Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Mask is Off و نشاهد الوجه الحقيقي

I spent more of my day than I'd like to admit translating a flurry of Facebook postings from my Egyptian Christian and Muslim friends. I learned a lot of new Arabic words - "cowardly," "dogs" [plurals are tricky] and a curse word that's pronounced "mdasesh" and isn't found in any of my dictionaries.

OK - some context.

On February 18, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt after three weeks of massive street protests, transferring power to a military council. The military council pledged to restore order and hold democratic elections after an appropriate transitionary period.

Since then, Egypt's economy has stalled, its violent crime rate has exploded, at least one person has been arrested and hauled before a military court for saying mean things about the army on his blog, and most worryingly, violence against Egypt's Christians (10% of the population) has spiraled out of control. Scores of Christians have been killed in attacks by Muslim extremists on churches, priests, and Christian homes.

Still, there was still a chance that Egypt's new military rulers were serious about steering Egypt towards a genuine, liberal democracy. The Egyptian people trusted them. I did too.

Sunday, that question was settled for us.

On Sunday, 1,000 Egyptians, mostly Christian, but also some Muslims, marched in Cairo to protest the burning of a church in southern Egypt by a Muslim mob on September 30. (There's a book I want these fanatics to read. It imparts insights like this: "لا اكراه في الدين.")
The protestors, quite understandably, demanded better protection for Christians from the government, an end to inflammatory rhetoric against Christians on state TV, and the sacking of a governor who incited the mob.

A few hours into the peaceful march, the protestors were assaulted by plainsclothed thugs. When the protestors tried to resist, the military suddenly appeared with tanks and guns. Troops fired indiscriminately into the crowd, and the tanks starting deliberately running over protestors. When it was all finished, around 25 people were dead.

Egypt's military rulers appear to have found a solution to the embarrasment of Muslim-on-Christian violence: kill the Christians until they shut up about it.

The revolution is betrayed. The Egyptian military, having prospered muchly under three decades of rule by Air Force commander Hosni Mubarak, owns anywhere between 5 and 30 percent of Egypt's economy. That's not a whacked-out conspiracy; that's life in the third world. It seems clear now that the Egyptian military's strategy to survive the revolution is, and has been from the start, to assume the role of the Guardian of Liberty, transfer political power to a democratically-elected government that's seen as legitimate by the people, then slip behind the curtain to enjoy its portion. Equal rights for Egypt's Christians have no place in that strategy. The military isn't about to risk upsetting the majority on their behalf.

After this massacre - judging by the press accounts there appears to be no other word for it - Egyptians of good will, Muslim and Christian, may unite again in Tahrir to demand the end of the military power structure. Or, maybe, the military will succeed in its intimidation strategy, hold elections as scheduled on November 28, and run off into the night, plunder in tow and minorities hung out to dry. They may get away with it.

But know this, ya mushir: there is a God in heaven, and there is a Judgment Day.

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