That’s an Egyptian friend’s lament on the killings in Cairo today. To start with, here is graphic video from Al Masry al Youm, of victims at the Coptic Hospital. (The AFP says its reporter saw 16 corpses carried there tonight.)
Sectarian tensions have been mounting in the country since a mob burned a Christian church in the southern city of Edfu on September 30. Mostafa al-Sayyed, governor of Aswan province, known as an idiot, had ignited the disaster by claiming, in classic Egyptian bureaucratic style, that the church lacked the proper papers to get built. This effectively stamped his approval on its destruction. In the following days, he dithered and fiddled while protests spread and anger grew.
Today, Copts in Cairo organized a peaceful march from the religiously diverse neighborhood of Shobra to Maspero, the state broadcasting building, a focus for discontent with the military regime. Something happened. Foreign news reports have so far given primacy to the regime’s own account, which is what happens when you have a vast surviving propaganda apparatus facing down an only loosely organized protest movement. Thus Al Jazeera reports: “The demonstrators, who were protesting the destruction of a church in southern Egypt, torched two armoured vehicles, six private cars and a public bus, security sources said” — while also admitting, “The Copts say they were marching peacefully when thugs attacked them, drawing in the military police who used what activists described as unnecessary force.”
Anybody who has seen how Mubarak and the military both use agents provocateurs can figure this one out.
The demonstrators quickly turned to enraged calls for Marshal Tantawi to step down. Bystanders saw military vehicles crushing protesters under their wheels. Twitter is awash in stories; @Waelabbas reports that four eyewitnesses saw soldiers dumping bodies in the Nile. Another video shows a mob attacking the Coptic Hospital itself:
At least 24 are dead, 200 or more injured. The regime increasingly reveals its willingness to discard the trappings of legitimacy and govern by brute force. Parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed; the junta talks vaguely about handing over the presidency in 2012 or 2013. Meanwhile, it has embraced the old, dictatorial emergency law; and today it took an invigorating bath of blood.
To me, the most ominous comment came from the puppet prime minister Essam Sharaf, in an interview with state TV:
What’s happening is not sectarian tension. It is an escalating plan for the fall and fragmentation of the state. There’s a feeling of a conspiracy theory to keep Egypt from having the elections that will lead it to democracy. … There are hidden hands involved and we will not leave them.
A government that needs conspiracy theories is incapable of governing democratically. The junta has already shown a crude skill at inventing enemies. Now it can conjure up a few more.
There is some dispute about what limb or digit Sharaf actually identified as the hidden agent. @Wedaddy writes on Twitter, “For the record Essam Sharaf has a very poor command of Arabic grammar.” He also added, “Sharaf spoke about foreign fingers… he can have my foreign middle finger him and his tinpot marshal.” Yeah.