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Egyptians Predict Escalating Security Backlash

  • Elizabeth Arrott

The violence enveloping Egypt has grown worse in recent days, with attacks on security forces across the country and more than 50 people killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and police. Some see it as a backlash to the heavy-handed tactics of the military, which toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

The violence engulfing Egypt is escalating, with militant attacks on security forces and clashes between protesters and police. Some predict it will only lead to a greater military crackdown with worsening consequences.

“Repression doesn't work. Of course repression doesn't work. But it is the vanity of power,” said public policy professor Emad Shahin of The American University In Cairo.

Shahin thinks military leaders, who boast massive popular support, are seizing the moment for a final showdown with their long-time foes. "They think that the plan by which they managed to charge, to mobilize the anger of people against Morsi's rule and administration and so on, has gained a momentum and it really is time to break down the Islamists,” he stated.

The military's “war on terror” is being waged against the broad spectrum of Egypt's Islamists, from peaceful protesters to armed militants. The jihadist core is based in the Sinai peninsula and enjoys little popular support, but their attacks appear to be spreading.

Mustafa Labbad, director of the Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, believes they can be contained. "According to balance of power, I don't think we have a civil war. We have a conflict, and it would last for months to come, but balance of power is clearly in favor of the military," he said.

The spirit of defiance unleashed in Egypt's 2011 revolution may prove a more formidable challenge. Emad Shahin points to an widely-seen image.

"Imagine this 16-year-old girl, her photo is everywhere, that raised the sign of Rabaa in front of an entire school, in front of the state security guy in the school trying to intimidate them. A single girl is not intimidated. That's the culture of protest that they cannot break,” said Shahin.

For now, the majority is still throwing its support behind the military against its opponents. But Labbad says there are questions of how long that can last.

"After a while you have to solve your social and economic problems, and it wouldn’t matter if you are wearing a uniform or casual wear. If you are in power, you have to solve these problems.”

Repression against one group may be possible, analysts say. But in protest-ready Egypt, which toppled a repressive leader in 2011, and saw mass rallies against its now-ousted president this year, trying to keep down a larger movement is hard.