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Police Killed in Sinai Given Hero's Welcome in Cairo

  • Al Pessin

The caskets of 25 policemen killed early Monday morning near the north Sinai town of Rafah are carried after arriving at Almaza military airport in Cairo August 19, 2013.

The caskets of 25 policemen killed early Monday morning near the north Sinai town of Rafah are carried after arriving at Almaza military airport in Cairo August 19, 2013.

The bodies of 24 Egyptian policemen killed by suspected Islamist gunmen in the Sinai desert were given a hero's welcome Monday night in Cairo, as the government continued its information campaign against opponents of the July 3 military takeover.

The flag-draped coffins were carried by honor guards in a solemn ceremony broadcast live on numerous television channels. The mournful song repeats the word for “my country.”

Broadcasting the same video, the TV channels carried logos in Arabic or English reading “Egypt Fighting Terrorism.”

The policemen were riding in buses when they were stopped and killed by armed men early Monday.

The attackers are believed to be members of a militant Islamist militia, of the kind critics say the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi, allowed to flourish in the Sinai. The army deposed Morsi last month, backed by large-scale public demonstrations, and forcibly ended weeks of sit-in protests by his supporters last Wednesday.

Pro-Morsi television stations were closed right after the takeover, and remaining outlets are keeping to the government line, portraying his supporters as terrorists - although the vast majority of more than 700 protesters killed in recent days were unarmed. Nearly 100 members of the security forces also have died in a series of clashes.

It is difficult to know whether it was Morsi's policies or the information campaign, or both, that led many Egyptians to support the army takeover. But it is reflected in many conversations, including one with toy store manager Shamieh on a typical Cairo shopping street.

“Terrorism should be faced. President Morsi is the beginning of terrorism. So the government replacing Morsi is the first step toward giving up the terrorism of Egypt," said Shamieh.

She says her business is down more than 50 percent, but she believes the army's action will be good for business, and for the country, in the long term.

For some, Shamieh's words will contrast with her appearance. She wears a modest Islamic dress and a traditional 'hijab' scarf covering her hair and neck. But she says no one should make assumptions about her political views based on her appearance.

"Morsi has no relation with my hijab. My Islam, in my hijab, in my attitude, in my appearance, doesn't relate to Morsi at all," she said.

Several hours before the Sinai incident, security forces killed about 36 Islamist prisoners who allegedly tried to escape while being transported between prisons. Morsi's core support group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is leading protests against the army takeover, called for an independent investigation.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for former President Hosni Mubarak says he could be released from prison soon because a court cleared him of corruption charges. But he faces other charges related to the 2011 revolution, and his release with his former allies in the army back in government, would further polarize the country.

At London's King's College, conflict expert Stacey Gutkowski says the military should make a gesture of reconciliation, and the Muslim Brotherhood should accept it.

“The army is not equipped to govern. The army is now governing as armies do, which is on the streets. The army must show restraint. The Brotherhood must show restraint, calling its people off the streets. And the liberal opposition must organize itself, and be given the space institutionally to organize itself as a proper political party," said Gutkowski.

The military leader, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, has promised elections and says there will be “room for everyone” to participate. But many are skeptical, and the Muslim Brotherhood is insisting that the deposed president be reinstated.

There is unaccustomed fear on the streets of Cairo, with people warning each other to keep away from certain areas and not to stay out after the 7 pm curfew.

There is widespread dissatisfaction with Morsi's one-year tenure, particularly his moves to increase the influence of conservative Islam, his alleged empowerment of the Sinai militias and his failure to improve the economy and relieve widespread poverty.

No one knows where the balance of public opinion really lies, but such feelings made it possible, some say necessary, for the military to move against Egypt's first freely elected president.

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