July 15, 2013 / 2:27 PM / 6 years ago

Army embrace starts to worry some Egyptians

CAIRO (Reuters) - After the party, regrets. At least for some Egyptians.

An Egyptian soldier keeps watch from atop a military vehicle in front of the presidential palace in Cairo July 14, 2013. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Liberals danced in Tahrir Square when the army heeded their protests and pushed President Mohamed Mursi from power.

Two weeks on, however, and some have nagging worries that a military takeover carries no small risk for a country that until Mursi’s election a year ago was run by generals for six decades.

Rights activist Gamal Eid makes no apology for the way Mursi was toppled by a democratic “majority” on the street. But he added: “I’m not happy when the military is controlling Egypt.

“I’m not happy when they use violence. And I’m worried about them using it again,” he said after soldiers shot dead dozens of Mursi’s Islamist supporters during a demonstration a week ago.

Many Egyptians, suspicious of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and nostalgic for the stability of the old regime, are only too happy the army is back in charge. They buy pictures of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who had Mursi arrested, and declare the armed forces to be guardians of the popular will.

But Mohamed Radwan worries even “diehard revolutionaries” like himself have been “carried away” by gratitude for the service Sisi did them. Radwan, 34, took part in the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He did so again in protests against the generals who ousted Mubarak, their former comrade in arms, and who then ruled until Mursi was elected a year ago.

“A lot of people have gotten caught up in this whole frenzy,” he said of some of his fellow demonstrators. “They are forgiving the army for all the past crimes it committed.”

The army, unchastised by U.S. and European aid donors for what the Brotherhood denounced as a “fascist coup”, insists it has no desire for power. Many are inclined to believe the generals, who already enjoy substantial wealth and freedom from civilian oversight under a constitution endorsed by Mursi.


But incidents like last Monday’s shooting outside the Cairo barracks where Islamists believed Mursi was held have reawakened concerns about military accountability. Egyptian media largely offer the army view that troops responded to an attack. Rights groups say killing more than 50 people was clearly unjustified.

Omar Robert Hamilton, who filmed troops firing in the streets in the 16 months between Mubarak and Mursi, speaks of public “amnesia”: “When the army was in power, they very quickly ensured that a cross-section of society was either jailed, injured or buried,” said the 28-year-old film-maker.

He is from the Mosireen collective, which documented army violence, including the shooting of Christian protesters in 2011 in central Cairo: “It’s extremely depressing,” said Hamilton, “To see how the army’s popularity seems to have bounced back so thoroughly, considering how brutal they were when in power.”

Unsurprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood agrees.

“The army managed to whitewash its public image,” said its spokesman Gehad El-Haddad. “People forgot to pause and think how bad the army was at politics. And now it’s too late.”

At a Cairo photographers studio where a portrait of Sisi in dress uniform now has pride of place on the wall, the owner, Ragab, has no such qualms. He’s doing a brisk trade in General Sisi T-shirts and General Sisi coffee mugs. “I took down Mursi’s photo,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be putting it back.”

On his wall now, Egypt’s previous presidents are lined up, all four of them military officers since the coup that toppled King Farouk in 1952: Naguib, Nasser, Sadat - and Mubarak.

It is a heritage that troubles people like Lina Attalah, editor of Cairo news website Mada. She has no doubt ousting Mursi was what most Egyptians wanted: “What I do doubt,” she added, “Is whether what comes after will remain the will of the people. People are good at ousting, but not replacing.”

Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Peter Graff and Alastair Macdonald

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