A few days ago I went to Nasr City. Pro-Morsi protesters were sitting on sandbags, wearing what appeared to be bike helmets. It looked like they were kids hanging out at a skate park, young, and vulnerable but playing at being tough.
The graffiti on a nearby wall read “I am against the military government if I am a terrorist”. Now the army has violently cleared the Pro-Morsi sit-ins. The death toll is climbing towards 300. Live ammunition has been used in the streets of Mohandessin near my apartment.
The use of the word “Irhabi” (terrorist) has experienced a resurgence in Cairo in the weeks after Morsi was overthrown. A taxi driver tells me earnestly that all Muslim Brotherhood members are terrorists, that they will shoot me. I tell him I have a friend who goes to the pro-Morsi protests, who texts me daily asking if I am OK. This friend tells me I am his sister and that he will protect me if anyone tries to hurt me.
Truth be told, I have friends from all sides of the political spectrum here in Cairo, those who refer to June 30 as a “democratic coup” and who say the army was “the only hand we had left to play”. I also have some friends who feel alienated from the army and the Brotherhood.
Egypt is in a liminal period. It truly is a topsy-turvy world where a new order has yet to emerge. We passed the Giza zoo a few days ago, and there were tanks outside. They’re guarding the animals, but they don’t care about the people, we joked. The tanks outside the zoo were in reality just part of the securitisation of Giza, where there have been some large protests, including a pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo University.
Guarding animals? As one of my Egyptian teachers jokes, “everything is possible in Egypt at the moment, we don’t have a constitution”. Another teacher of mine throws her hands up in despair, declaring “there is no system”. Everything that people knew to be normal in Cairo is now abnormal.
It’s too strong a description to say the liberals are becoming fascists, as some have asserted, but there is robust support for the military among liberals in Cairo. Countless Egyptians have told me “I’m with the military”. But whether support for the military’s expulsion of Morsi extends to support for its use of violence against the Brotherhood protesters is another thing.
I don’t want to take sides; Egypt’s politics are its own to solve. But I find it hard to be silent when human rights abuses are being committed. It is an indescribable feeling to be stuck in your apartment when you know blood is being spilt. You feel somewhat culpable, you feel dirty, yet you know you could do no good by going to Adawiya and getting in the way, getting caught up in a street battle.
In my mind, using violence to disperse the sit-ins is a very bad move. Violence begets violence. I think the military’s approach can only make Egypt more unstable. The elimination of Muslim Brotherhood members from their protests is symbolic — it is the first part of the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood from every aspect of political life in Egypt. Their demonisation is complete.
One of the first Arabic proverbs I learned was: “If you were not a wolf, all the other wolves would eat you.” This seems to apply to Egyptian politics at the moment. The military are clearly the wolves here. They have the experience, they have the arms, and apparently they are not afraid to use them. The Brotherhood’s detractors refer to them as “sheep”. Will the wolves eat the sheep or will the sheep morph into something else?
Graffiti downtown reads “blood for blood”. This seems like the only certainty right now.
*Kim Wilkinson (@Kim_Wilkinson) is a freelance journalist based in Cairo. She is a master’s student at the University of Oxford, and researches “revolutionary humour”.