16 Aug 2013

Egypt violence: bloody, immoral and very murky

By using deadly force against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian security forces are not only acting immorally but storing up trouble: chances are, some survivors will now turn to terrorism, seeing no future in democracy nor whatever system emerges from the violence.

That’s about the only simple, clear thing I can say about what’s going on in Egypt because once you look below the surface, everything becomes murky.

‘Human shields’

I’ve just been watching the extraordinary images shot by Mick Deane, the brave Sky News cameraman who was killed filming the military assault on the Rabaa Mosque encampment on Tuesday.

Amongst the debris and the crack of sniper shots, men and women can be seen wandering around holding toddlers.

What did they think they were doing keeping their children in that camp? There had been multiple warnings that an attack was imminent.

The answer lies in the culture of martyrdom cynically promoted by the Brotherhood leadership, who refused to negotiate a way forward with the new authorities.

Pretty much everyone I met in that camp over the weeks told me how keen they were to die for the cause – by extension they were willing to sacrifice their children too. So when the authorities say the Brotherhood was using children as “human shields”, they have a point.


The youthful Tamarod movement that spearheaded the overthrow of the government of President Mohammed Morsi was manipulated by the military – there is no doubt who’s in charge now. But millions of Egyptians back not only the army takeover but also the violent action against the Brotherhood.

They don’t seem to care that hundreds, possibly more, were killed. I don’t think that should deter anyone from condemning the killing, but we can’t ignore the fact that many Egyptians believe that the Brotherhood had to be stopped from dragging the country to ruin.

Again, it’s complicated: the government of President Morsi was authoritarian, incompetent and rode roughshod over the rights of women and minorities. He was elected as a president for all of Egypt but governed for his supporters only – and many of them grew to hate him too.

Yet again, it was murky – were the power cuts and fuel shortages that characterised the last few months the fault of a government that couldn’t operate the levers of power?

Or was it sabotage? The Egyptian military has tentacles deep into the Egyptian civil service and beyond. It controls utilities and fuel supply. The moment the army took over, fuel queues disappeared and the lights came back on. Was that a coincidence?


In the last few days, dozens of churches have been attacked, probably by Muslim Brotherhood supporters taking revenge for the assault on their protest camps.

No question that this is wrong, and – to use a euphemism – misguided: it’s not the fault of the Christians that Brotherhood supporters have been killed. But why did the security forces not protect the churches? Anyone who knows anything about Egypt could have predicted that some more extreme Islamist elements would go for Christian symbols.

Could it be that it plays into the government narrative of a vicious, violent terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, so, cynically, they’re quite happy to let it happen?

As reporters, in the end our task is straightforward, if not easy. We must find out what’s going on and tell people. But if anyone tells you that what’s happening in Egypt is a simple struggle between democracy and dictatorship, order and chaos, right and wrong, they’re either disingenuous or ignorant.

In Egypt, few things are as clear as they seem on the surface.

Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter

Read more:

Friday of anger: Muslim Brotherhood calls for mass rally

Obama: US relations with Egypt ‘cannot continue as usual’

Egypt faces the aftermath of a massacre

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