- Life Style
“Massacre,” “tragedy,” “bloodbath” and “conspiracy” are words that appear, prominently and repeatedly, on the front pages of all of Tuesday’s papers - all except for state-owned Al-Ahram, that is, which chooses to refer to the violence that erupted between armed soldiers and a group of mostly Coptic protesters on Sunday night mainly as the “Maspero incident.”
While the nation’s independent dailies continue to provide (at times, contradicting) details of the drawn out clashes, Al-Ahram has moved on, focusing instead on a meeting between Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his cabinet over the “unified place of worship law to be announced within two weeks,” according to the paper’s headline.
Al-Ahram reports that following the “incident,” the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ordered Sharaf’s government to “quickly form a fact-finding committee.” Meanwhile, Sharaf’s government ordered the National Justice Committee - a cabinet committee formed after the revolution to help confront sectarian issues - to “quickly finalize [their discussions] on the unified place of worship law.” And, somewhere in the background, Al-Azhar called on the government to “quickly issue the law.”
Sharaf’s government has also announced it will make amendments to anti-discrimination laws.
The same article also includes a joint statement issued by “Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, and representatives of Egyptian churches,” in which they declared that “the Egyptian infantry was, and shall remain, an expression of the principles of citizenry.”
Al-Ahram also points out that “LE5.2 billion in stock market losses and turmoil in the commodities market,” were among the direct “serious repercussions of the Maspero incident.”
The state-owned paper also includes, in a tiny side-box on its front page, a confirmation of the execution of Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, also known as Hamam al-Kamouny, for the murder of six Copts and one Muslim during Christmas celebrations in 2010. Hussein was hanged early Monday morning.
Across its second and third pages, independent daily Al-Wafd documents the “hours of bloodshed and tears” that unfolded at Maspero on Sunday night. Describing the event as a “knife wound in the nation’s heart,” Al-Wafd reports that the violence was instigated by a rumor claiming “a group of civilians was heading to Maspero with the intention of attacking the Coptic protesters.”
Al-Wafd reports that the military police, which had been escorting Coptic protesters on their march to Maspero, going as far as to redirect traffic to facilitate their passing, promptly abandoned the protesters when a mob of angry civilians appeared. Violence broke out shortly afterward.
Reportedly, armored military vehicles then sped into the scene, “running over some protesters while being pelted with rocks from others.” The fighting then poured onto the side streets surrounding Maspero, and eventually Tahrir Square and the Coptic Hospital on Ramses Street. At different points in time during the battle, Al-Wafd reports, “groups of Coptic youths managed to seize automatic weapons from the soldiers but chose not to use them,” while another group of protesters stole a car in order to transport their wounded comrades to safety. At approximately 10 pm, members of Islamist groups trickled onto the scene to spout pro-military chants for 45 minutes.
In a separate article, Al-Wafd claims that, according to autopsy reports from 22 bodies, the main causes of death were determined to be “gunshot wounds, beatings, stabbings and getting run over.”
Meanwhile, Al-Dostour’s headline announces, “We assure you, these are not Egypt’s Copts” before going on to cite the “professional” manner in which military tanks were incinerated by Molotov cocktails as being “the work of terrorists, not Copts.”
“The Coptic population has been targeted by internal and external media forces, aiming to divide the nation into states,” the independent daily alleges on its front page, before demanding, “Egypt is burning - so where is the Emergency Law?”
Potential presidential candidates offer their two cents in Al-Dostour, with Amr Moussa heavily criticizing “any talk of foreign involvement in the Maspero incident,” which, in his opinion, would be a “waste of time” on their part. Rather, Moussa insists “the solution to the situation relies on our own internal responsibility, regardless of any foreign involvement.”
In the same article, Mohamed Selim al-Awa, who claims to have been present at the scene of the chaos, stated that the gathering was peaceful until taken over by individuals who had been “trained and hired” to violently disrupt the protest. These individuals, Awa alleges, were armed with a variety of weapons, which they used to attack police officers and soldiers, simultaneously. Awa says he has video footage to support his claims.
Somewhat redundantly, Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh placed the blame on those at the protest who were armed with weapons as well as “the determination to violently confront soldiers and police officers, and to break the law.”
Al-Dostour’s third page features the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that “America is planning to occupy Egypt by inciting sectarianism.” The corresponding article reports on a statement issued by the organization in which it expresses its outright rejection of an alleged offer by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that would see American soldiers sent to protect Egypt’s churches. “This suspicious offer is a clear attempt at directly invading Egypt,” the Brotherhood disclosed, before pointing out that the British invasion of 1882 stemmed from similar calls for “protection of ethnic minorities.” The organization further expressed its fear that the “hostile desire of the Americans could be behind the tragic events that occurred at Maspero.”
Al-Dostour also reports that several Islamist groups, such as Jama’a al-Islamiya, Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Salafi Security Council, have called for the postponement of parliamentary elections scheduled for 21 November, in light of current instability, which they attributed to remnants of the former regime as well as “foreign elements.”
In Al-Tahrir, Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Eissa writes about “the night Egyptians found themselves torn between the Copts and the armed forces.” While Eissa suggests that the presence of hostile elements in Monday night’s protests - be they extremists, Copts or Israelis - is highly probable, he questions the armed forces’ “willingness to run into an obvious trap.”
“If the SCAF has been aware for a while now of the existence of a conspiracy, why did it wait until the protest to send in armored vehicles, instead of subverting the counter-revolutionaries at an earlier opportunity?” Eissa asks.
Eissa goes on to question the armed forces’ ensuing “protective” actions. “Of course, the armed forces are assigned with protecting government institutions, but since when have Galaa Street or Abdel Moneim Riyad Square been institutions?” he writes, referring to areas which were promptly cordoned off by soldiers during Sunday night’s conflict.
The problem, Eissa writes, is that instead of focusing on its traditional role, the military has been taking over jobs meant for the Interior Ministry - and failing at them. “The Supreme Council must admit that its forces are unqualified for protecting our streets, securing our squares and dealing with protests.”
In conclusion, Eissa poses a question to the SCAF: “If the Maspero events were the result of a conspiracy, did you not contribute to its success by spilling the blood of protesters?”
Also in Al-Tahrir, potential presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi offers his condolences to all those who lost loved ones at Maspero and his views on the bloodshed in an editorial titled “Egypt’s people will ensure its protection.” The conflict, Sabbahi writes, is not between Muslims and Christians, but between “a revolution struggling to complete itself, and those attempting to subvert it.” Sabbahi then elaborates on the implication of the piece’s title, using somewhat idealistic arguments before calling for an immediate, and effective, investigation into the events at Maspero and recent church attacks.
Independent daily Al-Shorouk deserves a mention if only for having a front page that manages to avoid the tastelessness and slasher-film sensibilities displayed by other daily publications.
“Egypt in Mourning,” the headline reads, above a breakdown of the night’s most widely-publicized details. Despite reports in Monday’s other papers, a front page statement by a “US official” claims America “did not offer to protect [Egypt’s] churches.”
In an editorial in Al-Shorouk, former head of the Financial Supervisory Authority Ziad Bahaa Eddin writes, “Have we fallen into the trap of sectarianism, or do we still have one last chance at avoiding it?” Bahaa Eddin asks whether the Maspero incident represents a tragic event or the irrevocable split between Muslims and Christians that the Egyptian population has long feared. “Any time such an event would take place, I would be able to find consolation in the ensuing national bonding, and the unanimous condemnation of an evil,” Bahaa Eddin writes. “This time, things are different.”
Bahaa Eddin ends his editorial with a reminder, “As the majority, Muslims have a responsibility ... history will hold us accountable. We must overcome mutual accusations, rumors and grudges in order to return to our true nation, the greatness of which stems from its people, not its authorities.”
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run
Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Youm7: Daily, privately owned
Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned
Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party