Damanhour Divisions Mirror Egypt’s Instability

Mourners attend the funeral of 15-year-old Islam Massoud in the Egyptian town of Damanhour 26 November 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Asmaa Waguih)

By: Abdel Rahman Youssef

Published Thursday, November 29, 2012

The clashes which have broken out following Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi’s recent decree have claimed at least three lives and sparked widespread fear that Egypt’s current political deadlock could lead to civil unrest.

On 26 November 2012, Ahmed Naguib Mohammad Ali, 18, died after reportedly being shot in the head by Egypt’s Central Security Forces (CSF) sent to quell protests. Ali’s death follows that of a young Muslim Brotherhood member, Islam Fathy, 15, who died Sunday when violence erupted in the northern city of Damanhour between pro and anti-Mursi factions, as well as that of Jaber Salah, 18, who died last week when he was hit by birdshot fired by CSF.

Over 70 people were wounded in the Damanhour clashes over two days. Most of them belonged to the Brotherhood.

Damanhour had been relatively peaceful; the recent clashes mark the first in the city since the beginning of the revolution. But the city, which was once a bastion of the Muslim Brotherhood, has changed. As more and more people become disillusioned with the Brotherhood and anti-Mursi sentiment rises, tensions have followed.

The Brotherhood, in turn, accused the Popular Current party, led by Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third place in the first round of presidential elections, and al-Dustour Party, led by Mohammed el-Baradei, of instigating the attacks against the Brotherhood’s historical headquarters, an incident that was repeated in several other districts.

The Brotherhood went on to claim that these attacks will allow the baltagiya (thugs) and fuloul (remnants of the old regime) to target the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood also held the police responsible for allegedly provoking the demonstrators by chasing them into side streets and failing to arrest the “thugs” or protect the headquarters. These accusations echoed earlier claims by the Brotherhood following the attack on its Alexandria headquarters last Friday.

On their part, the Popular Current and al-Dustour accused the Brotherhood of provocation. They said the Islamist party took control of the square and filled it with sticks and rocks to be used against the protesters. Both parties denied that they intended to attack the headquarters, claiming that the Brotherhood was the one that brought thugs to protect its offices.

This incident in the quiet city of Damanhour directed a spotlight on the size of the rift in Egypt’s political street, a rift many fear could lead to more violence.

Islam Fathy’s funeral was attended by thousands. The chants repeated by mourners, most of them Brotherhood members, reflected their anger: “O martyr, sleep and rest, and we will continue the struggle,” and “We are Ikhwan, Allahu Akbar, we swore that we will not be defeated while the book of God is in our hands, and we will let the dry bushes become green [the Brotherhood’s color].”

Gamal Heshmat, member of Brotherhood’s general shura council, rejected claims that the country is headed towards civil unrest. He accused former left-wing presidential candidate Khaled Ali of promoting the fear of such a threat following the constitutional declaration.

Heshmat blamed the violence on the old regime and the thugs who he said were working with the approval of other political parties to destabilize the country.

Many Damanhour residents ruled out the possibility of civil clashes, saying that “daily bread” is all they care about, and that what happened did not concern them.

This sentiment echoes that of many ordinary Egyptians who do not feel affected by Mursi’s declarations, nor by the demands of his opponents.

This scenario puts the MB and its opponents, each in its own squares and streets. Each side will compete to show that they are stronger, will not succumb to the other side, and controls the street.

Remnants of the National Democratic Party and the former regime continue to play a role, especially through the political and judicial figures who have formed alliances with other parties since the start of the revolution, giving them temporary cover.

One cannot neglect the other centers of power in this scene: the army and the police. They are both considered crucial factors in any potential outbreak of violence, and their behavior will determine the direction of the conflict.

The army is still away from the action and does not want to interfere on anyone’s behalf, despite the tacit calls by some anti-Mursi forces for the army to intervene. But it seems that Mursi depends on the neutrality of the army or its intervention on his behalf when necessary. As of yet, the army has not made any statements on the issue and seems not to have made a final decision in this tumultuous atmosphere.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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