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Thursday, 22 August 2013 00:00

One-sided coverage obscures real issues

by John Haylett

By misrepresenting the political aims and methods of the Muslim Brotherhood the western media have created widespread confusion

Last month's removal by the army of the Mohammed Morsi government and the subsequent bloody dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood camps in Cairo have provoked contradictory emotions about the situation in Egypt.

The apparent negation of Egyptians' democratic choice and subsequent huge loss of life have led many observers to see what has taken place as an army coup followed by military repression.

But the country's secular left sees things differently, with trade unions, political parties and many other organisations backing Morsi's removal from the presidency following his 2012 election.

There were certainly questions surrounding the legitimacy of the process that brought the brotherhood-backed candidate to power.

In the first round ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak's head of security Ahmed Shafik was declared to have beaten progressive Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi into third place.

This led to a run-off between Morsi and Shafik, forcing supporters of the revolution that led to Mubarak's removal to either abstain or hold their nose and vote for the Muslim Brotherhood representative.

In the end, though, the record of Morsi and his government triggered their downfall.

The causes were both political and economic, including plummeting living standards for working people and the poor and the president's stubborn insistence on pushing through a constitution based on the Muslim Brotherhood's take on sharia law.

Morsi's decision in mid-June to hand al-Gamaa al-Islamiya member Adel Mohamed Khayat the governorship of Luxor also outraged local people since it was the latter's group that organised the 1997 massacre of 62 people at the resort, including 58 tourists.

Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou tendered his resignation following the appointment, which also served to remind people of the brotherhood's record of assassination as a mode of argument stretching back at least to its attempted liquidation of national hero Gamal Abdel Nasser, which led it to be banned in 1954.

The writing was on the wall for the Mosni regime when no fewer than 22 million signatures, together with ID card numbers, were collected opposing his rule on a petition initiated by the Tamarod (Rebel) organisation.

Tens of millions of people then mobilised in the streets on June 30 for what was seen as Egypt's second revolution following the 2011 overthrow of Mubarak.

Morsi tried to brazen out the challenge to his rule, but the armed forces responded to this massive display of people power by ousting him on July 3.

This was only the second time in a century that the military had intervened in this way. The first was the British client King Farouq's removal in 1952, which gave way to an era of self-determination under Nasser.

The brotherhood responded to Morsi's removal by staging what it called "sit-ins" in the Rabea and Nahda areas of the capital which were portrayed as peaceful protests against a military coup. Visiting media teams were given guided tours and told that brotherhood supporters "only want democracy."

Little reported in the West was evidence of a string of attacks on communities surrounding the camps, the establishment of illegal checkpoints, women being forced to cover their hair and the seizure, torture and murder of supporters of the new provisional government.

Top Egyptian Communist Moataz El-Hefnawy says that attempts were made to negotiate a peaceful solution, "even by (EU foreign policy high representative Catherine) Ashton and local religious figures, but the Muslim Brotherhood insisted on continuing until Morsi returned as president."

Hefnawy maintains that if Morsi supporters had restricted themselves to peaceful protest they could have kept up their sit-ins.

"But they attacked, tortured and killed people in their camps - both opponents and people who wanted to leave," he says.

"They used the poor children and women as human shields."

At the same time, Muslim Brotherhood supporters unleashed an offensive against the Shia Muslim minority and Coptic Christian communities, burning down dozens of churches.

"No state in the world would allow such violent sit-ins where participants store arms, torture and kill opponents, yet remain untouched in the middle of residential neighbourhoods in a crowded capital like Cairo," says Hefnawy.

Tamarod responded to reports that Morsi supporters were planning nationwide marches with a rallying call that neighbourhood watches should be formed to protect homes, mosques and churches.

Tamarod founder Abdel Aziz said that a mass presence in the streets, while respecting the nightly curfews imposed by interim President Adly Mansour, would show "the total rejection of domestic terrorism" and "blatant foreign meddling" in Egypt's internal affairs.

Hefnawy accuses the brotherhood of taking advantage of government patience to carry out an increased level of terrorist attacks all over the country, especially in Sinai and Upper Egypt.

"They are terrorists, sometimes using religion and sometimes using politics, yet they used to find support from abroad at the expense of the national interest," he says.

"Their co-operation with Hamas in Gaza, Turkey, Sudan and obviously the US was not in the national interests of Egypt and its people."

Security forces are continuing to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting its spiritual head Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shatir among others.

However the interim government insists that there is still political space for supporters of the brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party provided that they turn their backs on violence.

While it is difficult to see an immediate end to the carnage that has already seen over 1,000 people killed, including 100 police and soldiers, Hefnawy believes that violent resistance will peter out in the near future in the face of popular opposition and a security crackdown.

"They will finally understand that the Egyptians do not want them in power any more," he says.

"The best thing for them to do is to learn the lesson and separate religion from politics.

"They should stop using good-hearted normal religious people in the service of their international pan-Islamic project."

Hefnawy appreciates the difficulty that people overseas face in interpreting the past week's events in Egypt, especially given a media onslaught that has ignored the twin-track approach of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been obsessed with rhetoric about a coup, military repression and the supposed "unravelling" of Egypt's revolution.

But he says: "We would like all political forces in Britain, Europe and the world to listen to the voice of the people who suffered under tyranny for 40 years and then under a fascist religious regime for one year.

"The people have risen up and have spoken out."

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