EGYPT IN CRISIS
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
CHARLES SENNOTT, GlobalPost/FRONTLINE: [voice-over] Two-and-a-half years ago, I came to Egypt and witnessed what we thought was a revolution. I watched as young activists marched to Tahrir, or Liberation, Square.
DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] With our blood and soul, we defend the Motherland!
CHARLES SENNOTT: I watched as they were joined by Egyptians of all ages and all classes, men and women. I was there day and night for two weeks.
One evening, I listened as a young songwriter named Ramy Essam performed an anthem for what the people called the January 25th revolution.
RAMY ESSAM: [singing] [subtitles] Down, down, Hosni Mubarak! Down, down, Hosni Mubarak! We are all united as one. What we ask for is just one thing. Get out! Get out! Get out!
CHARLES SENNOTT: It was a time of incredible hope and high expectations. But I had come on a specific mission. I had come to understand the role of the long outlawed Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood.
[on camera] Hi. I’m Charles. Nice to meet you.
[voice-over] On Tahrir Square, I found Mohammad Abbas, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing. Abbas had been working alongside secular activists to help organize the revolt. He was eager to show us what he and his fellow Brothers had contributed.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] We built a barrier by the Omar Makram mosque, which is one of the entrances to Tahrir Square, and another one over by the Kasr al-Nil bridge.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Abbas pointed out how the Brothers were in charge of the security checkpoints, serving hot tea, distributing blankets, printing posters and running an emergency health clinic. They were holding the revolution’s infrastructure together.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [in English] We have the ability, and a good ability, to organize. We are the best in Egypt to organize.
CHARLES SENNOTT: At the same time, they wanted to keep a low profile. The Brotherhood was worried that Mubarak would succeed in portraying the revolution as a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.
We saw this sensitivity play out when this man approached our camera holding up his pocket Koran. I watched as Mohammad Abbas took him aside and told him to put it away.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] Don’t hold up the Koran. We should be holding up Egyptian flags. Open it, but not for the media.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Abbas then explained what was going on.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: Egyptians not want to make this revolution into a big Ikhwan, Muslim Brotherhood show.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The more I got to know Abbas, the more I realized how different he was than older, more conservative Brothers I had encountered in the past.
But still, there were many on the square who feared the Muslim Brotherhood was hijacking the revolution. I spoke to this young law student, who had been here from the beginning.
[on camera] So you were here on the 25th, and you saw a change here. Tell me about that.
AHMED: I’m afraid.
CHARLES SENNOTT: What are you afraid of?
AHMED: The Brothers, the Islamic Brothers.
CHARLES SENNOTT: You’re afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?
CHARLES SENNOTT: Why?
AHMED: They want it to be Islamic, like Iran and this. But we don’t want it to be like that. We are liberal. That’s the way we think.
CHARLES SENNOTT: [voice-over] At that time, it wasn’t at all clear what direction the country would take or even if Mubarak would fall. But you couldn’t help but notice that the most powerful player in Egypt, the military, was watching and waiting, contemplating their next move. For revolutionaries, the military was a kind of unholy ally.
MONA ELTAHAWY, Political Activist: The military are not our friends. But I think what the military began to realize when millions of people protested against Mubarak’s regime and demanded his ouster was that this power, this power among the people, was a real force to reckon with.
CHARLES SENNOTT: On the 17th day of the protests, everyone was listening to a broadcast of Mubarak refusing to go.
HOSNI MUBARAK, Egyptian President: [subtitles] I express my commitment to carry on.
CHARLES SENNOTT: When suddenly, Mohammad Abbas stepped to center stage.
DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] Leave! Leave! Leave!
CHARLES SENNOTT: He directly addressed the military.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] We don’t want more traitors! In the name of the Revolutionary Youth Council, we call upon you to engage in civil disobedience!
CHARLES SENNOTT: And urged them to finish the job.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] The army and the people, hand in hand! The army and the people, hand in hand! The army and the people, hand in hand!
DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] The army and the people, hand in hand! The army and the people, hand in hand!
CHARLES SENNOTT: Less than 24 hours later, Mubarak was gone.
DEMONSTRATORS: [subtitles] The army and the people, hand in hand! The army and the people, hand in hand!
CHARLES SENNOTT: Around the world, the revolution was hailed as a victory for the people, a new day in the Arab Spring.
But they didn’t see what happened next. A few hundred revolutionaries had remained, camped on the square, demanding that Mubarak’s regime be prosecuted for human rights abuses and corruption. They trusted the military would to continue to protect them.
But in less than a month, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF ─ the generals now running Egypt ─ ordered their troops to move in.
MONA ELTAHAWY, Political Activist: On March 9th, you know, very infamously, the SCAF cleared Tahrir Square and took female and male revolutionaries to military prison, where many of them were tortured.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Largely out of sight from Western media, the revolution looked like it was over before it began.
MONA ELTAHAWY: I mean, this was a very clear and very early signal that the junta was not on our side, that they were not supporting or protecting our revolution.
KHALED FAHMY, American University in Cairo: It was discovered what we had all as revolutionaries suspected was happening, that the army and the military police had been rounding up activists, interestingly enough, in the Egyptian museum, and torturing them, that they had been establishing checkpoints on Egyptian highways and rounding up, again, activists and torturing them.
CHARLES SENNOTT: One of those rounded up was the young singer, Ramy Essam.
RAMY ESSAM: [through interpreter] They took me into the museum with 200 other people. I was tortured for four straight hours. They used different methods, like hitting me with wooden sticks or iron bars. I was tied up the whole time. They also took off my clothes and things got more violent. There is no part of my body that they did not electrocute.
The people who were torturing me were not just ordinary soldiers. There were senior officers, as well. They tried to humiliate us and taunt us with names while they tortured us, trying to destroy our dignity. They would say, “Are you happy with your revolution now?”
CHARLES SENNOTT: Around 150 men and women arrested on March 9th were tried and convicted in military courts and sent to military prisons.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood had kept its low profile.
HESHAM SALLAM, Jadaliyya Blog: The Brotherhood steered away from protests against the military. The few times when they participated in mass protests, they were always very keen and eager on avoiding criticism of the military and silencing voices that say things like, “Down with military rule” and that kind of stuff.
MONA MAKRAM EBEID, American University in Cairo: The Muslim Brothers were the cleverest, and they were the first ones to go to the army and say, “Here, we are at your service. We can work with you.”
KHALIL EL-ANANI, Author, The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: I think we need to understand that the Brotherhood doesn’t have any revolutionary ideology. They don’t believe in revolution at all. They believe in what they call gradual reform.
CHARLES SENNOTT: I had seen this during the January 25th revolution. The old guard of the Brotherhood had hung back. I found them far from Tahrir Square, at this press conference.
ESSAM EL-ERIAN, Muslim Brotherhood: [subtitles] We announced very clearly that we don’t have a special agenda.
CHARLES SENNOTT: While they said they supported the protests, Mohamed Morsi, then a relatively obscure figure, explained they were working with the military.
KHALIL EL-ANANI: Since the 25th of January revolution, they decided from the beginning to side with the strong players, which was mainly the military.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Throughout 2011, the Brotherhood kept talking to the military, kept off the streets and outmaneuvered its political rivals. Revolutionaries, liberals and minorities were nervous about the Brotherhood’s ambitions.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians were especially fearful. Members of Egypt’s largest minority religious group, around 10 percent of the population, the Copts have survived here since the beginning of Christianity. But in recent years, Coptic Christians have seen a steady rise in attacks by ultra-conservative militant Islamists. Christians expected the government to protect them.
MONA ELTAHAWY: There’ve been many attacks against churches, and SCAF was doing nothing, just as the Mubarak regime did nothing, to protect the Christian population. And so this massive protest began outside the TV and radio building because many people felt that the state-run TV was inciting people against minorities and against revolutionaries.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The demonstration at the Maspero press center was dispersed by the military with brute force.
HEBA MORAYEF, Human Rights Watch: I think Maspero in October 2011 was a huge turning point. I think it was a traumatic event for the Christian minorities, for Christians in Egypt. This was the first time that the military had used excessive lethal force in that way. Twenty-seven protesters were killed.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Mina Daniel, now a celebrated Christian martyr, was among the people protesting that night. Mina’s sister, Mary, remembers.
MARY DANIEL: [through interpreter] We came under gunfire and were pursued by armored vehicles crashing into parked cars. Tear gas bombs were flying. It was a horrible scene. I could not find Mina. I kept calling him, but his mobile was turned off. Then someone told me that he been taken to the Coptic hospital.
There I found Mina in the morgue. He looked like he was sleeping, with a smile on his face. I saw a lot of dead bodies around Maspero. I saw one person shot in the neck and the bullet hole was still visible. I saw a lot of blood. I will never forget that day.
CHARLES SENNOTT: After Maspero, no one was chanting, “The army and the people, hand in hand.”
Six weeks later, voting began for a new Egyptian parliament. I was back in Egypt and found Mohammed Abbas, nine months after we’d first met in early 2011.
Abbas was now running for a parliamentary seat, but he was at a disadvantage. He had criticized the Brotherhood’s leadership for its failure to speak out against military repression, and he had been expelled from the party. But he remained optimistic about the process.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] I think this is the freedom and democracy that we worked for. Whatever the choice is, and whether we agree with it or not, I think it’s the best choice for Egypt.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Whether Abbas would win was unclear. But other Muslim Brothers looked to win big.
For the Brotherhood, it’s been a long fight. The organization was started over 80 years ago largely as a religious movement. Its motto, “Islam is the solution.”
KHALED FAHMY, Historian: The message was a moral message, the time has come to return to Islam.
CHARLES SENNOTT: But for some Brothers, the ultimate goal was the establishment of an Islamic state. In the 1940s, they began a campaign of violence against occupying British troops. Then a Muslim Brother attempted to assassinate Egypt’s secular president. Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down.
KHALED FAHMY: The organization itself was declared illegal. Its members were rounded up, its assets were confiscated, and thousands and thousands of people sent to prison for years on end.
CHARLES SENNOTT: In the 1970s, President Anwar Sadat also kept up pressure on the Brotherhood. But the movement split over the use of violence. Some members left and joined groups, like Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad, responsible for Sadat’s 1982 assassination.
AYMAN AL ZAWAHIRI: [in prison] We try our best to establish this Islamic state and Islamic society!
CHARLES SENNOTT: Al-Zawahiri would later join forces with al Qaeda, but the mainstream leadership of the Brotherhood rejected violence and committed itself to the democratic process. In 2005, their candidates had won 20 percent of Egypt’s parliamentary seats.
President Mubarak, perceiving a threat, again cracked down. He closed hundreds of their schools and clinics and arrested over 1,200 members. But persecution seemed to stiffen their resolve.
In 2012, with Mubarak gone, they aimed for the presidency.
MAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
WOMAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
MAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
WOMAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
MAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
MAN: Dr. Mohamed Morsi.
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID, Member of Parliament, 2011-2012: No, I never heard Morsi’s name before. Before, he was─ you know, the Muslim Brothers during─ after the revolution and when presidential elections were approaching, they said they will not field any presidential candidate.
CHARLES SENNOTT: I’d heard that before. In fact, I’d heard it from Morsi himself back at that 2011 press conference.
[on camera] You’re not going to have a presidential candidate? Why not?
MOHAMED MORSI: Well, we are saying that it’s most important for us to prepare the society. Freedom, democracy and justice are required now more than just thinking about who will control who.
CHARLES SENNOTT: [voice-over] Soon after, the Brotherhood reversed its position. Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer, was originally a dark horse candidate.
ASHRAF KHALIL, Time Magazine: Nobody really saw him as the man who would take the forefront. I mean, his─ his nickname in the presidential race was “the spare tire” because he was the replacement candidate.
CHARLES SENNOTT: But as Egyptians headed for the polls, a run-off had come down to just two men, a Mubarak-era general named Ahmed Shafik, or Morsi.
MONA ELTAHAWY, Political Activist: I don’t believe the majority of people voted for Mohamed Morsi because they wanted him as president. I believe it was a false choice. The majority of people who voted for him, voted for him because they didn’t want the other choice, who was the military junta candidate, Ahmed Shafik.
KHALED FAHMY: Many people terrified of Shafik and not happy with the prospect of the former regime returning to power.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The vote was extremely close. It took one week for the results to be announced.
ELECTORAL COMMISSIONER: [subtitles] What each candidate received. Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Shafik Zaki, 12,347,380. Dr. Mohamed Mohamed Morsi Issa El-Iyad, 13,230,380.
CHARLES SENNOTT: A group that counts its core membership at less than 5 percent of the Egyptian population had leveraged its way to power.
MORSI SUPPORTER: [subtitles] I call on all Egyptians, north, south, east and west, to unite around Dr. Mohamed Morsi!
CHARLES SENNOTT: The long outlawed, long persecuted Muslim Brotherhood had won.
WAEL HADDARA, Sr. Morsi Campaign Adviser: It felt incredible. Here we are, the first democratically elected president in the entire history of Egypt, the first civilian to ever head Egypt in the modern era. And it was like stepping into the warm sunshine after a long, long, cold winter.
CHARLES SENNOTT: On Tahrir Square, Morsi stood before his supporters, and in a signal that he was not afraid, he showed the crowd he was not wearing any body armor.
MOHAMED MORSI: [subtitles] I’m not wearing a bullet-proof vest!
AMR DARRAG, Muslim Brotherhood: He got elected by the people, 52 percent of the people, of the Egyptian people. I don’t care why they were voting against his opponent. But I mean, they elected him. Why don’t people just accept it?
CHARLES SENNOTT: Morsi promised to be a president to all Egyptians, and President Obama hailed his election as a milestone in Egypt’s transition to democracy.
He had won, but he was already facing powerful opponents. Just a few days earlier, Egypt’s supreme court, packed with Mubarak-era judges, had declared January’s parliamentary elections invalid and ordered the parliament shut down. Islamist parties, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, had won nearly 70 percent of the seats.
GEHAD EL-HADDAD, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood: They destroyed parliament two days before the presidential election. And they knew that if a president comes with a parliament that’s been electorally voted in, these two institutions can literally start dismantling the old dictatorship bit by bit. And they had to dysfunction one element of that.
KHALED FAHMY: The dilemma is that the Muslim Brotherhood come to power through elections. They’re supposedly at the helm of the state. So they are in power, but they’re actually not in power.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Egyptians often talk of something they call the “deep state,” an expression that refers to elements of the Mubarak regime embedded deep inside Egypt’s government. The deep state includes the supreme court, all state-run media, the police, and at the very top, the army.
NATHAN BROWN, George Washington University: The term “deep state” I think originally comes from Turkey, the sense that the military is not necessarily ruling directly, but what you have is kind of underneath the surface of politics, this underlying set of structures that’s running things.
AMR DARRAG: It is much deeper than what everybody thought. It is really very deep because it’s a result of 60 years of bad governments and corruption. So you need some time, and you need real drastic measures in order to be able to get rid of that.
[www.pbs.org: The power of Egypt's deep state]
MOHAMED MORSI: [inaugural speech] [subtitles] We shall reinstate our elected institutions to their proper roles. [applause and cheers]
CHARLES SENNOTT: Revolutionaries and liberals who voted for Morsi hoped the new president and a new constitution would restrain Egypt’s deep state.
NATHAN BROWN: One of the big demands of the Egyptian revolution was to say, “We don’t want any more torture. We don’t any more abuse by the security services. We don’t want any more civilians being tried in military courts,” and so forth and so on.
KHALED FAHMY, Author, Anatomy of Justice: We wanted to have something in the constitution against torture. We wanted to have something in the constitution against police brutality. We wanted to have something in the constitution that would limit the power of the military. But rather than curb the power of the military, the constitution gave the military everything they wanted.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Basically, what the constitution guaranteed for the military was safe passage, so that none of them were held accountable for their violations of our rights during the junta rule, the SCAF rule, left the military budget untouched, left any kind of civilian oversight of that budget, and allowed the military to continue to put civilians before military tribunals, which were all things that, you know, we, the revolution, wanted to fix.
KHALED FAHMY: The fatal mistake is that the Muslim Brotherhood could have turned to us, the revolution, and could have turned to Tahrir and to tell them, “We need you to write a constitution that would limit the power of the military. We need you to curb and cleanse the very corrupt judiciary.” We would have come to his rescue. And instead, he tried to flirt with the police and the military against us.
CHARLES SENNOTT: For any leader, curbing the military would have been hard. In Egypt, the military is more than an army, it’s big business, controlling as much as 40 percent of the economy. They make cars, chemicals, bottled water and even bread. The full extent of their empire is unknown.
ASHRAF KHALIL, Author, Liberation Square: The military is one of the top land owners in the country, and it─ there’s─ and you can’t even really get a proper list of military-associated industries. And the military wants to preserve its perks, its privileges, its significant private sector economic empire, and they want to escape from civilian oversight.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Egypt’s military also receives $1.3 billion in aid from the U.S. and enjoys close ties with the Pentagon.
Morsi left the military untouched. But in exchange, he wanted the generals to stay out of politics. To cement the deal, Morsi had appointed a new army chief, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
KHALED FAHMY: And it was a relationship of trust because apparently, according to reports, El-Sisi went out of his way to tell Morsi that he is a pious Muslim, he’s a practicing Muslim, and that, in fact, even his political ideas about elections and about sovereignty are very much in alignment with that of the Muslim Brotherhood.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Revolutionaries have long felt betrayed by the army and the Brotherhood. Back in Cairo in 2011, I got caught up in protests.
[on camera] Basically, what has happened was just an eruption of people saying, “That’s it. There hasn’t been justice for those that were killed.” And people seem ready to say they’re not going to stop until there’s justice.
PROTESTER: [subtitles] If the revolution is left unfinished, the people will be buried with it. Egyptians don’t accept this corrupt system. The revolution hasn’t achieved its goals. Half a revolution is a coffin for the people.
CHARLES SENNOTT: After Morsi’s election, protests like this continued.
HEBA MORAYEF, Human Rights Watch: Morsi took over the Mubarak toolkit of state-controlled media, the repressive penal code, and he started using that and he started using that against his opponents. He would always argue that it was necessary to do that because there were enemies everywhere and the deep state was against him. But when you look even the record of what he─ what he was able to do, or the areas where he had decision-making power, it was often a decision towards a more authoritarian form of rule.
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID, Member of Parliament, 2011-12: Unfortunately, he was no Mandela. And he did not seem to get to grips with the mien of the Egyptian, with the soul of Egypt. We felt that he was divisive.
CHARLES SENNOTT: It was Morsi’s greatest weakness. Egypt has always portrayed itself as a diverse secular state where government kept religion in balance. But Morsi had a different agenda, and his pursuit of exclusionist Islamist politics would ultimately lead to his downfall.
The showdown would come over the role of Islamic or Sharia law in the new Egyptian constitution.
CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY MEMBER: [subtitles] He’s saying that the second article guarantees that Sharia is implemented.
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID: Women, Christians, intellectuals, all these were sidelined in the new constitution. They would say, “You can have liberty of expression, freedom, et cetera, if it is in conformity with Sharia.”
ASHRAF KHALIL: There was a lot of doors that were opened to potentially scary places. The sections in the constitution that were about women’s rights stressed equality, but then they felt the need to insert language, you know, that women are equal and have equal rights and equal work, you know, equal rights to work, as long as it doesn’t contradict their duties at home, you know, like little, obnoxious things like that.
CHARLES SENNOTT: In the fall of 2012, Islamists began to fear that the judiciary might shut down the constituent assembly, the body drafting the new constitution. Morsi struck a preemptive blow.
KHALIL EL-ANANI, Middle East Institute: And the 21st of November, Morsi issued a Constitutional decree that gave him a lot of powers and put him above the Constitution, above the law.
HEBA MORAYEF: And you can’t do that. He didn’t─ you know, he didn’t have enough of a mandate to behave like a pharaoh.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The declaration gave Morsi the ability to take any and all actions that he alone deemed necessary to protect the country.
KHALED FAHMY: We had the making of a dictator. This went way beyond anything that Mubarak had done.
OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN: [press conference] [subtitles] We demand that the president’s decree be rescinded.
CHARLES SENNOTT: One quarter of the constitutional assembly resigned in protest. The Islamists rammed through their new constitution regardless.
KHALED FAHMY: And that was the turning point. For me personally, that is when I said, “No, no, no, no. This cannot be my president.”
CHARLES SENNOTT: In April 2013, a group of activists started a petition calling for Morsi to step aside. They gave their movement a name, Tamarod.
HEBA MORAYEF: Tamarod means “rebel.” What Tamarod managed to do is that they started gathering signatures for a popular impeachment of Morsi.
ASHRAF KHALIL: I saw these petitions. There was just a list of grievances, and “These are the reasons why we have lost faith in you, and we demand early elections.”
CHARLES SENNOTT: Tamarod called for mass protests on the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration, June 30th, 2013. But Morsi and his advisers didn’t take it seriously.
AMR MOUSSA, Member of Parliament: They did not really believe that the 30 June will be a decisive day. They thought that it will come and go.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Member of Parliament Amr Moussa set up a meeting with the highest-ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat El-Shater.
AMR MOUSSA: I told him that Tamarod insisted on one point, early presidential elections. So it was not talking about any change or forcible change in the regime, but early elections. Early elections is a very reasonable thing.
CHARLES SENNOTT: U.S. officials didn’t think so. Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Egypt, was uncomfortable with forcing a democratically elected president from office.
KHALED FAHMY: It was very clear from her public announcements that Anne Patterson thought that Egyptians should swallow this pill and be content with a miserable regime because the alternative is much worse for us.
CHARLES SENNOTT: But by mid-June, Tamarod claimed to have collected 22 million signatures, nearly half of all eligible voters. Worried about what could happen on June 30th, General El-Sisi went to see Morsi and urged him to consider Tamarod’s demands.
WAEL HADDARA, Sr. Adviser to President Morsi: And that meant a change in cabinet, a prime minister from the opposition, a change in the prosecutor general. And the president actually acquiesced to all those demands.
CHARLES SENNOTT: But Morsi refused to step aside.
WAEL HADDARA: The idea that that focused demand would be the resignation of the president to us made absolutely no sense. If the street becomes the way of removing a democratically elected president one year into his mandate, then no other presidency will survive in the future.
[www.pbs.org: Timeline: Aftermath of the revolution]
CHARLES SENNOTT: With hours to go before Egyptians took to the streets, President Obama tried repeatedly to reach Morsi.
ESSAM EL-ERIAN, Muslim Brotherhood: He called him for three or four times. He insisted to Mr. Morsi to receive the call. He received it. And it was about 30 minutes.
CHARLES SENNOTT: [on camera] Did President Obama try to offer anything to allow him to hold onto power and to build a more conciliatory government?
ESSAM EL-ERIAN: We refuse. Mr. Obama call to Mr. Morsi in the last sentence said “If there is a military coup, we cannot prevent it.”
CHARLES SENNOTT: [voice-over] The White House declined comment to FRONTLINE, but Morsi has clung to the idea that he was the target of a U.S. plot.
KHALIL EL-ANANI: And this is one of─ of Brotherhood tactics, how to maintain solidarity and integration of the movement, by creating an external enemy that can justify any decision by the leadership.
PROTESTERS: [subtitles] Get out! Get out! Get out!
CHARLES SENNOTT: Then came the day. The protest was larger than anyone imagined.
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID: I just couldn’t believe it. I was dumbfounded by all these people coming out. Already, there were millions filling all the squares, the midans of Egypt not only in Cairo, but in Alexandria, in the provinces, everywhere.
KHALED FAHMY: The mood was amazingly jubilant. It’s people power. And this is something electrifying when you feel it.
MONA ELTAHAWY: They were chanting against Morsi, they were chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood, and some people were chanting for the military.
CHARLES SENNOTT: At the palace, the inner circle of the Muslim Brotherhood had a different interpretation of what was happening.
GEHAD EL-HADDAD, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood: What was happening on the street was not opposition. What was happening on the street were disgruntled citizens that feel like the government’s performance was way below their expectations. And that wasn’t the blame of the president. That was primarily the undermining of the old regime. It was his decision not to resign.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Instead of conceding, Morsi rallied his supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood organized several demonstrations and sit-ins of their own. The biggest was at Cairo’s famous Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque.
KHALED FAHMY: There are millions of supporters of Morsi, too. Not as large as the anti-Morsi crowd, it is true, but they’re in a very close proximity. We’re talking only kilometers apart, in a city that is very congested and very, very heavily populated. The possibility of civil war was as high as it could have ever been.
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID: Egypt was really on the brink of civil war. His regime was so divisive that for the first time, we saw Egyptians pitted against each other.
CHARLES SENNOTT: On July 1st, General El-Sisi issued an ultimatum.
GENERAL EL-SISI: [subtitles] If the demands of the people are not met by the designated deadline, the armed forces declare to all that they will be forced to announce a map for the future and take steps to implement it.
[www.pbs.org: Watch on line]
CHARLES SENNOTT: Morsi had 48 hours to meet the people’s demands, or else. Morsi responded, daring El-Sisi to come and get him.
MOHAMED MORSI: [subtitles] I will not allow anyone to dispute my legitimacy. This is unacceptable. This is unacceptable. This is unacceptable!
HEBA MORAYEF: He made no concessions, very Mubarak style. And you know, in a sense, the writing was on the wall when the military made that first ultimatum.
CHARLES SENNOTT: El-Sisi pressed on, reaching out to the crowds still in Tahrir Square.
KHALED FAHMY: The Army made its appearance with air shows, trailing the Egyptian flag with the colors, drawing hearts. And personally, I thought this was a bit too cheap, but apparently, it wasn’t. And people thought, “That is the answer.”
CHARLES SENNOTT: On July 3rd, an elite Army unit was dispatched to the palace.
WAEL HADDARA: He didn’t foresee that it would come about this way. Members of the Republican Guard, the presidential guard, came into the room, told the president that he is in their safeguard, that they would not allow anything to befall him, any harm to befall him, but that they cannot let him communicate with the outside world or leave the room.
CHARLES SENNOTT: By the end of the night, Morsi was in military custody, along with dozen other high-ranking members of the Brotherhood. General El-Sisi took over.
GENERAL EL-SISI: [subtitles] We have suspended the constitution provisionally. And the chief justice of the constitutional court will appoint an interim president.
CHARLES SENNOTT: Tahrir Square erupted. But at the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque, men and women wept.
WAEL HADDARA: This definitely was very painful. We lost our country on July 3rd. But there was a quick decision made, a quick realization that we don’t have to tolerate this. We will fight this.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The Muslim Brotherhood dug in. At the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque, they set up a field hospital, a press center, and established a kind of human shield to protect their leaders inside. The son of a senior Muslim Brotherhood official became their principal press spokesman. He claimed the high moral ground.
GEHAD EL-HADDAD, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood: What’s at stake here is not Morsi. What’s at stake here is the fact that for the first time, Egyptians were believing in the idea of democracy. What guarantees do they have, if the military now sets a new roadmap for a new presidential election, a new parliamentary election and a new constitution, and then if it doesn’t like the results, to derail it all at once?
MONA MAKRAM-EBEID: I know they still think it is-the first civilian president that was ousted undemocratically, unconstitutionally, and so on. But they have to face it. Never in human history has there been such an outpour of rage against a regime. And it happened that he, President Morsi, was head of that regime.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The first shots were fired at dawn on July 8th, just five days after Morsi’s arrest and a few blocks away from the Raba’a mosque. The army says they were provoked. The Brotherhood says the military started it. Nothing was clear. But after several hours, three soldiers and more than 50 pro-Morsi demonstrators were dead.
I arrived back in Egypt a few days later. I had never seen Cairo like this. Pro-Morsi marches blocked traffic everywhere. Divisions were evident at every street corner.
WOMAN: [subtitles] The blood of innocents is dripping from your hands! All the waters of the world can never clean your hands, Sisi!
CHARLES SENNOTT: I wanted to know what Mohammad Abbas thought of all this. Abbas had lost his bid for parliament and grown disillusioned with Morsi, but I couldn’t imagine he was happy with a military takeover. I asked him about military rule.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [subtitles] We spent a year-and-a-half under the control of the military. We protested against them on the streets. Now they’ve come back to power through a coup against an elected authority that we also wanted to see ousted, but through civil action. This should’ve happened through early presidential elections.
CHARLES SENNOTT: [on camera] So you’d describe this as a military coup.
MOHAMMAD ABBAS: [in English] Yes. Of course. This is a military coup, nothing else.
[subtitles] We don’t want to have a puppet president with the military pulling the strings. This time, we won’t accept a return to how it was before Mubarak’s time.
CHARLES SENNOTT: [voice-over] Later that night, Abbas and I were caught up in a pro-Morsi protest headed towards Tahrir Square. The march was blocked by police. Rock throwing, tear gas and shots followed. By the end of the evening, another seven protesters were dead. These confrontations were quickly becoming almost daily affairs.
HEBA MORAYEF, Human Rights Watch: Both sides appear to be allowing this violence to go on. And this, in a way, allows the military to say the Brotherhood are criminals and they all need to be locked up. At the same time, I don’t understand why Brotherhood leaders are ordering marches, putting the lives of their own supporters at risk.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The next day, at the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque, the Muslim Brotherhood held a press conference. They had wheeled out the wounded and praised their martyrs to a roomful of reporters.
SPOKESMAN: [subtitles] What’s happening now is a massacre of the Egyptian people!
CHARLES SENNOTT: I asked Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Beltagy about the criticism that they were intentionally putting their supporters at risk.
[on camera] There are people who say that this is a strategy by the Muslim Brotherhood to martyrs, to create martyrs for the movement.
MOHAMED BELTAGY, Muslim Brotherhood: [through interpreter] It is strange that you are saying that a peaceful protester benefits from being killed, but you do not address who is doing the killing. Who else in the world can attack peaceful protesters? Do you want me to go home and surrender and tell myself that our reality is a military coup? I have a right to protest peacefully and reject this military coup.
PROTEST LEADER: [subtitles] Does anybody here accept the military’s coup?
CROWD: [subtitles] No!
PROTEST LEADER: [subtitles] Does anybody here accept the puppet?
Crowd: [subtitles] No!
CHARLES SENNOTT: [voice-over] I asked another of the leaders, Essam El-Erian, how long the Muslim Brotherhood could hold out.
ESSAM EL-ERIAN: The people are more courage. They have no fear in their chests. They inspire freedom and cannot leave it again. And they can sacrifice and can have tens of martyrs, maybe hundreds of martyrs, to restore the inspired spirit of the revolution and continue reforming as a democratic country.
CHARLES SENNOTT: The situation was only escalating. On July 24th, General El-Sisi called for an end to the demonstrations at the mosque and for the people to show him their support.
GENERAL EL-SISI: [subtitles] I ask all Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday and give me the mandate to confront terrorism and violence.
CHARLES SENNOTT: That Friday, millions of Egyptians gathered again, answering El-Sisi’s call.
ASHRAF KHALIL: The animosity against the Brotherhood was so intense that there really did seem to be a desire to just wipe them off the political playing field. And I’ve had conversations with people, where their solution is, you know, in Arabic, it translates to, “Just round them all up.” How do we function as a country when we’ve rounded up 15 percent of the dissidents?
CHARLES SENNOTT: There was now no stopping the momentum. A series of meetings with high-level envoys from the United States and Europe failed to convince General El-Sisi to hold off. Threats of withholding U.S. military aid were ignored.
Then at 7:00 AM on August 14th, the police surrounded the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque. Soldiers blocked all the exits from the square.
WAEL HADDARA: The Brotherhood felt that if we are going to die today, there is no better place to die and there’s no better cause to die for than to say, “Not all Egyptians supported this.”
CHARLES SENNOTT: For over 12 hours, the protesters were subjected to tear gas and snipers. The ferocity of the campaign was historic in its brutality. By day’s end, hundreds lay dead. The Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque was in ruins. The Muslim Brotherhood had once again been crushed, driven underground.
Leaders I met and interviewed are on the run, or like Mohamed Morsi, in detention, accused of treason and inciting violence. Mohamed Abbas has fled the country. The future, he fears, is more dictatorship. The deep state is still in charge.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEThe Madoff AffairEncore PresentationDecember 9th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.