No “Good Guys” in the Egypt Crisis

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Isa Abu Jamal

As the death toll surpassed 600 today, amidst Egypt’s bloodiest crackdown on supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, US President Obama called for a suspension of European economic aid, a cancelation of joint military training exercises, and implied perhaps more is yet to come.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry cautioned pro-Mursi protesters that the military and police have been authorized to use lethal force. They also warned against what they said were “terrorist actions and sabotage” after multiple government buildings were burned early Thursday.

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Arabic news channels have broadcast images which seem to lend to the police and military claims… but that’s not all there is to the story.

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While Mursi supporters claimed that they were attacked for simply protesting, the police and military produced images of AK-47s and videos of police vehicles being pushed over bridges by angry mobs.

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At the same time, and on the other hand, there are clear, documented cases of the police and military doing just what the pro-Mursi protesters claim. Such accusations from the pro-Mursi camp including the police and military dealing with all pro-Mursi protesters with a heavy-hand, regardless of whether or not they are involved in any violence.

The Independent reports that “As machine gun fire crackled around the besieged Islamist encampment in eastern Cairo today, a 12 year-old boy called Omar was sat on a mattress drinking from his carton of orange juice. Just a few yards away, the bodies of 31 protesters lay on the grubby, blood-caked floor.”

The little boy, commenting on the slaughter, only said that “It’s not very nice.”

“The police and the army don’t understand any language except force,” said the 50 year old Khalid Mohsen, who was trapped inside the siege. “They want to kill anybody who has an opposing view.”

The Egyptian Interior Ministry explained only that the police and military have been “given instructions to all forces to use live ammunition in the face of any attacks on establishments or forces within the framework of the regulations of using the legitimate right of self-defense… All the forces assigned to securing and protecting these establishments were provided with the weapons and the ammunition necessary to deter any attack that may target them.”

Both sides in the Egyptian protests/revolt/revolution/conflict/coup/crackdown – as they have been alternatively described – accuse their opponents of being supported by the United States. In the Islamic world, this is often the worst allegation to be accused of. For to be supported by the United State is a tacit statement that your cause is against the interests of the Arab and/or Muslim people.

Reuters explains that, “Four years ago, cheers greeted Obama’s speech at Cairo University, amid brief hopes of closer ties between the United States and the Muslim world. For most Egyptians, those hopes had faded long ago. In the latest political drama, a darker anti-American mood has enveloped rival groups in a divided country.”

Obama spoke to this today, saying, “We’ve been blamed by supporters of Mursi. We’ve been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Mursi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve.”

Mursi supporters have accused Washington of supporting the ouster, due to the refusal to characterize the revolt as a coup.

Anti-Mursi elements, however, believe the United States has made certain behind-the-scenes agreements with the Ikhwan (Brotherhood) since it was elected into office, and particular during the call for negotiations with Gaza. Such protesters have frequently been seen with images of Obama dressed in traditional Islamic garb, sporting an impressively long beard. The message is that Obama is pro-Mursi, and pro-Ikhwan.

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Obama is not the only US official to take heat from protestors. Reuters reports that, “Last month, U.S. ambassador Patterson upset some Egyptians for criticising planned mass protests that helped oust Mursi, saying that people should, instead, ‘get organised’,” and that this has turned Patterson “into a hate figure for many.”

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It is entirely possible, however, that just as in the Iran-Iraq War, the United States might be covertly supporting both sides in several capacities.

All speculation about US support aside, these debates obfuscate the fact that neither the pro nor Mursi movements in Egypt have clean hands. Any attempt to angelize or demonize either side requires on eye to be tightly closed to the misdeeds of each respective faction.

In this conflict, as in so many others, there is no “black and white” delineation. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just divergent interests which have both legitimate claims, as well as claims of abuse that can be made against them. It is important to keep this in mind whenever we hear any media outlet – Western or otherwise – reporting on the Egyptian crisis.

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