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The Arab Winter of Rage

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24 Egyptian Police Killed in Sinai Ambush

August 19th 2013

Egyptian soldiers and flag draped protester

Gunmen have killed at least 24 Egyptian police in an ambush in the country's Sinai Peninsula. It's the latest in a series of violent incidents following the army's crackdown on its opponents last Wednesday.

The security forces were riding in buses when they were stopped by armed men. Some reports say the men were forced from the bus and shot, others say rocket propelled grenades were used.

The attackers are believed to be members of a militant Islamist militia of the kind that critics say deposed President Mohamed Morsi allowed to operate in the Sinai.  The army ousted Morsi July 3, backed by large-scale public demonstrations, and forcibly ended weeks of sit-in protests by his supporters last Wednesday. The death toll among protesters has risen to more than 700, and now nearly 100 members of the security forces have also died.

Several hours before the Sinai incident, security forces killed about 36 Islamist prisoners who allegedly tried to escape while being transported between prisons. Morsi's core support group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is leading protests against the army takeover, called for an independent investigation.

Mubarak release
Also Monday, a lawyer for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said his client will soon be released.
 Fareed el-Deeb said an Egyptian court had cleared Mubarak of corruption charges, stemming from allegations he and his sons embezzled money for presidential palaces.

The claims could not be immediately confirmed by judicial officials. But the French news agency (AFP), quoting judicial sources, reported that Mubarak will remain in custody on charges in an additional case. Mubarak, 85, still faces a retrial on charges he failed to stop the killing of protesters during the popular revolt that swept him from power in 2011.

Word of the killing of the police officers and the possible release of Mubarak come one day after the interior ministry reported 36 members of the pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood were suffocated by tear gas during an attempted prison break in northern Cairo.

Polarized
Egypt is polarized. But at London's King's College, conflict expert Stacey Gutkowski said the military should make a gesture of reconciliation, and the Muslim Brotherhood should accept it.

“The army is not equipped to govern. The army is now governing as armies do, which is on the streets," Gutkowski said. "The army must show restraint. The Brotherhood must show restraint, calling its people off the streets. And the liberal opposition must organize itself, and be given the space institutionally to organize itself as a proper political party.”

The military leader, General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, has promised elections and said there will be “room for everyone” to participate. But so far the Muslim Brotherhood is insisting that the deposed president be reinstated.

There is unaccustomed fear on the streets of Cairo, with people warning each other to keep away from certain areas and not to stay out after the 7:00 p.m. curfew. On a typical shopping street, businesses are struggling with shortened hours and customers distracted by other concerns.

Toy store manager Shamieh said her business is down more than 50 percent, but she believes the army's action will be good for business, and for the country, in the long term. “Terrorism should be faced. President Morsi is the beginning of terrorism," she said. "So the government replacing Morsi is the first step toward giving up the terrorism of Egypt.”

For some, Shamieh's words will contrast with her appearance. She wears a modest Islamic dress and a traditional 'hijab' scarf covering her hair and neck. But she said no one should make assumptions about her political views based on her appearance. “Morsi has no relation with my hijab," she sniped. "My Islam, in my hijab, in my attitude, in my appearance, doesn't relate to Morsi at all.”

Her passion reflects the widespread dissatisfaction with Morsi's one-year tenure, particularly his moves to increase the influence of conservative Islam, his alleged empowerment of the Sinai militias and his failure to improve the economy and relieve widespread poverty.

No one knows where the balance of public opinion really lies, but such feelings made it possible, some say necessary, for the military to move against Egypt's first-ever freely elected president.

Al Pessin writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.


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