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By Bayless Parsley
The official death toll from yesterday’s protest in Cairo has risen to 24, with 272 reported injured. Of the 24 reported killed outside of Egypt’s state TV and radio building, three were allegedly Egyptian soldiers. This would be the first time that protesters outside of the Sinai have used firearms against the Egyptian military and marks a new phase in post-Mubarak Egypt.
Oct. 9 was the most violent day in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak and many Egyptians are now calling it “Black Sunday.” What began as a Coptic protest march from northern Cairo to the state TV building known as Maspero, devolved into a melee that led to the deaths of over 20 people. Multiple military vehicles were set on fire, military issue armored personnel carriers were driven through crowds of people at high speeds and at some point someone from within the crowd fired upon a group of soldiers who were providing security outside of Maspero. This would be the first time that any protester in Egypt has used a firearm against an Egyptian soldier since the demonstrations began in January, and if true, marks a dramatic shift in tactics.
The protest was organized by a handful of Coptic activist groups who have organized demonstrations outside of Maspero in the past. Shortly after the violence broke out, state media blamed the Copts explicitly. Some of these guys even exhorted people to go out on the streets and protect the army from the Copts. In a country that has seen sectarian tensions between Copts and certain portions of the majority Muslim population, it came as no surprise that within a short time, mobs of Muslim men began to arrive at Maspero carrying torches and sticks. STRATFOR sources on the ground in Cairo reported witnessing Copts being beaten by civilians expressing solidarity with the military. While this was happening, anti-military crowds were converging at nearby Tahrir Square, protesting against the violence used by the soldiers at Maspero. The two groups later clashed in the square, though no deaths were reported.
The violence on Sunday was an extremely polarizing event in Egypt. Until now, violence against the military has been taboo, while the military has avoided using this much force against the demonstrators as well. The deaths have brought to the forefront a growing chasm in Egypt between two overarching camps: those who espouse unity with military and those who openly advocate for the end of military rule. The government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself have both issued official statements wishing to calm people’s emotions and blame a foreign hand for instigating the violence. Neither have openly blamed Coptic demonstrators as state media did in the immediate aftermath of the violence breaking out on Sunday, but this will not convince either side to moderate their positions in the near future. As the sectarian issue grows in stature, so too will the chasm between the two camps, divided over what the role of the military should be, as security conditions deteriorate in Egypt. The questions now are whether the military will use what happened on Oct. 9 to justify an increased crackdown on dissidents and how the events will affect the image of the military in the eyes of Egyptians who normally stay away from politics.
A New Phase in Post-Mubarak Egypt is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
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