed SCAF for the violence in Port Said, alleging the military had plotted to punish a group of soccer fans for their revolutionary activity and “to instigate violence to justify imposition of emergency law.”
In reflecting on the Port Said massacre and SCAF’s legitimacy, then-MP Amr Hamzawy said:
There is a political crisis because the SCAF has lost its legitimacy, which it originally gained on 11 February by the power of the people.The main reason why the SCAF assumed power was to put an end to the bloodshed [during the revolution] and that still hasn’t happened.
Consistent in its excuses and paranoia, SCAF regularly described demonstrators as “thugs” and “outlaws.” Foreign elements were often blamed for fomenting discord between the army and the Egyptian people. Not once did the military concede responsibility, apologize for its actions, or hold any of its officers accountable for crimes committed against civilians. By contrast, under SCAF’s watch, approximately 12,000 civilians were arrested and tried before military tribunals under vague charges, such as thuggery.
Over the last few days, as military helicopters buzzed over Tahrir Square to the shouts of joy from the crowds below, the recent history of SCAF crimes has loomed large. That history is one of broken promises and broken bones. To save itself, the Egyptian opposition and its supporters would do well to remember and heed the warnings this history contains.