Taking sides
Asmaa al-Beltagy

Grief and anger echoed in the streets leading to the graveyard as hundreds marched in the funeral procession for Asmaa al-Beltagy in Cairo — just a few meters away from where she was shot in the chest during the bloody dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque on August 14.

Asmaa is the daughter of Mohamed al-Beltagy, the passionate Brotherhood leader who was arrested last week on charges of inciting violence.  A family member close to Asmaa, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mada Masr that her death was a blow against accusations that Brotherhood leaders do not sacrifice their own sons and daughters, leaving the poor and lower ranks to die in front lines.

Asmaa’s death was at times contested, with some media sources denying it altogether. 

“We have seen this amount of lying and denial about Asmaa’s death. The military supporters are insisting on demonizing us,” says the relative, who was keen to show Mada Masr Asmaa’s burial permit as proof.

The 17-year-old university student’s demise was a shock not only to those close to her from within the defeated Islamist group — which has been fighting a losing battle against the military after the latter deposed former President Mohamed Morsi — but also among anti-Brotherhood revolutionaries.

Many opposition activists had hailed the teenager’s decision to defy Brotherhood orders not to protest during a military crackdown on demonstrators in the 2011 Mohammed Mahmoud clashes. At the time, the Brothers and the generals were temporarily enjoying a happy relationship, just as the Islamist group was preparing to contest and win a parliamentary election that would result in some privileges for the Armed Forces in the new constitution. A photo of Asmaa’s face covered with yeast to protect against heavy tear gas in the bloody street battles of 2011 went viral on social media following the news of her passing.

Asmaa’s death, and the loss of many others, became a reason to join the MB’s rallies as a stance against the police state for many who had previously avoided taking a position in the military-Brotherhood face-off.

Abdullah Sultan, a 32-year-old telecommunications engineer, actively participated in the mobilization of the June 30 protests that demanded the Morsi’s resignation. His wife, Heba Mostafa, said on her Facebook page that he spent a lot of his own money printing banners to encourage people to join the mass rallies.

But weeks later, Sultan was shot in the head during the dispersal of Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in held by those demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.

In her tribute to her deceased husband, Mostafa said that although Sultan had fought for Morsi’s ouster, he never accepted the bloodbath that began to flood the country after July 3.

Following the Nasr Street massacre, in which dozens of Morsi’s supporters were killed in clashes with security forces just a few days before the sit-in’s dispersal, Sultan decided to join the Rabea protest camp to declare a position against police violence, despite his political differences with the Brotherhood.

The violence and wave of arrests waged by the military and the police against the Muslim Brotherhood has translated into a resurging sympathy for the group from some of its former members.

Mohamed al-Qassas, a former Brotherhood member and co-founder of the political party Tayyar al-Masry, was hard-hit by what he described as a “vicious crackdown” against the Brotherhood.

The young defector, who once represented the Muslim Brotherhood in the Revolution Youth Coalition following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, was forced to leave the Brotherhood when he took part in anti-military protests in which the Islamist group declined to participate.

Qassas, who later became a harsh critic of the Brotherhood’s performance, told Mada Masr that Morsi’s rule was “catastrophic.”

“I actively participated in the June 30 protests, because I saw mounting anger against the Brotherhood’s governance system. I believed it was the last peaceful resort to force him to call for early presidential elections to avoid a black scenario of a coup that would eventually lead to a civil war,” he says. The young activist believes that the Brotherhood’s arrogance made his catastrophic expectations come true.

However, Qassas could not stand the brutality perpetrated against his brothers and lifelong friends. He says he was horrified by the scenes he saw on August 14 at Rabea al-Adaweya.

“That’s why I marched in the Friday protests in Ramses Square. I protested the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya camp, although I never protested there. This is a crackdown against all the victories of freedom of expression we won on January 25,” he explains.

These August 16 protests also descended into violence, and more Brotherhood supporters died in clashes with the police and Armed Forces.

Now Qassas is reluctant to take part in more protests, as he doubts they would remain peaceful.

But while Qassas remains skeptical of the Brotherhood’s political performance, others believe that another seven years of failed governance under Morsi would have been a brighter scenario for Egyptians than the current situation. Rejecting that possibility is a reflection of Islamophobia, they claim.

Yehia Gamal al-Din, a 35-year-old engineer, says, “I was skeptical of the June 30 protests, although I had no problems with Morsi leaving power, but with more democratic means,” he says.

Gamal al-Din believes that mounting anger against the Brotherhood gave the opposition an opportunity to participate in parliamentary elections and win a majority, which could have enabled it to change the constitution.

“Had we done this, we would have amended the constitution to find a way through which we could call for early elections. Wouldn’t this have been better than this bloodbath?” he asks.

Gamal al-Din, who says that he never belonged to the Brotherhood, joined the Rabea al-Adaweya protests as soon as Armed Forces chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Morsi and appointed interim President Adly Mansour in his place on July 3.

“I felt that this is a real military coup this time, and I expected the bloodbath to start. I saw this coming,” Gamal al-Din says.

“I do not understand the dehumanization of the Brotherhood; they are not the only ones who hold guns in this country.”

Mai Shams El-Din 

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