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Life in the protest tents, a mini-city with tens of thousands of protesters “was the best time of my life. It felt like Hajj. People sharing food. Optimistic. They would make space for women out of respect,” he says. “I am not a religious person, and there were lots of people on the stage at Rabaa who were not from the Muslim Brotherhood, from all over the country, the world, standing up for democracy and the weak.”
Mohammad Ismail Ahmed was in a taxi trying to return home to the U.S. but stayed at the insistence of friends and witnessed violent massacres. The 37 year-old jeweler from Georgia had flown to Egypt to warn his social circle. “Don’t be used; the military is using you to get rid of democracy.”
Never an activist or a politician, he is now part of the broad coalition called Egyptian Abroad for Democracy (EAFD). He has family in the Egyptian military and his brother is a member of the elite Supreme Council Of Armed Forces (SCAF). It would have been easier and more lucrative for him to be pro-coup, but he went on the unsafe street for months, to Rabaa al-Adawiya Square where more than 500 protesters were killed. “I learnt it from the US, I appreciate democracy and freedom. I was so proud to be an Egyptian after the revolution,” shares Ismail.
Several families from overseas have lost loved ones in the protests. Asmaa Hussein and Amr Kassem were a young Canadian couple visiting family in Egypt. Kassem, 26, went to Jumuah prayers and a funeral in Alexandria, after which he joined a large protest against the recent crackdown by Egyptian security forces. He was shot by a sniper, apparently targeted because of his lengthy beard. He leaves behind a 10 month old daughter.
Ahmed Bedier, an American Muslim civic leader lost his brother Amir. Amir, an accountant, was participating in the sit ins at Rabaa as a Jan 25 revolutionary. Bedier spoke at the press conference hosted by Egyptians-Americans for Human Rights and Democracy (EAHRD), showing videos taken of the snipers shooting into the protester’s tents, and of more than 200 charred and mutilated bodies take to Masjid Al-Iman. When police stormed Masjid Rabaa Al Adawiya, fires broke out, burning the masjid, its makeshift hospital and the bodies of the dead inside.
The Bediers were in Egypt celebrating their youngest brother's wedding which took place two days before the attack on Rabaa Square. The family had a hard time burying Amir as his parents refused to accept a false death certificate stating that he died of natural causes. Other families received certificates from the Health Ministry that stated bizarre reasons such as suicide and disease. “Imagine reporting the crime to the very place that may have killed your brother, and asking them for justice,” Ahmed relays his trip to the police and other agencies to the Muslim Link.
The family is looking at various legal options, including researching whether the ammunition was made in America and if any American or international laws were broken. “There needs to be some accountability; there has been no accountability of the masked men who killed hundreds of people.”
There is sentiment in Egypt that protesters killed themselves, Bedier says this is a baseless accusation. “I went to Rabaa, I didn’t see any weapons and if they had them why didn't they use them? They were doing this unarmed.”
Some local DMV families have also lost members, including a young doctor who had gone to serve.
“Families are being slaughtered and killed, and they are not retaliating. They are looking at the long term survival of the country,” says Ismail.
As he relays how the days played out before the coup, he recalls that on the first of July, protesters opposing President Morsi were going home. “I live right next to Tahrir Square, [Sisi] was not expecting people to go home. SCAF military leaders made an announcement, giving the country seven days. He made them go back to the streets,” says Ismail.
Operation Save Democracy (OSD) is an Egyptian American Task Force that was formed to deal with the political crisis created by the military coup in Egypt.
EAHRD, OSD, and EAFD also strongly condemned the burning of houses of worship including coptic churches. “During Mubarak’s era, the dirty tactic of ‘divide and rule’ was used quite skillfully by the government to create sectarian rifts between Muslims and Christians. The the leaders of the military coup have cancelled the constitution and reinstated the emergency law. As a result, one should not be surprised that more and more of these sectarian disputes and claims will appear again,” clarified OSD President Dr. Safei-Eldin Hamed,” Some of these claims may be true and some may be rumors, exaggeration, or lies that are fabricated to score political points. In such a chaotic atmosphere, it is almost impossible to find the truth.” Hamed also started Alliance of Egyptian-Americans in 2005.
Locally, ADAMS Center issued a condemnation of the violence in Egypt: “We urge the Government of Egypt - and all its citizens and political parties - to eschew any such violence, which runs so counter to the principles and teachings of Islam and our Holy Prophet,, and resolve their differences calmly and rationally, and with due respect for all sides and for the rights of all Egyptians.”
Egyptian-Americans have consistently marched in DC. The protest on August 31, 2013 had about 5,000 people. There have be counter-protests as well.
Military rule has all but aborted the nascent democracy. [Egypt’s] deep state in active, there is emergency law and a military ruler. All democratic values have vanished, says Hamed. “That is the biggest problem.” "Deep state" as is known is Egypt is where powerful Mubarak-era cronies continue to dominate key Egyptian institutions, both political and bureaucratic.
Hamed contends that Morsi is only one candidate, from one party. “Bring him in even for one day and vote him out. The people of Egypt need to know that democratic institutions cannot be played with. Claims of majority wanting Morsi out can not be substantiated, unless we go to the ballot.”
“We advised President Morsi to step down and call for elections; he didn’t listen, he thought the threat was exaggerated,” says Dr. Hamed. Not affiliated with any political party and not a member of the Ikhwan, Dr. Hamed critiques the Muslim Brotherhood’s lack of media savvy. “They had not mastered mass media, and fac[ed] enemies who have a whole empire of artists who can manipulate, craft all kinds of TV shows to mobilize people against the elected government.”
Controversial U.S lawmakers, Michelle Bachmann and Steve King have been in Egypt this week, apparently endorsing the coup and crackdowns that killed hundreds. “They are extremists and are supporting the extreme,” says Ismail. “ People in Egypt may be well-educated but they are ignorant; they don’t know who they are and what they stand for.”
“We are hearing the same Islamophobic rhetoric from Muslims here in Cairo,” says Bedier, who is back in Egypt. “There is high levels of anti-American sentiment coming from the coup supporters. President Obama is being called an Ikhwan in the local paper.”
Some say American Muslims need to lobby Congress to stand for democratic principles and the U.S. needs to stop doing business as usual. Dr. Hamed suggests contacting local embassies and urging all countries to take a stance against the military government.
No clear leaders have emerged in Egypt. Liberals involved in the Jan 25 revolution have sat out of the protests to pay back the Brotherhood for excluding them. Bediar thinks this tit for tat politics has left the country fragmented.The military has also offered a roadmap but as this gives the coup legitimacy, the only political parties participating have no major political clout.
According to other activists, an alliance has formed of 15-20 parties. “Egyptian are running the show. It is killing [General] Sisi, he has the media, support from Israel, money from the Gulf countries, and the security forces but he still hasn’t won,” says Ismail.
“Those protesting in Egyptian cannot all be from the Muslim Brotherhood; they want their democratic votes back in their hands,” says Sarah Jamiel of Virginia, who recently returned from Egypt and was on the ground during the protests.
Last Friday in Egypt, the ninth Jumuah of protests against the government, showed a shift in the protesters and their message as few carried the posters of Morsi that were once the symbol of the Brotherhood’s “anti-coup” coalition. The four finger salute was everywhere signifying Rabaa, which means four, the name of the square where mass killing by security forces on Aug. 14 took place.
Far from returning to normality after the army's overthrow of Morsi on July 3 following mass protests, the beacon of the Arab Spring remains in turmoil.
With tourism and investment down, and food and gas prices up, as the economic situation declines, people continue to come out on the streets. “As long as the economy declines in Egypt, they will keep protesting,” says Hamed.
More are joining everyday, the local population knows that they were deceived. Large protests are planned for Friday, September 13, 2013. “People are realizing that they were used, Egyptian pride makes it hard to admit their mistake, but gradually they are supporting the anti-coup movement,” says Ismail. “There are some good people in the military too, I think the change will come from within.”