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Egypt’s Morsi Hoped Violence Would Burn Out, Instead Spreads to More Cities

January 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Brown talks with Borzou Daragahi, Cairo-based Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, about the spreading political unrest, and emergence of new forms of organized protest and violence and President Morsi declares a state of emergency in some cities.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke about the situation to Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times from Cairo.

Borzou, welcome.

So, where do things stand now? Is the violence, the worst of it, over? Or is it expected to continue?

BORZOU DARAGAHI, The Financial Times: It’s really not clear at all.

I think that’s one of the hopes of the government of President Mohammed Morsi, that the violence will burn itself out. But what we’re seeing now is that the violence is spreading to cities where we hadn’t seen it in recent days. The protests, especially against this new martial law, this emergency law, are increasing to other cities and towns.

In addition, we’re seeing new forms of violence, new types of organized violence with new types of protesters taking to the streets and sort of doing things that they haven’t done before.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us a little bit about the opposition.

The National Salvation Front is the coalition, the sort of organized coalition opposition. How much are they leading this? How organized is it? And you’re saying there’s other kinds of opposition at this point.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think that’s a really good question in terms of what connection the violence on the streets has to the rhetoric and backroom machinations of the so-called opposition, National Salvation Front.

You do have these erstwhile leaders, Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Amr Moussa, who make up this liberal leftist coalition that is opposing the Muslim Brotherhood. They are issuing statements. They’re making demands. But you get on the streets and talk to the protesters, the people who are leading some of the violence, they feel totally disconnected from this group.

As a matter of fact, they have contempt for them, and they feel and they say that the National Salvation Front has betrayed them and betrayed the revolution, just as much as the Muslim Brotherhood has. So I think there’s multiple forces at work here. And they’re not — it’s not at all clear whether anyone has any sway over the violence that’s unfolding on the streets.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. And some of these opposition groups are, what? Anarchist-type groups, ill-formed and not connected at all to any organized opposition?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: You know, it’s kind of sad.

You know, a revolution that was based on peaceful opposition is producing a movement now called the Black Bloc that is essentially dedicated to bringing organized violence to these protests. They are adopting the tactics of Western European anarchist groups like the Black Bloc and the — Germany’s Autonomen.

And they’re coming to protest ready to do battle with the police. I spoke with some of them today. And they said that, you know, the time of peaceful protest is over. Now it’s the time to organize ourselves into cells so that we can fight the police fair and square and fight violence with violence.

It just shows how far from the original conception of the revolution some of these revolutionaries have strayed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we focus a lot obviously on Cairo, but Port Said was the city where there was intense violence over the weekend and many, many deaths. Tell us a little bit — and some of that tied to this trial from the soccer riot last year. Was that a riot — remind us. That riot — is all of this tied to the kind of public unrest with the government or is this to be seen as somehow a separate event?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: It’s somewhat separate. But the root causes are the same.

Yes, you have people who are very angry over a judicial verdict that does seem kind of harsh, 22 young people sentenced to death for their alleged role in this soccer riot last year. The trial was closed to the public. There’s a gag order forbidding any reporter from reporting on what was happening in the trial, what kind of evidence was disclosed, rather baffling.

And then all of a sudden, you had these death penalties. And I think what it underscores is the failure of the political elite to come up with a sort of broad consensus to address Egypt’s critical needs. And that includes — those critical needs includes judiciary reform, major need to increase public trust in the judiciary which has just been collapsing over the last few decades.

And it is seen by many people as a bastion of patronage and corruption, rather than a system for meting out justice. So when these verdicts came out, people just assumed that this was a sort of political verdict meant to placate some people at the cost of the sons of the city of Port Said.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what about the government? I don’t know if you have been able to talk to people in the government or around President Morsi. What is the thinking on what led him to these very — this very strong step of declaring a state of emergency and obviously drawing the comparison to President Mubarak?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: In the absence of — you know, as you point out, you know, drawing comparison to President Mubarak, this is something that he had promised earlier that he would never do: declare a state of emergency, bring the army back onto the streets.

And yet he has done it. In the absence of reform, in the absence of bolstering trust in the various Egyptian institutions, he’s left with no other recourse than the Arab dictators past, which is resorting to the truncheon and the tank.

And it’s sort of a sad commentary on the rather tortured course of this post-revolutionary transition that, you know, this is what Egypt has come to. And it gives people, people who supported the revolution, a sense that it’s been betrayed and hijacked by the current political elite.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you mentioned the army. What is — what do we know about the role of the army, of course? Because that was a key two years ago to — how they responded to the initial opposition to Mubarak. Where are they now?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think there’s a lot of debate as to what the army is up to, what its thinking is. They’re not very talkative, so to speak.

But what it does seem like is that the army is very content to take a backseat role. Its various privileges, its businesses, its kind of untransparent budget are protected in the new constitution. It seems to me and many other analysts they have no interest in taking a front-line political position once again, as they did during a large part of the transition. And so they’re content to sit back and let the political game play itself out.

If things should worsen here, then you might see the army intervene. But, at this point, it doesn’t seem they have the political will at all.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Borzou Daragahi in Cairo with The Financial Times, thanks so much for talking to us.