CAIRO, Egypt — Ahmad Aggour knows Egypt’s security forces well. An outspoken and defiant revolutionary who joined the first uprising from its earliest days in 2011, he was shot three separate times under military rule and bore witness to clashes under former president Mohamed Morsi’s rule.
So when more than 50 Morsi supporters were killed in clashes on Monday, he was certain who was to blame.
“The army’s explanations were the exact same as when they killed Copts at Maspero,” he said, referring the killing of 28 protesters during demonstrations by Coptic Christians outside the state television building in Cairo.
“When I look at the figures and there are only three people killed on one side and more than 50 killed on the other in just a few hours, from my own experience, I’m pretty sure the Brotherhood did not have these kinds of weapons that they are saying,” he said.
One week after Egypt’s military stepped in to oust the country’s first democratically elected president amid an unprecedented popular uprising, a series of moves by the country’s new leaders has stoked fears among some activists that the counterrevolution is emerging and the old levers of anti-democratic power are quickly being put back into place.
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While most anti-Morsi protesters have remained overwhelmingly joyous in celebration at the military’s intervention, the overthrow of an unpopular president was quickly followed by a crackdown that put others at unease.
Scores of the former president’s supporters were arrested, Islamist television stations were shuttered and former officials swiftly restored to powerful positions.
Egyptian security forces Monday opened fire on pro-Morsi protesters at a sit-in outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard, an elite army unit established to protect the president.
With security officials blaming armed Islamist protesters for instigating the violence and Morsi supporters saying the army opened fire on peaceful protesters, sharply polarized speculation has been rife online and much of what happened has been shrouded in haze.
“Many revolutionaries who wanted to see Morsi go down joined June 30 for that reason, but they did not want to see military intervention, or if military intervened, they would have to leave immediately,” said Tarek Radwan, associate director for research at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Anti-Morsi activists had called for protests June 30, on the anniversary of Morsi’s ouster.
So the crackdown at the sit-in “suddenly brought back all the bad memories of SCAF,” Radwan said, referring to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that ruled after the revolution. “And a good chunk of the revolutionaries — not all, but many — were jolted back into reality.”
Following the events at the Republican Guard, a general declared at a news conference that history has vindicated Egypt’s police force. He said the force, notoriously brutal, was absolved of all accusations it killed protesters in the first uprising.
“And thus, the re-writing of the history of the 2011 uprising continues, with the police absolved of all wrongdoing and new scapegoating,” Heba Morayef, Egypt Director for Human Rights Watch, posted on Twitter in response to the comments.
In another alarming development, the state-run English-language news site Ahram Online reported just three days after Morsi’s disposal that Brotherhood figures would be interrogated for inciting violence, murdering police officers and torching the headquarters of former president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party during the 2011 revolt.
Back then, protesters battled police and burnt the headquarters in what they saw as a legitimate battle against a corrupt and authoritarian state.
“They have made people obsessed with national security and patriotism, flying over Tahrir making hearts in the sky and dropping flags,” said Aggour of the army and its backers, including figures from Egypt’s Mubarak era. “That’s the army’s game. The Ikhwan used religion and the army uses security and patriotism.”
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Still, many say they are confident the military will not overreach.
“They are not interfering in any decision that is being made, they have left it to the coalition that has been formed, and they are already out,” said Dalia Ziada, a prominent activist and leader of the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, a center that trained activists and bloggers before and during the revolution.
Ziada said she believes the military has no desire to enter politics again because of the challenges facing leaders and the risk it could hamper their reputation.
She also believes armed and violent Morsi supporters were to blame at the Republican Guard for provoking the armed forces, based on videos she had viewed online.
Other incidents, including a wave of sectarian violence instigated by Morsi supporters, and the grisly death in Alexandria of a 17-year-old boy who was thrown off a roof by alleged backers of the former president, have made people like Ziada believe the army is justified in any crackdown.
“There is a big debate between the progressive and revolutionary forces as to whether or not the military intervening was good or not,” said Adel Abdel Ghafar, a visiting fellow at the American University of Cairo. “Some are saying it is a step forward because it took out Muslim Brotherhood which was taking Egypt down the wrong path. Others say: we took a step backward bringing the military back.”
Ghafar agreed that the counterrevolution is present in the background, with “businessmen, the army and television channels working hard,” he said.
But, he says, Egyptian people are politically empowered unlike ever before — and are willing to go to the streets to hold the military to account.