Sunday 1 September 2013

by Victor Teoh Yun-Chen, Junior 1 Cempaka, Class of 2014

On 17 December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as a result of his maltreatment at the hands of a municipal inspector. His self-immolation would change the Arab world forever. It sparked the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and a wave of massive demonstrations throughout the Arab world which soon became one of the most important events in its history — the Arab Spring.

Unrest quickly spread across the region; the Libyan and Yemeni governments were overthrown and huge protests flared up in other countries. It continues to this day, with a brutal civil war being fought in Syria. Egypt was not spared — two years ago, dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted after millions of Egyptians took to the streets protesting against his autocratic rule.

Like many of their fellow Arabs, the Egyptians wanted change. They became disillusioned by the years of authoritarianism and corruption combined with an outright contempt for human rights and a faltering economy. After eighteen days of protests, they succeeded. Mubarak stepped down, and the military promised to hold elections within six months.

However, things did not turn out as planned. Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, faced protests demanding his resignation just a year after he took office. On 30 June 2013, nearly 500,000 people swarmed Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square to demand his ouster, with another 100,000 demonstrating in Alexandria.

Morsi’s detractors claim that he alienated liberal and secular politicians, forced through a new Islamist-leaning constitution, reinstated Mubarak-era human rights violations and allowed living standards to drop. In spite of that, he continues to command popular support; thousands have camped in east Cairo in support of the man they consider Egypt’s legitimate leader.

Chaos in Egypt continues. The Muslim Brotherhood’s national headquarters were stormed, and protestors around the country clashed ceaselessly. Meanwhile, Morsi fought back against the military’s threat to seize power if the civilian government did not restore order, insisting that he will not step down, and using the opportunity to blast the “enemies of Egypt”.

On 3 July 2013, just over a year after he took office, Morsi was deposed in a coup d’état by General Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi, who also suspended the constitution and appointed an interim president after weeks of protests. Morsi was placed under house arrest, and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders began.

The international response to these events has been mixed, with President Obama saying he is “deeply concerned” by the developments, Russia’s Foreign Ministry calling for all sides to exercise restraint and Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating that “No matter where they are... coups are bad.”

An explosion of violent unrest ensued. Government troops have fired indiscriminately into groups of Morsi supporters on multiple occasions, and are alleged to have shot at them on 8 July after dawn prayers outside the Republican Guard headquarters. Anti- and pro-Morsi demonstrators have also clashed, resulting in many deaths including that of a 14-year-old boy. Numerous police stations and military bases have been attacked with firearms and explosives, resulting in casualties on both sides.

The violence intensified recently, when Egyptian security forces raided two pro-Morsi camps on 14 August under the pretext of seizing weapons caches, killing more than 600 people, including several journalists. Raging mobs attacked police stations and government buildings, along with dozens of churches throughout Egypt. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew in large parts of the country. World leaders condemned the renewed violence, and appealed again for Egyptian security forces to exercise restraint.

It is not immediately apparent how events in Egypt will unfold but the volatility of the situation, combined with the unwillingness of both sides to compromise is a harbinger of even more bloodshed in the near future. Regardless of who they support, innocent civilians are being massacred. Even so, unlike in Syria, the international community has not shown any intention of intervening to protect them.
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