Egypt’s non-violent jihad and the lurking military crocodile- updated 8/14/13

Sheila Musaji

Posted Aug 14, 2013      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

Egypt’s non-violent jihad and the lurking military crocodile

by Sheila Musaji

The Egyptian revolution brought down a brutal tyrant using only non-violent means.  In doing so, they have not only begun the process of changing Egypt, but perhaps of changing the world.  They have given hope to many, and they have reminded many of previous non-violent struggles.

This was not an al Qaeda perversion of jihad, but a true Islamic, spiritual jihad - a struggle for freedom and justice.  Because it was a non-violent movement, the Egyptian people have won the hearts of people around the world, and have inspired people around the world to struggle to achieve and/or retain freedom and democracy.

Abdal Hakim Murad wrote in 2002 Islamic Spirituality: The Forgotten Revolution

... The Islamic movement has so far been remarkably unsuccessful. We must ask ourselves how it is that a man like Nasser, a butcher, a failed soldier and a cynical demagogue, could have taken over a country as pivotal as Egypt, despite the vacuity of his beliefs, while the Muslim Brotherhood, with its pullulating millions of members, should have failed, and failed continuously, for six decades. The radical accusation of a failure in methodology cannot fail to strike home in such a context of dismal and prolonged inadequacy.  ...  At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the ‘middle way’, defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill hem with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure.?

When I saw people praying calmly while water hoses were being aimed at them by the military, I knew in my heart that these people were engaged in a spiritual enterprise.

Shahed Amanullah in an article about one of my heroes, Badshah Khan of Afghanistan asked a question Could Badshah Khan’s tactics work in modern-day conflicts in the Muslim world - Palestine, Kashmir, or Chechnya? Perhaps nonviolence isn’t relevant in an age of smart bombs and cruise missiles, but the answer won’t be certain unless someone tries it.

What we have seen in Egypt answers this question in the affirmative.  Yes, non-violent tactics can work, and in fact may be the only tactics that will work.  The Egyptians have tried it and it works.

Badshah Khan asked of his followers in their struggle to remove British colonial occupation from India and Afghanistan that they take the following oath:

I am a Servant of God, and as God needs no service, but serving his creation is serving him, I promise to serve humanity in the name of God.  I promise to refrain from violence and from taking revenge.  I promise to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty.  I promise to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity.  I will live in accordance with the principles of nonviolence. I will serve all God’s creatures alike; and my object shall be the attainment of the freedom of my country and my religion. I will never desire any reward whatever for my service. All my efforts shall be to please God, and not for any show or gain. Badshah Khan: The forgotten Muslim hero, Chan’ad Bahraini

The young people in Egypt may not have ever heard of Badshah Khan, but they followed his principles.

When the pictures were televised of the water canons being aimed at protestors I thought of the same sort of images I had seen during the civil rights struggle in America.  All through the last month since the revolution started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, many scenes brought back strong mental images of memories from the anti-war and civil rights movements in my own country, and of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  This revolution made me think often of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abdul Gaffar Khan, and other heroic figures who brought about change through non-violent means. 

And, I am not alone in this, a veteran of the Selma March saw the parallels: As I watched the television footage of demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square make the decision to reduce the violence going on around them by sitting down in the street when word came that thugs from the Mubarak regime were on the way to break up their rally, I was reminded of how it felt in the spring of 1965 to be part of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.    What we are witnessing in Egypt should not seem strange to Americans. For it is nothing less than Egypt’s version of the kind of protest that permanently changed our way of life more than 45 years ago.  How nonviolent protest defeats injustice, Nicolaus Mills

People in India saw in this a reflection of Ghandi’s movement   This is Egyptians moment to transform their country. As they continue to struggle for a more just and peaceful Egypt, we look from a far with the conviction that there is no greater joy than seeing people take to the streets and in the spirit of non violence exercising their freedom of speech to call for the end of the Mubarak regime. Thank you Egyptians for touching our hearts and making the world believe in the power of the human spirit. Thank you for the message of non violence, civil disobedience, determination, inspiration, peace, justice, faith, love and dignity. It is through this message that a new Egypt will rise. There will be pro-Mubarak supporters trying to take advantage of this situation and trying to sabotage the dream and aspirations of ordinary Egyptians, but that is too late. The violence that they have used against the peaceful demonstrators will not stop the millions of people that are in the streets. This revolution is going forward and will continue to advance until Mubarak steps down. There is no other alternative. The world is watching and stands on the side of the millions of peaceful demonstrators.  Egyptian revolution has been televised

In thinking about the momentous events of the past month, I am also struck by a number of amazing achievements and unique aspects of this revolution:


, that this revolution could never have succeeded if the people had chosen violence as their tactic.  This would have made it easy for Mubarak to crush the revolution violently and justify that action to the rest of the world - “you see, they made me do it”.  The ordinary people could not have won a military victory, but they were able to win a moral victory.  What is very different today than in such struggles of the past is that the revolution was televised and tweeted and texted and posted on Facebook.  Those of us who were following events were getting instant reports, photographs, and commentary from people who were right in the center of what was going on. 


, the Egyptian people through their courageous and noble behavior changed the image not only of Egyptians but also of Arabs and of Muslims.  They won hearts and minds and broke stereotypes.  Even journalists like Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, and Anderson Cooper came away from Tahrir Square in awe of what the Egyptian people were attempting to accomplish.


, the Egyptian people have struck a blow against the deviant view of the meaning of jihad taught by groups like Al Qaeda who believe that violence is the only way to achieve anything.  The Egyptian people have proved that change is possible through non-violent means.  This is going to make it very difficult for groups like al Qaeda to justify their violence as a legitimate means to an end.


, the Egyptian people have forced many other autocratic rulers to consider that their own authority may be on shaky ground, and we are seeing many taking pre-emptive steps to improve the lot of their people before they too face revolutions.


, the Egyptian people have reminded many in America and other countries of the west that whatever influence they might have in a world of equals will be based on living up to their ideals.  They have also reminded Americans that we are currently in a situation where we have lost many of the freedoms that previous generations won through struggle, and we need to regain and protect these freedoms.

Bob Herbert sees this as a call for Americans to return to their democratic ideals: The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.    I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”    I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.


, the Egyptian people have achieved much already, and done this without a coherent leadership.  This may be the first time that such a non-violent revolution has been carried out without a strong and respected leader.  However, going forward they will need to establish a leadership team that they feel comfortable having speak on their behalf, or too many voices will possibly give an opening to the military or other forces to say they have no one to negotiate with.  Even a populist movement needs leadership.


What has been accomplished to date is monumental, but much remains to do.  Two days ago Mubarak was forced to resign.  Today, the military agreed to disband the parliament and to suspend the constitution which achieves two more goals of the protestors. 

However, the military also said that they plan to rule by martial law for the next six months.  They have retained Mubarak’s cabinet to oversee the transition.  They have not agreed to disband the emergency powers, or to release political prisoners (including as many as 1,000 protestors arrested since the protests began).  Unless the emergency powers are removed, the protestors stand the risk of being picked off one by one and arrested or disappeared.  They have not agreed to allow the establishment of a civilian interim government.  They show no sign of including representatives of the protestors or anyone else to participate in decision making.  It was reported today that “An army source said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will ban meetings by labor unions or professional syndicates, effectively forbidding strikes, and tell people to get back to work.”  It seems as if the military elite who are all part of the old Mubarak regime are making only cosmetic changes, and will themselves decide who will be in power and who will be allowed to rewrite the constitution.  The Mubarak regime is still in power, only the figurehead is gone.  If that is the case, then it is much too early to rejoice.  Mubarak may be gone, but the military machine of which he was a part is still in power, and it isn’t likely that they will relinquish power without a fight.

In a previous article I used a metaphor from Egyptian mythology to refer to Hosni Mubarak and his regime as scorpions.  I can’t help viewing the Egyptian military in terms of that same mythology. In Egyptian mythology, Sobek was a huge, fierce beast sometimes depicted as a man with a crocodile’s head.  He was associated with negative aspects of human nature like deceit, duplicity, passion, and betrayal.  A very dangerous creature indeed. 

The actions of the Egyptian military remind me of an enormous crocodile lurking in the waters of the Nile. During the time of the people’s revolution in Egypt, the military have remained submerged and silent.  The ripples of their presence and underwater movements are visible on the surface of the water.  It is a very real presence, but it has not yet given clear indications of whether or not it will come out of the water to sun on the banks of the river or to strike viciously at the people on the bank of the river. 

In order to achieve their goal of true freedom and democracy, the people of Egypt will need to be vigilant and focused, and all the freedom loving people will have to remain ready to help them in whatever way we can.

UPDATE 11/6/2011

Anyone following events in Egypt can’t help but be dismayed by anti-Christian incidents, particularly the massacre at Maspero.  As soon as reports began coming out, I suspected that this was the act of the military government, and not of the people, as such tactics are not new.

Aslan media reports

What happened at Maspero? Three weeks after the fateful evening of October 9, during which at least 27 mostly Coptic Christians died, and over 300 were injured, this question has still not been answered. The investigation is in the hands of the Egyptian military judiciary, but no findings have yet been announced.

This has not prevented each side from presenting its spin. A few days after the incident, the military council (SCAF) conducted an international press conference and affirmed the initial narrative in which its soldiers were fired upon and a “classified” number of them died. Though SCAF praised State TV for its objectivity, it backpedaled somewhat in placing the blame on the Coptic protesters, as initial media reports proclaimed. SACF showed videos in which military personnel were attacked and beaten by protesters, buttressing its claim that the deaths of those protesters who were crushed by armed vehicles – neither confirmed nor denied – were accidental and not part of military policy. As for those who were shot, SCAF alleged that the soldiers had been outfitted only with blanks and that a third party must have been involved in the shootings.

SCAF’s presentation galled the protest groups, and a few days later a coalition of revolutionary forces held their own press conference, followed thereafter by another from the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic group that had called for the original protest. Both groups placed the blame for the massacre squarely on SCAF, claiming the army attacked first, fired wantonly into the peaceful, unarmed crowds, and mowed down protesters with their armored personnel carriers. Videos were used to demonstrate these claims, and testimonies were collected to say the same. The “third party” came later, the groups claimed, when State TV called upon citizens to come to the street and defend the army.

Although both sides feel vindicated by the video evidence, the essential question remains unanswered: Who shot the victims?

I reviewed thirty-seven videos concerning the events of Maspero, and while video alone cannot be relied upon to determine the truth, observations are telling. There are many scenes of the Coptic march which culminated at Maspero – the protesters are certainly not armed on camera. Yet it also appears that a few individuals were carrying wooden planks, which are later seen being used in an assault upon the military personnel. It cannot determine if these are Copts or infiltrators, but they are certainly there and part of the demonstrations.

The videos also appear to establish that the initial violence came from the military. This violence was not lethal, however; it was the normal violence employed to disperse a protest, as has been done numerous times since the revolution. There is also evidence of military police holding their lines before this dispersal, while a few protesters provoked them violently. It should be noted that this level of provocation was also in line with previous demonstrations and certainly did not merit the severe crackdown which followed.

Somewhere off camera, then, is the event which sparked the violent chaos that followed. Might protesters or a third party have shot at the military? Perhaps, but there is no video evidence of either scenario. Neither is there any evidence that protesters responded to the dispersal by violently assaulting the military?

What is obvious in the videos is the use of armored personnel carriers (APCs) to disperse the protest, which was inconsistent with previous dispersal efforts by SCAF. There is video evidence to demonstrate the military drove the APCs with care, so as not to hit protesters but rather to drive them from the street. Yet there is also some video showing APCs driving wildly through the crowds, deliberately running over protesters. Video, of course, cannot determine what orders were given.

What is absolutely clear from the video is that many of the APC drivers were under duress, being attacked by protesters as they drove by. There are scenes in which drivers exit immobilized APCs, followed by vicious attacks upon them by the demonstrators. Did demonstrators set upon the APCs immediately, or only after enraged following the trampling of their colleagues? There is no way to tell.

Video has also been collected to demonstrate that State TV, early in proceedings, blamed the Coptic protesters for the attack, claiming that three soldiers were killed. This report was later corrected to state only one soldier had died (the military will not release numbers or names of deceased soldiers due to the sensitivity of the situation).

As stated above, no video evidence was found to show protesters shooting at the army. Similarly, no video evidence was found of the military shooting at the protesters. Yet video evidence does seem to indicate that protesters died by gunshot wounds during the melee, and video footage of the victims gathered afterwards certainly confirms this. The question remains: Who did the shooting?

Will the coming weeks witness increased pressure on the military council, increased animosity against the Copts, or nothing out of the ordinary at all? Time will tell, as the revolution continues.

Ahram Online reports  that the military government charter just released “makes the military council more powerful then the president and the parliament,” 

And, the Guardian   reports that  Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah accuses army of hijacking revolutionLetter smuggled out of jail says military were behind protest deaths and little has changed since Hosni Mubarak’s rule.  The article further states that

Abd El Fattah, one of Egypt’s most prominent anti-regime voices and a former political prisoner under the Mubarak dictatorship, was taken into military custody on Sunday evening following public criticisms of the army’s conduct on the night of 9 October, when at least 27 people were killed during a Coptic Christian protest in downtown Cairo.

Like many other activists, Abd El Fattah accused the army of direct involvement in the bloodshed, a claim that appears to be supported by extensive witness reports and video footage. He was charged by military prosecutors with “inciting violence against the army”, and is being held initially for 15 days – a detention period that can be renewed indefinitely by the authorities. His arrest has provoked outrage across the Middle East and beyond.

...  This week Amnesty International released a statement condemning Abd El Fattah’s incarceration, calling for an end to military tribunals for civilians, and repeating its contention that the armed forces played a role in the massacre of 9 October.

“The Egyptian military was part of the violence which occurred during the Maspero protests and is also leading the investigation into the bloodshed,” said Philip Luther, the organisation’s deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa. “This is totally unacceptable and raises serious and fundamental questions about the inquiry’s independence and impartiality. Egypt’s military authorities must allow an independent investigation into these killings if they are serious about bringing those responsible to justice.”

Leila Fadel and Ingy Hassieb report that

As Coptic Christians mourned protesters slain by security forces, Egypt’s military leaders faced unprecedented public anger Monday and growing doubt about their ability to oversee a promised transition to democracy.

Government officials vowed to investigate the causes of the worst violence since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February. But a growing body of evidence, including video footage and eyewitness reports, suggests that military forces opened fire on unarmed protesters and deliberately drove armored vehicles into crowds of civilians.

Muslims and Christians who attended a funeral for the victims of Sunday night’s crackdown chanted angrily for the dismissal of the country’s military chief, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

...  “The army realizes that its forces committed a massacre against a religious minority,” said Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “There is no telling what will follow.”

Perhaps the most troubling lesson from Sunday’s unrest was the ease with which simmering sectarian tensions and a mob mentality could unleash chaos in a country ruled for decades as a police state.

That dynamic poses a dilemma for the military leadership, which must balance its desire to maintain stability with a pledge to oversee a democratic transition. Some observers fear that commanders could use the rising tension as a pretext to delay the shift to civilian rule and rely more heavily on authoritarian tactics.

There are still many more questions than answers, but my suspicion remains firm that the military is promoting and using divisive strategies to maintain control of the government.

UPDATE 11/19/2011

Al Ahram reports on a Crackdown in Cairo, excuses in Washington: As Egyptians return to Tahrir Square, the Obama administration sides with the military.

In the nine months since Hosni Mubarak stepped aside, the Egyptian military has monopolized political decision-making. The SCAF has broken its promise to lift or modify the Emergency Laws, which have been in place since 1981 and give the state sweeping powers to detain citizens and restrict free speech, even though repeal of the laws was a central demand of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square.

Since assuming power in February, the military has broken up protests, suppressed trade unionists, and imprisoned dissidents, journalists and bloggers.  Human Rights Watch has accused the SCAF of subjecting between 7,000 and 10,000 civilians to military trials in the five months following the revolution.  The recent imprisonment of blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah drew the attention of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, which expressed concern about “what appears to be a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”

One of the more egregious incidents was the death of 27 Coptic Christian demonstrators at the hands of what many suspect to be military personnel on Oct. 9 at the Maspiro State Television building in downtown Cairo. The military blames the demonstrators themselves for the violence.

“Instead of identifying which members of the military were driving the military vehicles that crushed Coptic protesters, the military prosecutor is going after the activists who organized the march,” reported Sarah Whitson, the Middle East North Africa director of Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. government shrugs off these abuses, attributing them to the SCAF’s inexperience. At a Nov. 3 press conference in Washington, U.S.  Ambassador for Middle East Transition William Taylor asserted that military abuse can be attributed to the fact that the military is unaccustomed to governing and may be overwhelmed. “[Governing] is not what the Egyptian military is trained to do,” explained Taylor.

Juan Cole reports on another Al Ahram article in Arabic and notes that that hundreds of thousands of Egyptians all around the country protested on Friday against the military remaining in power.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi fundamentalists took the lead on the rallies, especially in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. But some liberal, leftist and youth organizations also joined in the demonstrations.
The military crocodile isn’t lurking any longer, it is striking out.

UPDATE 5/6/2012

Peter Beaumont writes from Cairo In Cairo, violence flares between gangs and Islamists. In Alexandria, discontent grows as the country’s politicians lose their way ahead of elections. And over them all looms the shadow of an army far from ready to give up power.

The military has detained 300 protestors, and imposed a curfew on Cairo.  Some see the clashes as part of plan to postpone power handover.  The military leaders ssay that they will give up power to a civilian government by the end of May, but that doesn’t really seem likely.

UPDATE 6/14/2012

NPR reports that “Egypt’s Supreme Court declared recent elections illegal and ordered the Islamist-led parliament dissolved. The decision, by judges who were appointed by former dictator Hosni Mubarak, escalates the power struggle between the military government and the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.”

The crocodile is no longer lurking, it has slammed its’ jaws firmly shut on the opposition to continued military rule. 

UPDATE 8/14/2013

Based on current events in Egypt, it seems to me that my original assessment was correct.  Although I am not fond of the Muslim Brotherhood, and believe that they have done a terrible job, I also strongly believe that they should have been voted out of office, and that a military coup is exactly the wrong move. 

Sadly, the information coming out of Egypt is so contradictory, that it will be some time before we know for certain what is happening.  The military has forcibly removed protesters, there has been a great deal of violence, many Egyptians have been murdered, churches have been attacked.  And, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military point the finger of blame at the other.  There are so many players in this situation who are more concerned with supporting their own political or religious agenda than with protecting the ordinary citizens of Egypt — and all of them are telling a one sided story.  Those of us outside of Egypt need to be very careful about jumping to any emotional conclusions.  There is certainly blame to be placed on all sides.  And, whoever is responsible for each of the acts of violence needs to be brought to trial and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  All of those engaging in violence, particularly against civilians, are to be condemned.

What is certain is that the people of Egypt need our prayers.

— Death Toll Unprecedented In Egypt’s Modern History
— Massacre in Cairo: Egypt on Brink After Worst Violence Since 2011 Revolution
— From Egypt, an Islamic plea for peace by Ibrahim Negm, advisor to Grand Mufti of Egypt 
— “Murdering the Wretched of the Earth”, Chris Hedges 
— Massacre Of Islamists By Egyptian Military Likely Strategic, Haroon Moghul 
— As military makes its move, forget about liberal democracy in Egypt ( video), Dan Murphy
—  Security forces stood by and failed to intervene during a brutal attack on Coptic Christians in Luxor 
— U.S. Picked One Side in Egypt All Along, Ali Gharib



Muslim Voices Promoting Islamic Non Violent Solutions - article collection

Revolutions in the Middle East - a Historic Moment - article collection (updated daily) including a timeline/summary of each days key events

Here is an example of the daily timeline/summary for today:

2/13/11  Some do not want to take down the barricades and leave the square until demands are met.  A coalition of youth and opposition groups that was the driving force of the movement pulled its supporters from the streets, calling instead for weekly mass demonstrations every Friday to keep pressure on.  They issued their first cohesive list of demands for handling the transition to democracy. Their focus was on ensuring they - not just the military or members of Mubarak’s regime - have a seat at the table in deliberations shaping the future.  Among their demands: lifting of emergency law; creation of a presidential council, made up of a military representative and two “trusted personalities”; the dissolving of the ruling party-dominated parliament; and the forming of a broad-based unity government and a committee to either amend or rewrite completely the constitution. **  -  The military has dissolved the Parliament and suspended the constitution - two more demands met ** - Focus now on push for a civilian-led interim government and removal of emergency laws that permit detention without trial ** - The military may be attempting to undermine the revolution **  -  Mohamed ElBaradei demanded today, a road map by Friday or demonstrations may resume ** - Turkey has called for a transfer of power to civilian rule in Egypt **

Here are some articles on the Egyptian military from that collection:

MILITARY:  - Most U.S. aid to Egypt goes to military  - Long a seat of power, the Egyptian military may speed Mubarak’s exit -  Egypt’s military holds the key but plays the sphinx  - The military says it considers the people’s demands “legitimate” and will not use force against protesters.  - The militaries non-involvement to date has raised questions about their position  - Mubarak’s Response to Demand for end of Military Rule, Juan Cole  -  Where military’s loyalty lies is unclear  -  Despite Billions in Funding, US Concedes Little Influence Over Egypt’s Military - Egypt’s military-industrial complex  - Egypt’s military and business