Egypt’s Bloody Sunday

Lest we forget. The many crimes of military rule, now all but forgotten, the memories of which suppressed by a media and a regime wishing to rewrite reality, and create a narrative that starts and ends solely on June 30th 2013.

Egypt’s Bloody Sunday (9 October, 2011)

Egyptians and Irishmen have much in common. Both generally disdain authority, venerate religion, converse in irony, resent the English, and after last October 9th, both are scarred by memories of their respective Bloody Sundays.

On that fateful day, Egypt’s name was hurled again into the list of international top stories after 27 Christians died while protesting against yet another attack on a church in Upper Egypt. Christian protests in front of the national Radio and Television Union Building became an all too common scene in the aftermath of the country’s “Spring”. It is no surprise that the country’s season of freedom can be marred with occasional outbursts of violence; desert Springs are often speckled with hot winds and asphyxiating sandstorms. This time round though, the violence was far too brutal, and the polarization it caused was far too serious to be swept under the rug, or to be mitigated by a staged appearance of priests and sheikhs engaged in theatrical embrace.

Official state-media was incriminated in engorging tensions that day after managing somehow to depict the incident as a brazen attack by fiendish Christians against defenseless Quakerly soldiers. At a time when some thought that state-media could not be any less credible, something like this comes along to prove that the self-destructive powers of our fable-weavers cannot be underestimated.

Official comments on the incidents were able nonetheless to lighten the mood: they offered a good laugh. The ruling military council, by claiming that the vehicle filmed knocking protesters down like bowling pins was indeed driven by a civilian, was asking us to believe that commandeering an Armored Personnel Carrier was as easy as pushing a seven-year-old off a scooter; a scary prospect considering the number of APCs on the streets since January. The military also insists that it suffered KIA’s that day, but in line with its policy of transparency it kept a lid on the exact numbers, names and ranks of the fallen- get this- so as not to ‘endanger’ national morale. The junta’s initial response, moreover, was to showcase the country’s enfeebled Prime Minister who stammered and stuttered his way through a hastily written speech that merely repeated the mantra of foreign agendas, hidden spooks, and transnational conspiracies.

Clarke and Asimov wrote Sci-Fi that was more credible.

It must be said though; the ‘invisible hands theory’ is not entirely incredulous. There is nothing to say that it is or is not true. However, the ad nauseam use of conspiracy theories to explain every calamity under the sun can easily give rise to another counter-conspiracy theory, according to which the military is conspiring to perpetuate their rule by concocting a number of internal micro-conspiracies and alleging an equal number of external macro-conspiracies in order to create a conspiratorial continuum which feeds off our tendency to believe conspiracies that aren’t really conspiracies at all!

In terms of babble-power, I think I just outdid myself. Eat dirt all you ‘strategic analysts’ out there!

Maybe people will start believing the military when they are able to show, every once in a while, that these invisible hands have some visible agents. If you can’t see the strings, can’t you at least show us the puppets? And if you can’t show us the puppets, then what kind of circus are you really running?

A fact-finding committee has been duly formed to investigate the incidents and their causes, to bring those responsible to the fore. But I am disheartened when I remember that it took two committees and twenty-eight years before the report of the Saville Inquiry was made public in 2010. The report found fault with British army personnel who were responsible for the death of innocent civilians during the Irish Bloody Sunday of 1972. It took that long for the Britain to own up to what happened. How long will it take the families of the fallen on October 9th to find some rectitude? The findings of the committee will be a real test to the military: will it be a whitewash, or will it point fingers, name names and call for the prosecution of people found responsible within the army, police, media, or civil service? My bet is on whitewash, but I’d be ecstatic if I lost.

The silver-lining in all this, noted one distinguished expert, was that despite the media’s biased coverage, despite the clergymen who actively incited sedition among their respective followers, and despite the underlying tension that unfortunately exists today between one Egyptian and the other, the violence was nevertheless quickly contained and it spread no further than where it started. It could be a sign that while there will always be extremists on the fringes of both sides, the core will forever remain intact.

Under the circumstances it is difficult to remain optimistic about the country’s future but it is not impossible, and the country’s ability to hope for the better remains the foundation of its ability to change to the better. I am reminded here by Edna O’Brien’s remark about the Irish. “When anyone asks me about the Irish Character”, said the renowned author, “I say look at the trees; maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious”.

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