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10 myths about Egyptian crisis

During a recent visit to the European Union in Brussels, organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos William Samaan delivered the report: “Think Again: 10 Myths about Egypt’s Second Revolution”.

COPTIC Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan has responded at the EU to the more common queries about what is the nature of the situation in Egypt and what is reasonable to expect.

In his report to the EU, he referred to these questions as “myths” because of their power in the imagination of the people he met, and he tries to dispel them at every opportunity.

“We have to give the Egyptian constitution and the Egyptian people the chance they have been fighting for,” he said.

1. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) represent the majority of Egyptians. In Europe we have Christian Democrats – are not the Muslim Brotherhood “Muslim Democrats”?

No. The MB obtained only 12 out of a possible 50 million votes in the elections of 2011.

Their rate of support fell sharply to as little as five per cent when the Morsi government eliminated a pluralist parliament and replaced it with one in which they were the absolute majority, was stopped short from replacing 3500 judges by people they knew would uphold Sharia law over the existing more secular laws, and declared illegal the work of foreign-funded pro-democracy and human rights NGOs.

The MB, however, has press officers abroad still propagating a message of massive support with little or no bearing on reality in Egypt.

2. There are massive, peaceful pro-Morsi demonstrations still taking place and being suppressed.

They are an illusion fuelled by the lack of presence of foreign correspondents outside Cairo.

A few hundred supporters still gather intermittently but they have worked with broadcast media owned by well-known Sunni sheiks, even using images of the anti-Morsi demonstrations labeling them as pro-Morsi.

The demonstrations are not peaceful. Extremists have attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades killing many policemen.

3. There was a coup and there is now a military government.

It was not a coup, but the military supporting the will of more than 33 million Egyptians demonstrating in the streets under the slogan “Food, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity”.

The MB international spokespeople have insisted on isolating two events as if they were disconnected: the elections that brought Morsi to power and his removal from office.

There is little mention of what happened in between: the dissolution of the nascent democratic structures such as the pluralist parliament in favour of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly and the single-handed appointment of 13 MB regional leaders (out of 27).

The interim government is not military. It is a civilian government and the army has no intention of taking up power.

In February 2011, when former President Hosni Mubarak listened to the people and stood down, he surrendered the government to a military council who proceeded to organise elections and a civilian government was installed.

The interim government is promising to have a new full government in nine months.

4. The Tamarod was organised by the military and pressured citizens to sign the petition.

No. Tamarod is a youth movement, which started in May 2013 and the timeline of events demonstrates that the collection of the 22 million signatures (with full identification) started well before the army decided to ask Morsi to listen to the people.

The Tamarod set a June 30 deadline for Dr Morsi to respond to the demands, which included calling for early presidential elections.

5. Egypt had bad elections and a bad Constitution. There is no sign this time that things will be better.

Yes and No. Yes, the elections could have been better; Morsi came to power with 12 million votes in an election with about 43 per cent turnout of the 50 million registered voters. Moreover, the multiple claims of fraud outside Cairo had no electoral tribunal for recourse (pre-filled ballots, repeated voter names, etc).

Elections can only be improved with a truly independent electoral body and tribunal.

In addition, a controversial move of the MB was to first hold the presidential elections and only afterward address the Constitution.

This effectively prevented the majority of Egyptians, not members of the winning political party, to participate in the Constitutional process.

6. There are waves of arrests against the MB; news media are being harassed.

Most MB members are free to live and participate fully in civil society.

Judiciary mandates have been issued against individuals who have incited hatred and violence: committing murder (such as those caught on camera throwing youngsters off a roof in Alexandria), as well as perpetrating acts of violence against Egyptians, victimising not only Christians but also the majority of Muslims.

As to the alleged media harassment, the broadcasting and social media units that were closed (seen abroad as news media), are rarely more than the medium of expression of well-known foreign sheiks financing their own objectives. Most of these broadcasters have little to do with what the West considers as free and responsible media, necessary to a democratic society.

7. Egyptian society is divided, the process of reconciliation is necessary.

No. There is a small minority of Egyptians, about five per cent, who might be open supporters of the MB.

The other 95 per cent want a modern democratic state with a rule of law based on citizenship not on religious background, gender, age or other potentially discriminating measurements.

Contrary to the situation in Libya or Syria, the fabric of Egyptian society remains unified; the present desire is to integrate all parties in a peaceful and inclusive manner without a tyranny of the minority.

8. If it were true the people only wanted change, there was no need for a military coup. We do not do that in the West.

With a simple review on the sequence of events it is evident that it was not a coup but an answer to the voice of more than 33 million Egyptians who, disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood, again sought democratic change by going to the streets.

Since their narrow win in May 2012, the Morsi regime and the Muslim Brotherhood made a rapid power-grab, eliminating the possibility of participation in political life to Egyptians from other political affiliations.

The Islamist-dominated Constitutional Assembly quickly issued new laws voiding existing rules protecting the rights of children and women (pushing to make the legal age for marriage as low as nine years) and freedom of expression and education (going as far as arresting comedians and teachers expressing opinions contrary to the Sharia). With neither political means nor free media to address their government, Egyptians took to the streets demanding Dr Morsi to meet with them and discuss the changes they thought urgent.

Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, informed the European Parliament she had met with Dr Morsi before the demonstrations and made it known to him she “… could feel the antipathy to the Brotherhood and could see the growing numbers of people on the streets …” (Ahram Online, 12/9/13) and urged him on behalf of the EU to accept dialogue with the population, but he refused to negotiate.

9. Egypt has no tradition of democracy; this will happen again soon.

Egypt may not as yet have a “tradition of democracy” as we understand in the West, but the interim government and the civil society are giving themselves the means to establish its foundations.

As reflected by the popular will and the progress of the interim government, Egypt seeks to be a modern, democratic society.

If the West wants to help us, support the interim government in its hopes to establish a new secular Constitution and to implement the roadmap to elections. The greatest challenge to this process, especially with the onset of winter, is a revolution deriving from greater economic hardship and hunger.

10. But Muslims and Christians will continue their sectarian strife.

No. There is no sectarian strife in Egypt.

In some communities Christians have suffered more attacks than in others because they are peaceful and a relatively easy target.

The tensions grew out of the beginning of the Morsi regime, but the August 14 violence against Christians, police, firemen, museums, schools, hospitals etc created a greater solidarity from the side of the moderate Muslims toward the Christians.

Many Muslims in Upper Egypt are now protecting the Christian buildings assuring them of their protection from extremists.

Additional Background

Summer was the moment Egyptian society decided they had enough of the Morsi regime and took to the streets by the millions.

Egyptians of all backgrounds had seen the democratic illusion dissolve and their rights wither as soon as the results of the elections were confirmed.

Morsi had been elected to office by 12 million people, out of 50 million registered voters, which gave him a clear majority over the other candidates. Egyptians celebrated the advent of the first ever elected government.

Over one year, however, the methodical elimination of normal – albeit incipient – avenues of popular expression such as parliamentary and judiciary review, as well as NGO action left citizens without a voice unless they showed their number in the open.

A youth movement called Tamarod (Rebellion) collected 22 million signatures in early June 2013 asking the Morsi regime for crucial changes in his administration.

As they were ignored, Tamarod called for demonstrations in Cairo and other cities on June 30, to which an estimated 33 million Egyptians responded.

After two days of massive and peaceful demonstrations, the military gave notice to the President of the need to respond within an established deadline.

Dr Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party refused, leading to his arrest and the immediate establishment of an interim, civilian government.

On July 3, a Roadmap to the next elections was set. Within the next nine months, a new Constitution would be drafted by a new Constitutional Committee as inclusive as possible, where also the Muslim Brotherhood as such (not as political party) were invited.

The MB rejected both the Roadmap and the invitation, calling as a condition the return of Dr Morsi to the Presidency.

The new Constitution would pave the way for the election of the new parliament and then of a new president.

Meanwhile, some supporters of the deposed government took to the streets as well, and organised sit-ins in squares.

The sit-ins were tolerated for several weeks until the security forces informed them that there would soon be a clearing of the area, inviting them to leave.

Many did, but others defied the orders.

On August 14 in the morning, the security forces entered the squares, and they were met with sniper fire from the nearby buildings, which unleashed a violent confrontation leaving an estimated 638 dead.

Simultaneously, however, in several cities in Egypt, far from the eyes of the diplomatic and foreign media corps, a co-ordinated armed attack on government, cultural and Christian buildings was deployed.

Muslim populations moved to protect the Christians, forming human chains around their houses and churches, thus in fact unifying the moderate Muslim majority and the Christian community in their desire for a stable society worthy of the sacrifices made for democratic change.

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