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How Egypt’s state plotted its bloody revenge

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Issue 2417
Read the full report, All According to Plan, on Human Rights Watch website

Read the full report, All According to Plan, on Human Rights Watch website

The Human Rights Watch report into the Egyptian state’s massacre of protesters in Cairo’s Rabaa al Adawiya Square last year is a forensic account of the revenge of a counter-revolution. 

It details how state forces killed up to 1,000 mainly Muslim Brotherhood supporters in one day.

They were protesting against the ousting of president and Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi.

The majority were killed in a period of 12 hours, “from dawn till dusk”, after a 45-day sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in the Nasr City district of eastern Cairo.

Other smaller protests were also dealt similar murderous brutality. 

On the same day police cleared protesters from al-Nahada Square in Giza, Cairo, leaving 87 people dead.

Up to 80,000 were occupying Rabaa square on 14 August 2013. 

The police had promised safe exits for all those who wanted to leave and full warning when the square was to be cleared. Those were lies.

Prerecorded warnings over loudspeakers could not be heard by most in the camp and those who could hear had no time to escape. 

The shooting began within minutes of the unheard warning. 

Security forces went into the square with “armoured personnel carriers (APCs), bulldozers, ground forces, and snipers” to forcibly break up the makeshift encampment. 

All five entrances and access to a field hospital were covered by snipers on the roofs of surrounding buildings who shot people trying to escape.

Protesters lined up cars and buses to stop the APCs and bulldozers. They threw nails down to try and puncture their tyres and threw stones, ­fireworks and petrol bombs. 

These delayed the assault but were no match for the state forces.

Moaz Alaa of Cairo University reported, “I saw one person trying to run—he was trying to escape. He was shot in the back of his head…Bullets were whizzing by. I even felt the air… They were using rifles and rapid-fire…guns for 20 minutes.”

When the police finally took control of nearby buildings and the hospitals later in the day they shot and tortured injured protesters. 

Over 800 were arrested.

One volunteer described the scene in the hospital as “terrifying,” with “screams everywhere and oceans of blood on the ground.” 

Ambulance workers were among the dead and wounded.

One doctor reported that Special Forces instructed her to leave three injured protesters. She refused. The soldier, “didn’t respond—instead, he took out his pistol and killed the three injured men in front of me.”

All officers who were involved on the day received “a bonus for their efforts”. 

No one has been held to account for the deaths.

The massacre soon became a war against all those who took part in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and against its demands.

President el-Sisi, who planned the massacre as a general

President el-Sisi, who planned the massacre as a general (Pic: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

The army wanted even more dead

The man who led the military during the massacres was the then general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

He is now Egypt’s elected president.

In the weeks leading up to the massacre the government pumped out propaganda demonising the Brotherhood.

On 24 July, el-Sisi called on Egyptians, “Give me a mandate and an order to confront potential violence and terrorism.” 

Two days later tens of thousands took to the streets in his support and the following day police shot 95 people dead on a pro-Mursi march.

Interior ministers said they “anticipated a death toll of up to 3,500” when they cleared the Rabaa square. 

Just weeks after the massacre prime minister al-Beblawi said that the “final outcome was less than we expected”.

One year on, el-Sisi has been accepted by the world’s elites. 

He has even been the host of international peace talks about the future of Palestinians. 

Military aid suspended by the US in October 2013 because of “human rights concerns” has now been restored.

There was an alternative

Massacres and repression aren’t inevitable results of a revolution. Initially, the Egyptian military thought that the Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi would be able to stall the 2011 revolution.

They thought his election after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak would be enough to satisfy the demands of the millions who had been part of that struggle.

Mursi too wanted to work with the military and halt the demands for bread, freedom and social justice.

But the months leading up to the military takeover saw the highest ever number of strikes and protests. 

It is now clear that the military and elements of the old regime infiltrated the Rebel movement on 30 June 2013, which called the biggest anti?Mursi protest.

This paved the way for the army to pose as the saviour of the revolution when Mursi was forced out days later.

The tragedy was that at this critical moment the revolutionary left were not strong enough to pose as an alternative to both Mursi and the military.

And the liberals and reformists collapsed in support of the army.

‘They got what they wanted’

The regime tried to smear the dead to control its public image. 

Egypt’s ambassador to Britain, Ashraf El Kholy, said that the protesters had “got what they wanted, they showed they were the victims”. 

More blood money for Blair  

Tony Blair is to be employed as an adviser to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Blair’s skills as a global money maker are likely to prove useful.

He will also be advising the former army general on economic reform.

Stand up against state repression 

Human Rights Watch say the killing in Rabaa al Adawiya Square numbered more than the massacre at Tiananmen Square by the Chinese government in 1989. 

International campaign Egypt Solidarity Initiative is trying to highligh state repression.

They have put out a model motion for unions and campaign groups. 

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