Just a few months ago, hope rose in Cairo’s Tahrir Square (aside, of course, from the horrifying gang rapes committed there, several against foreign reporters).
Egypt would, people on the ground predicted, shake off its past and move into a new, brighter future.
Then came the election, in which only 43% of the Egyptian electorate put an Islamist in power.
Now, there seem to be no more reasonable answers. President Morsi has left. His supporters battle with the Egyptian military, and over 700 people have lost their lives, including women and their children installed in the Cairo protest-camp tents (presumably to prepare food for the crowds, since women who gather to protest or report are routinely raped), tents destroyed by the army’s flamethrowers and rockets. Photos of the bleeding wounded and rows of shrouded dead are everywhere. Police are allegedly confiscating the equipment of journalists so they cannot file stories, and the scenes are described as massacres.
At least one British photographer and one female journalist have died, shot by snipers aiming right for their heads, so that the bloody surge would escape reportage.
Egyptian police were hauled from a bus and executed, hands tied behind their backs.
The military disavows its actions, claiming they were attacked first (possible – men in the camps stockpiled weapons and fired guns) and responded with restraint.
No, they did not. When non-combatants are killed by sharpshooters, self-restraint was lost.
The US has cancelled a joint military operation with Egypt, Denmark has halted their aid package (other nations’ governments are under pressure from their own citizens to do likewise), and the United Nations warns that Egypt is dangerously polarized.
The pendulum swings over, swings back. Eventually, Egypt – where protests and violence are spreading, such that Western tourists are keeping to their hotels and some countries are advising citizens to cancel their plans to visit Egypt – will be more peaceful. How many more people will die, however, before peaceful disagreement will be achieved? Already, Egyptian violence has affected its lucrative tourist industry. Even the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh, hundreds of miles from Cairo, has seen its tourism vanish. The dearth of visitors with ready cash bounces along the economic road: first, hotels and restaurants and their employees, then the growers and producers who supply them, and on and on.
When violence is the way of the day, people get hurt. People bleed, and not just literally. War-created poverty affects whether children are schooled or must toil for abusive employers, the amount of nutrition they get, how they are healed – or not – in cases of illness or injury, and, if they’re girls in a Muslim country, whether their parents will barter them to lecherous men in foul “temporary marriages”, a thinly-disguised form of forced prostitution.
Political violence afflicts the next generation. That’s why a strong middle class is the best harbinger of children’s future health, because a strong middle class prevents political violence.
The wealthy in Egypt have largely fled the turmoil. They have the money to do it. But ordinary people? They’re stuck. They have not yet tried for refuge elsewhere, as Syrians have done in hundreds of thousands. Yet if Egyptian violence continues, people there will begin to stream across borders to neighboring countries.
Which is a guarantee of more horror for children, since refugee status brings abuse of its own by men who protect themselves from violence only to perpetrate it on others, like men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states who prey on Syrian refugee girls.
Is there hope for Egypt? Eventually. In the meantime, both protesters and army need to recognize that their conflict guts their nation’s future, slicing it open for human predators.