After Rabaa: It's time the West stopped backing massacres in Egypt

After Rabaa: It's time the West stopped backing massacres in Egypt
Comment: The West has backed three massacres in Egypt. On the anniversary of Rabaa it’s time to withdraw support, writes Amelia Smith.
4 min read
14 Aug, 2017
The Rabaa massacre was met with deafening silence from Egypt's justice system [AFP]
Four years ago today 1,000 Egyptians were slaughtered in the square outside the Rabaa mosque where they had gathered in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Demonstrators were shot in the head and chest and the tents in which they had gathered set on fire. Bulldozers, soldiers and snipers advanced on the demonstrators before turning to a field hospital that had been set up to treat the wounded.

Security forces began at 7am and continued shooting live ammunition at men, women and children for 12 hours. Blood literally flowed through the streets.

It was the worst attack on protesters in modern history yet it was met with deafening silence by Egypt's justice system, which, to date has failed to bring anyone to trial over the killings, and the international community who have since strengthened ties with Egypt rather than diminished them.

The attack was premeditated, planned within the upper echelons of the Egyptian government weeks in advance. In the aftermath Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, the architect of the massacre, gloated that everything went according to plan. Sisi said the self-restraint of the armed forces would not continue.

Neither on 14 August 2013, nor in any of the years that have followed the 2013 coup, have the armed forces shown any sort of restraint in cracking down on the opposition. Why would they, with such nonchalance from the international community? In the understatement of the century, then UK foreign secretary William Hague said he was "deeply concerned".

Life for Egyptians has only worsened since this tragic day.

Life for Egyptians has only worsened since this tragic day

Thousands have been imprisoned and tortured, human rights organisations shut down, journalists targeted, news sites blocked. The military-backed government has launched a "counter-terror operation" in the Sinai Peninsula they say is against the insurgency there, but in the process has razed hundreds of homes to the ground and disappeared civilians.

Some 500 Bedouins have escaped through the smuggling tunnels and sought refuge in the Gaza Strip. 

In the UK, these facts come to the fore occasionally but certainly don't receive as much attention as they deserve. Since the 2013 coup in Egypt there have been three massacres - overseen by the military in response to protesters challenging their role in politics - yet they have been all but buried.

On 8 July 2013 - in an event some call the precursor to Rabaa - some 61 pro-Morsi supporters were killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters as they knelt for dawn prayers. The ousted president's supporters had gathered on Samah Salem road, in front of the building for days, as they believed the ousted president was being detained there.

Read more:  In memory of Rabaa: A national tragedy

Not even a week had passed since the Rabaa massacre when prisoners who had been rounded up in a protest were loaded into a police van and parked outside Abu Zaabal prison. Outside soaring temperatures meant that many had already lost consciousness. Tear gas was fired through the window of the van and 37 people inside were gassed to death.

On the anniversary of the Rabaa massacre it's time the UK acknowledged the central role played by Sisi in all three of these massacres, rather than scramble to befriend the leader.

He was minister of defence and commander of the armed forces at the time of the Republican Guard shooting, the Rabaa massacre and the police van gassings and yet the UK remains Egypt's number one investor. In 2016 investments from UK companies topped $30 billion.

The events following Rabaa have paved the way for a culture of impunity in a country that imprisons thousands and hands out the death penalty on scant evidence and mass trials. These human rights violations are amplified if we consider in whose name the Rabaa massacre was perpetrated - the mosque where protesters gathered was named after Rabia al-Adawiyya, the thirteenth century Muslim woman and Sufi mystic who stood not only for unconditional love but against corrupt systems.

Afraid of her legacy, in June 2015 Sisi renamed Rabaa Square after Hisham Barakat, the prosecutor-general who oversaw the acquittal of Hosni Mubarak and who ultimately stands for Egypt's deeply-entrenched, toxic impunity.

Amelia Smith is a London-based journalist who has a special interest in Middle East politics, art and culture. She is editor of The Arab Spring Five Years On. Follow her on Twitter: @amyinthedesert

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.