Egypt: Young Islamists in al-Maymoun reject non-violence in the face of repression

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A student of Cairo University lights flares during an anti-coup protest in Cairo, Egypt on November 11, 2014. Anadolu Agency

Published Thursday, November 13, 2014

Despite chatter from the Egyptian delegation that participated in the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva last week – defending Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab’s cabinet and its alleged respect for democracy – collective punishment, social marginalization and arbitrary arrests persist throughout the country, as recently seen with the widespread violations by security forces in the village of al-Maymoun in the Beni Suef governorate.

Cairo – Located almost 100 kilometers from Cairo, al-Maymoun has a population of 26,000. Last Sunday, its residents awoke to security forces closing down all entrances to their village. Police then raided the town and deployed officers along all of its streets in an unprecedented manner.

Schools and public administrations closed down while security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at citizens. The situation then escalated further as activists tried to stand up to the police. A 23-year-old man named Abdullah Radi Suleiman died during the clashes and seven others were injured.

Young villagers retaliated by blocking the Beni Suef-Cairo agricultural road and launched firecrackers at the Wassiti intersection.

According to official sources, Suleiman was killed during an exchange of gunfire that erupted when security forces tried to arrest Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the village. However, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), which backs ousted President Mohammed Mursi, held the security forces fully responsible for the events.

In a statement, the alliance said, “Shedding the blood of Egyptians and escalating oppression everywhere, whether in villages, colleges or squares, will ignite the anger of the people,” adding that, “Egyptians are showing more resistance to oppression.”

Ahmed Said, a Muslim Brotherhood member in Beni Suef, said local residents are angry and the youth are seeking revenge against their relatives’ murderers. While people are still practicing restraint, he warned that the situation may get out of hand.

“We might not be able to control the reactions of young men, but we call on all sides to practice restraint,” Said said, stressing that the alliance will respond by holding peaceful protests to reject oppression and oppose the current political status quo.

He further noted that large protests will be held in Beni Suef in the coming hours in response to these transgressions by security forces.

It is not the first time that security forces have stormed al-Maymoun. They had previously raided it to capture NASL members, but the operation failed after young men in the village stood up to them.

Al-Maymoun is described as the “Kardassa of Beni Suef” in reference to Kardassa, a large village in Giza that is considered a stronghold for Islamist factions.

Despite the security pressures, protests against what opposition groups have described as “gag orders” have continued in Beni Suef.

Houssam, a member of Strong Egypt Party, noted that the village of Nahya in Giza was witnessing daily protests in support of the NASL after opposition leaders managed to gain the backing of large families in the area. He claimed that the opposition was also relying on surprising and swift “flash” protests organized by young activists.

He noted a growing penchant among young Islamists for violence because they do not see any prospects of change amid the widespread oppression in Egypt, which includes the impunity and persistent human rights violations [of government forces] in addition to “the distortion of the image of the revolutionaries.”

However, it seems that the youth are not merely thinking about violence, but have gone well beyond this stage. Three thousand young men are now threatening to quit the NASL if its leadership does not respond to their demands to revoke its “peaceful” strategy in confrontations against the authorities. They argue that “pacifism will not bring down the coup.”

Ever since Mursi was ousted in July 2013, the NASL has been advocating a “decentralized” policy, stating that it is impossible to control the youth. Consequently, unorganized and decentralized organizations led by the younger generation began to emerge.

Ashraf Abdel Ghafar, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, recently called on activists “to resort to all legitimate ways of self-defense.” At the same time, Mohammed Awad, a member of the Judges For Egypt movement, called on the opposition to change its “current methods,” adding that “pacifism will not bring down the coup, not even in a hundred years and the [the coup enforcers] can only be overthrown by legitimate means of defense and real struggle in all possible ways.”

Meanwhile, NASL leader Imam Youssef said, “I know the youth oppose peaceful methods used by the alliance, but it is not right to abandon [these methods].”

In response to a question on whether this current situation will affect the alliance, the NASL leader said, “We welcome those who want to join us and those who do not.”

For his part, Bahauddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies, warned against “replicating the Saddam Hussein regime in Egypt,” which he said may lead to the “same catastrophic results that broke down Iraq and contributed to the proliferation of terrorism.”

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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