Egypt Military Observers Claim Protest Was 'Provocative'

Article Summary
Egyptian military observers claimed that protesters behaved provocatively by staging a sit-in at the defense ministry in Cairo, writes Al-Masry Al-Youm. The peaceful demonstration, calling for the military to surrender power immediately, was disrupted by armed thugs and several protesters were killed. The event belonged in Tahrir, the observers claim.

Many Egyptian military experts agree that the protest in Cairo’s Abbassia neighborhood was both "provocative" and unnecessary, and that the sit-in, which took place at the Defense Ministry, should have been in Tahrir Square. According to these experts, the clashes occurred because the Islamist movement feels that it is losing control.

Major General Sameh Seif El-Yazal, a strategy expert, said that there was no reason for what happened in Abbassia, and that whoever wants to protest should do so non-violently in Tahrir Square — not at  the Ministry of Defense, where such actions would raise suspicion.

He said that he did not know the identity or political affiliations of those who attacked the demonstrators. They could be anyone, from Abu Ismail supporters (ultraconservative Islamists) to anti-government groups trying to bring down the Ministry of Defense, as happened in front of State Security headquarters in early March.

Seif El-Yazal voiced concern. "I am deeply worried for the country," he said, which proves that the military council will transfer power on its set date (May 24).

Major General Hamdy Bakhit, an expert on military strategy, said that despite all of its achievements, the Islamist movement feels that the rug is being pulled out from under its feet. Its ability to address the community and show that it is capable of managing the state has failed. This has deeply shaken its credibility. Bakhit said that the Islamist movement’s role and impact in the presidential election is practically negligible, and that whoever wins the elections will not be an Islamist. Therefore, according to him, the Islamists have no chance of forming a government; all they will have left are the two houses of parliament, both of which may be dissolved.

Al-Monitor spoke with protesters after more than 10 people challenging Egypt's military rulers were killed by unidentified assailants wielding shotguns, rocks, clubs and firebombs in a dawn attack outside the defense ministry in Cairo.

If this occurs, he continued, the movement will be left with nothing. The ministry of defense may not be a vital unit of the state, but the military represents the nation’s prestige and the military council is currently running the country. What is happening in front of the defense ministry is an attempt to create a confrontation between the army and the people — a confrontation that will benefit no one.

Major General Mohammad Ali Bilal, who commanded Egyptian forces in Kuwait, addressed the demands of those protesting in Abbassia. He said that they want to form a presidential council that will end military rule, even though the military council will hand over power within a few weeks. Abu Bilal believes that both internal and external actors are responsible for inciting the protests. He explained that the elections will take place as scheduled, and he dreads having them postponed as a result of the clashes.

Security expert Major General Fouad Allam said the situation is intensifying because of the current conflict between the political powers. Should this conflict continue, he added, "there will be a disaster." The forces in Abbassia were determined to storm the ministry of defense, which prompted armed troops to protect the ministry. Bloodshed ensued.

"Everyone is responsible. This is a national responsibility shared by all parties, political forces and the military," Allam added. He urged all political parties to unite in order to soothe the raging conflict. If it continues, he contends, the conflict will degenerate into civil war.

"Elections are not the solution when the country is on the verge of a civil war," Allam continued. He criticized the People's Assembly for demanding that the government be deposed, since the Assembly can only criticize or direct the government, whereas the military council is the only one authorized to depose it.

He urged the military council to speak clearly and openly to the Egyptian people and to hold a meeting with the different political parties. He said such a meeting should be broadcast publicly so that Egyptians can know the whole truth.

Strategic expert Major General Mohamed Kadry Said described the current situation as "strange and mysterious," since these types of incidents have happened many times before, such as those in front of the Israeli embassy ​​and in Tahrir Square. This indicates that there may have been individuals among the demonstrators instigating the violence, or that some people used violence to intimidate the protesters to abandon their mission and let things go back to normal.

Said also urged state authorities to firmly intervene and put an end to the crisis. Said ruled out the possibility that that these events could cancel or postpone the presidential election. Similar events occurred a week before the parliamentary elections, and there were rumors that they could be canceled, but "as everyone now knows, the elections were successfully held."

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