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August 14, 2013

Military's Dispersal of Egypt Protests Complicates Transition Process

by VOA News

The Egyptian military's dispersal of two Islamist-led protests supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi has dramatically escalated the country's political crisis.

Security forces moved in early Wednesday to forcibly dispel thousands of protesters from the two sit-ins in Cairo, and both sides reported deaths and injuries in the fighting that ensued.

The military vowed weeks ago to clear the protests outside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque and Nahda square. It had said the sit-ins were not peaceful and represented a threat to stability.

But soon after security forces moved to clear the sit-ins, violence erupted elsewhere. Within hours, there were reports of clashes across the country, including attacks on at least three churches in central Egypt.

There were also attempts to establish new sit-ins elsewhere in Cairo. "Of course we expect other sit-ins to be set up after this is dispersed," said anti-coup alliance activist Layla Moustafa, whose group called for street protests in solidarity with those killed.

"We expect this to inflame the situation even more and to increase the protests in all states in Egypt because Rabaa al-Adawiya Square is not just a sit-in, it is a symbol for the revolution and the uprising against the coup regime," she said.

The mainly Islamist protesters had camped out since July 3, when the military removed Morsi following weeks of protests against him. The pro-Morsi protesters had refused to leave the camp sites until the elected president was restored to power.

Egypt's interim government repeatedly called on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to join the transition government and participate in a process for new elections. But the group refused, saying to do so would be to legitimize a military coup against Egypt's first democratically elected leader.

Some analysts said the dispersal meant the Muslim Brotherhood may now lose leverage in dealing with the interim government. But there is also a chance it could be used to the group's advantage.

"They lose a bargaining chip, of course, but they have videos [of the crackdown] and they are already talking about women and children dying," said Adel Abdel-Ghafar, a visiting fellow at the American University in Cairo. "They'll try to maintain the moral high ground."

Ghafar said the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood would now be able to further claim its followers were being martyred, much like the previous generation of Islamist activists who were jailed by the government in past decades.

But he said the hardliners within Egypt's government have also won a victory over more moderate voices, such as reformist leader Mohammad ElBaradei, who were calling for dialogue rather than force to deal with the protests.

Now, Ghafar said, there was little chance of a short-term solution. And he said there was a possibility the situation could get worse.

"I think [the Muslim Brothers] will escalate, and I think the state will respond even more violently," he said. "Expect a low-level insurgency type thing to happen in Egypt for the next couple of years."