A Game of Many Players

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Bearded men are not only construed as enemies in the West.

A Doctor’s Denial

I started my day yesterday at Cairo’s Anglo American hospital where a doctor was seeing me for an ankle injury. I asked my orthopedic surgeon if there were any injured from the catastrophe housed here at the hospital and his colleague from the other side of the emergency room immediately interrupted our conversation, asking me if I thought what had happened in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Ramsis Square was a catastrophe. I began by clarifying that I am not an Egyptian, and then I boldly stated, yes, it was a catastrophe. He felt that I was siding with the protestors. We all know that it was nothing short of it.

“How come? They are killing their own people. The bloody bearded Ikhwaan are creating instability and then they blame the security forces who are trying to save Egypt.”

It seemed like he had no heart, and truly believed that the protestors were killing their fellow men to gain pity. For a health care provider to utter these words is discouraging. There is no hope for reconciliation if those who are supposed to be in charge of saving lives are fostering so much hatred.

Black and White

For many like him, there are only two sides and the truth is well defined; it is them against us. But for most of us, the truth is far from clear. I have friends who belong to both camps and it is hard to convince them to reason with each other. I almost got into a verbal brawl with the doctor, but I held back. I have to remind myself every moment that as a foreigner it is not my place to interfere.

In order to find out who is responsible for the violence and brutal killings, we must ask who is benefiting from an unstable Egypt? Let’s play a game of Clue: Who is responsible for violence in Egypt?

First I would eliminate foreign powers for I believe that the true culprit lies within the borders of the country.

The candidates are Sisi and the police, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and thugs or Baltageya. According to Sisi supporters thugs and the MB are the same player. And the conspiracy theories do not stop there. The interim government, which functions as the military’s puppet, refers to the MB as a terrorist group. As a result, their beards and conservative veiling makes them targets of state-enforced violence.

Ramsis Square and Baltageyas

The word “thug” or “baltageya” has been thrown around loosely in the Egyptian media. But no one really knows for sure whom they represent. There is no shortage of unanswered questions:

Have they been equipped by the security forces, are they from the pro-Morsi camp, or do they have their own identity? And why would they allegedly kill fellow Egyptians?

It goes without saying that most liberal Egyptians believe they are part of the Ikhwaan because they were seen marching alongside them. Their opponents believe the contrary. I decided to visit Ramsis Square to attempt to uncover the truth. Of course I didn’t think it was possible to strike a conversation with any of the “allegedly” armed thugs or terrorist groups, but I wanted to try to get as close as possible to the area.

I wasn’t permitted in the mosque and I couldn’t take my camera inside the square. Yet, I managed to get as close to the mosque as possible. Since I didn’t have a press pass, I could have been arrested as I was defying the emergency law. I tried to calm myself down by thinking, I have been arrested once, and a second time is no big deal. I must admit my heart started to beat faster, but I kept ignoring the accelerated heart rate.

I had a quick look around and didn’t see any weapons except those with uniformed security forces. Made me wonder where these thugs or members of the terrorist groups were. I didn’t see any indication that I was in danger. Of course I wasn’t permitted to go inside the mosque, and perhaps the armed thugs were inside.

I was then escorted out and I boarded a taxi and asked the driver to take me as close to the mosque so I can take some pictures. I saw some men at checkpoints and my driver identified them as baltageya. But again, they had no weapons except loud voices and wooden sticks.

The general understanding is far from the truth. The thugs are neither members of the Muslim Brotherhood nor are they members of the pro-Army camp. They are a bunch of hyper masculine men who are against the militarization of Egypt. Those men stationed at checkpoints are protecting their neighborhood and are often mistaken for thugs as they have wooden sticks and loud voices. The thugs just as them are Egyptians, unlike most theories that state they are Yeminis, Syrians and Pakistanis. They tend to be from lower socio-economic class and most of them are not bearded, but young men in their mid-twenties or early thirties. They may be Coptic Christian or Muslim.

The army could have funded or armed them to create instability. They could be escapees from the prison and been armed by local police forces. They may have been responsible for executing orders to burn and vandalize churches and private property. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood could have armed them. But would staunch Islamists defy Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb? I don’t think so. And if it was as many believe, that the terrorist groups are killing the protesters to gain attention to their plight, why would there be no killings considering the armed thugs were trapped inside Fatah mosque with protesters.

Egypt seems to be engulfed in a civil war with multiple parties with no end in sight. The day was eventful because the many people that lost loved ones during the dispersals of Rabaa were seeking justice, and will not rest until it is achieved.

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2 responses »

  1. The small groups of young men who are protecting their neighborhoods are NOT the beltagy [thugs], they are doing neighborhood protection, because the police and army are busy elsewhere. The Beltagy made robberies, home invasions, and attacked people in the 25 Jan Revolution demostrations, and in many areas, neighbors got together to gaurd their neighborhoods from them. They are doing the same again. The beltagy are criminals–the neighborhood protector are not.

  2. I agree, but they are mistaken for Baltageyas due to their mannerisms. My taxi driver too identified the men at checkpoints with sticks as thugs. Of course I didn’t think so, as I didn’t see any weapons or killings.

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