The way the bloody pogrom against Coptic demonstrators unfolded outside Egyptian state television in Cairo Sunday, Oct. 9 closely illustrated the state of affairs in post-Mubarak Egypt under the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
As several thousand Christian Copts marched on the TV building for a sit-down to protest pro-Muslim broadcasting coverage of the burning of their churches, they were ambushed. National radio and television called on the masses to halt what was described as the Copts' attempt to seize the television building. The response was immediate.
Muslim thugs already standing by fell on the protesters with knives, rocks, Molotov cocktails and sharpened crowbars. When Egyptian soldiers stepped in to break up the melee, they were seen focusing their fire on the Copts – not their Islamist assailants. After the Christian demonstrators refused to disperse, the soldiers fired on them with live ammunition and drove heavy armored vehicles straight into clusters of demonstrators and rolled back and forth to keep on running them over.
Of the 26 people killed in the disturbances – and upward of 500 injured – 22 were Copts and only four soldiers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources drew from this incident six conclusions about the way the military junta headed by Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi is running the country – ostensibly in the transition to civilian rule.
US officials start talks with Muslims while Islamist hoodlums massacre Copts
1. With only two months to go for parliamentary elections – that is if they take place on schedule in November and are not postponed until Spring 2012 – the Muslim Brotherhood, not the military, rules the streets.
2. The SCAF has allowed this control to be seized not only by the Brotherhood's political elements but by its most violent Salafi factions. Although the military junta promised determined action against these unruly elements after they invaded and torched the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Sept. 10, nothing was done to rein them in or stop them from continuing to terrorize the streets, this time by attacking Christian Copts.
3. As the episode evolved into what was clearly a planned massacre of the Christian demonstrators, the close coordination between the Muslim gangs and the soldiers was plain to see.
This collaboration was first exhibited four months ago on July 29 when the military rulers helped Muslim Brotherhood activists chase liberal, secular, pro-democracy demonstrators out of Tahrir Square and away from a million-strong rally.
4. The Copts' protest and the ensuing Islamist pogrom just happened to follow a fateful decision by President Barack Obama a week earlier to embark on official talks with the Muslim Brother. The episode therefore accidentally acquired a historic dimension.
US emissaries had their first formal meeting with Muslim Brotherhood representatives on Oct. 2, bringing forward an objective to which President Obama has adhered unwaveringly from the start of the Arab Spring: to bring Muslim Brotherhood into the government of post-revolutionary Egypt.
Obama sticks to his ambition to bring Muslims into the Egyptian government
The day before Mubarak was elbowed out of power on Feb. 10, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described the Muslim Brotherhood to a House Intelligence Committee hearing as a “largely secular” organization.
“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood,’” he said, “is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam… They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera. … In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.”
Even the clarification Clapper’s media office released a few hours later to his shocked audience did not change his basic premise that the Muslim Brotherhood gave no one any cause for concern:
“To clarify Director Clapper’s point – in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation,” the statement said.
The US delegation to the historic conversation this month with the Muslim Brotherhood was headed by Prem G. Kumar, the National Security Council Director for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs and Amy Destefano, First Secretary at the US Embassy in Cairo.
Their host was Dr. Mohamed Saad Katatni, Secretary General of the FJP, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood who is running for parliament on its behalf. The Brotherhood continues to insist publicly that its members do not seek political of government office.
Washington links Egypt's governance to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington interpret the presence of Kumar in the delegation as signifying the linkage US policy makes between the Arab Revolt, the Egyptian Revolution and its domestic woes, on the one hand, and a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Israel's attitude on Palestinian issues, on the other.
It was meant to discourage the burgeoning Muslim Brotherhood from casting its fate with Tehran on the grounds that Iran has no influence on Israel whereas American leverage on Jerusalem is substantial.
Responding to this message, the Brotherhood's Dr. Katatni replied haughtily that to achieve balanced relations with the countries in the region, it was up to the United States to "re-read the new scenario in accordance to the will of the peoples of the region."
He was saying, in fact, that just as the Muslim Brotherhood dictated its path to the military junta in Cairo, so too it would instruct Washington on the course it should take in the region.
5. The Muslim Brotherhood understands that the Obama administration has had to come to terms with the Islamic group pulling the strings of power in Egypt today and take into account its almost certain victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 507 of Sept. 2: US Dismayed by Egypt's Rapid Islamic Drift – The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis Count on Two-Thirds of Egyptian Vote).
The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is likely destined for the scrap heap
This was evident in the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's careful phrasing in an interview she gave Egypt's Al-Hayat TV last week. Asked how the administration regarded the country's Islamists, she replied: "We will be willing to and open to working with a government that has representatives who are committed to non-violence, who are committed to human rights, who are committed to the democracy that I think was hoped for in Tahrir Square," she said.
6. A senior Middle East intelligence source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly on Tuesday, October 11 that in these circumstances, it is only a matter of time before the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, which has survived 32 years, finds its way to the scrap heap.
When asked how long this would take, he estimated: Just a few months.