The streets of Cairo are running red, as Egypt's military carries out a brutal crackdown on supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamad Morsi.
On August 14, after weeks of threats and violent harassment, the Egyptian army moved to shut down protest camps in Nahda Square and outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya in Cairo, where supporters of Morsi have been staging sit-ins since his overthrow on July 3.
By the evening, more than 500 protesters had been killed and thousands wounded. The army also killed three journalists in the attack.
Mosques became makeshift hospitals for the wounded, with Australian journalist Rachel Williamson writing from Cairo for New Matilda: “Badly wounded men with heads lolling and eyes half-closed were carried into a makeshift hospital, set up in the belly of the mosque.
“It smelt like a slaughterhouse and the blood was washed from the floor with whatever came to hand — water, iodine, soft drink …
“Shocked rescuers of a man shot in the head by live bullets kept tugging at my hand and pointing to his head crying, 'His brains, see there, you can see his brains!'
“Others insisted on showing us the morgue, filling up with people all killed by live bullets to the head, chest and abdomen.”
On August 16, supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had returned to the streets, protesting against the killings and swearing that the military’s violence would not deter their campaign for Morsi’s reinstatement.
The military again responded with lethal force, including the use of live ammunition, killing more than 100. The August 17 New York Times estimated 750 people killed since August 14, the number continuing to rise.
Vice-President Mohamed El Baredei resigned in protest at the killings. But most of the other liberal politicians in the interim government — formed after the overthrow of Morsi — have supported the army.
Recent events have underlined the reality that the government headed by interim President Adly Mansour is merely decoration for rule by the military. Led by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, its authority was formally enhanced by the announcement of a Declaration of Emergency on August 14.
There have also been about 40 police killed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as well as clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and armed civilians, with casualties on both sides, and sectarian attacks on churches and Christian schools by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
The army's massacre was condemned by Amnesty International, the African Union and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Protests against the Egyptian army took place in cities worldwide.
Only Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered public support to the military.
Inside Egypt, however, the army has been enjoying previously unknown levels of popularity since its July 3 coup, which followed large anti-Morsi protests. This popularity does not appear seriously dented by the slaughter of Muslim Brotherhood members.
However, the killing is having an impact on some. Williamson wrote: “People who were once bystanders to the conflict, or personally against the anti-coup protesters are now coming out in support, such as Hussan.
“'I don't want Morsi back, but I don't want Mubarak and the army back again. Yesterday it was a war,' he said. 'Those people are heroes.'"
An August 15 NYT report of reactions in the working-class Cairo suburb of Imbaba reported some locals were disturbed by the level of violence and the danger of authoritarian military rule. But most were cheerfully willing to accept any pretext the army offered for its bloodletting.
More incongruously, Egypt’s vibrant activist milieu, which provided the decentralised leadership for the uprisings that have brought down three military-supported presidents since 2011, has largely endorsed the crackdown.
Nonetheless, some voices within it have opposed the violence and warned that authoritarian military rule will inevitably be used against other forces.
The armed forces have been the core of the Egyptian state since the 1952 coup that brought down the British-dominated monarchy. In the 1950s and ’60s, despite repressive and undemocratic features, the military regime of Gamal Abdul Nasser enjoyed popular support because of land and wealth redistribution and a strong stance against US and Israeli imperialism.
However, in the 1970s, Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, began opening Egypt to unregulated foreign capital. This began a cycle of policies redistributing wealth away from the Egyptian people.
In 1979, Sadat made peace with the US and Israel at the Camp David Accords. The provision of US$1.5 billion a year in military aid by the US was institutionalised in return.
Under Sadat and during the 30-year rule of his successor, Hosni Mubarak, senior military officers amassed considerable economic power through administering neoliberal policies dictated by Western-controlled international financial institutions.
The 2011 uprising which overthrew Mubarak was an uprising against the military-dominated state. The US-funded military is the main obstacle to the revolution’s demands of economic justice and opportunity, political freedom and national independence and dignity.
However, Egypt’s revolutionary movement is young and lacks any cohesive leadership. Anger at the crimes of the Mubarak regime have been focused on Mubarak and his closest cronies. The army was able to redeem its public standing by turning against the dictator at the crucial moment.
However, the military squandered much public good will during its direct rule through the junta of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. It maintained unpopular economic policies and was responsible for disappearances, torture, sexual violence and shootings of protesters.
Popular anger at the military was part of the context of the presidential elections won by Morsi last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest political party in Egypt. Socially conservative and economically neoliberal, it was banned under Mubarak. However it was less persecuted than other opposition groups, and was even allowed a presence in parliament. It had an established social base at the time of Mubarak’s overthrow.
Initially it stood apart from the anti-Mubarak movement, but joined in before his overthrow.
The Brotherhood's organised base meant the only credible candidates in the election were Morsi and former prime minister and Mubarak crony Ahmed Shafik.
Public disillusion with Morsi's regime was inevitable, as it will be with any regime that remains committed to maintaining Egypt’s political and economic subservience to Western imperialism and the power of the local elite.
It is impossible for any government to break from these policies while the state remains centred on the US-funded military.
However, the Morsi regime’s reaction to declining popular support exacerbated this disillusionment. This included support for military and police violence, the creation of death squads, assassinations and organised sexual assaults directed at protesters.
As Morsi’s support declined, the army and elites began questioning how useful he was. Intra-elite tensions were exacerbated by the regime favouring the business interests of its own cronies over those of the military.
The Muslim Brotherhood also responded to increasing opposition by relying more heavily on its Islamist base. This included promoting sectarian attacks against the Christian minority and the increased intrusion of religion into the political and legal spheres.
This theocratic politics is not supported by a majority of Egyptians. However, it is supported by a significant minority, about a fifth of the population.
On July 3, following millions-strong anti-Morsi mobilisations on June 30, the army, in a repetition of the overthrow of Mubarak, announced that it had “gone over to the people.”
Popular anger quickly turned against the army in 2011, but less so since the departure of Morsi. The military has been able to keep anger focused on the Brotherhood, made easier by Muslim Brotherhood supporters having continued to use violence against Christians, political activists and others.
An August 2 Amnesty International statement alleged kidnapping, torture, sexual violence and murder by Morsi supporters, while noting that the police and army were committing similar crimes.
Some in the revolutionary movement, such as the small Revolutionary Socialists, opposed the military’s monopolisation of power, the shooting of pro-Morsi protesters and the detention without due process of Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
However, these demands were mostly not taken up outside the Islamist constituency. On July 26, General Sisi called a mass rally with the specific purpose of obtaining a popular mandate to deal with the pro-Morsi protesters as they saw fit.
The April 6 Youth Movement and others, including the Revolutioary Socialists — who had been involved in the anti-Morsi movement — called protests on July 26 for a “Third Square” opposed to both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, the Third Square protest was small. Millions responded to the Sisi’s call and large numbers also protested for the reinstatement of Morsi.
Having received his “mandate”, Sisi sent troops to fire on pro-Morsi protesters, killing dozens.
This brought “concerns” from the army's Western backers, but the sometimes comical determination of US politicians not to jeopardise (because of US law) military aid to Egypt by mentioning the word “coup” would have reassured Sisi as to the limits of Western concern.
This helped lead straight to the latest massacres — described in an August 14 statement by the Revolutionary Socialists as “a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.”