Egypt’s dis­af­fected youth in­creas­ingly call for vi­o­lence


The 20-year-old law stu­dent says he has had enough of fruit­less protests in sup­port of Egypt’s de­posed Is­lamist pres­i­dent, two years of a los­ing strug­gle with po­lice.

Now he wants to join the ex­trem­ists of the Is­lamic State group who are bat­tling the army in the Si­nai Penin­sula.

He and other youths are grow­ing in­creas­ingly open in their calls for vi­o­lence and a move to­ward ex­trem­ism, frus­trated by the po­lice crack­down since the mil­i­tary ousted Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi in 2013. Some want to avenge friends and fam­ily killed or abused by po­lice.

Once sym­pa­thetic to Morsi’s Mus­lim Brother­hood, some of them re­sent it as weak and in­ef­fec­tual.

“Now we know there is only one right way: ji­had,” said the law stu­dent, Ab­delrah­man, show­ing off scars from pel­lets fired at him by po­lice shot­guns dur­ing protests. Like other protesters in­ter­viewed by The As­so­ci­ated Press, he spoke on con­di­tion he be iden­ti­fied only by his first name for fear of po­lice re­tal­i­a­tion.

He spoke bit­terly about the se­ries of bal­lot box vic­to­ries in 2011 and 2012 that gave the Mus­lim Brother­hood po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance and made Morsi the coun­try’s first freely elected pres­i­dent.

“Democ­racy doesn’t work. If we win, the pow­ers that be, who­ever they are, just flip things over,” he said. “The Brother­hood thought they could play the demo­cratic game, but in the end, they were beaten.”

In re­cent weeks, mil­i­tants who de­clared them­selves to be the Si­nai branch of the Iraq- and Syria-based Is­lamic State group tried to take over a Si­nai town in an elab­o­rate at­tack on se­cu­rity forces, and Egypt’s top pros­e­cu­tor was killed by a bomb in the first as­sas­si­na­tion of a se­nior of­fi­cial here in a quar­ter-cen­tury.

The in­sur­gency swelled af­ter the army over­threw Morsi fol­low­ing mass na­tion­wide protests of his rule. Since then, the more than 80-year-old Brother­hood has been shat­tered by a se­cu­rity crack­down. Most of its top lead­ers are in prison, with sev­eral sen­tenced to death, in­clud­ing Morsi. Since 2013, hun­dreds of protesters have been killed, many more wounded and thou­sands ar­rested, of­ten bru­tal­ized in prison.

With other lead­ers in hid­ing or abroad, lower-level sup­port­ers of the Brother­hood have been the ones work­ing to keep protests alive. Mem­bers of the Brother­hood them­selves are di­vided over whether to stick to its of­fi­cial pol­icy of peace­ful protest or to em­brace vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion with the gov­ern­ment. Author­i­ties al­ready ac­cuse the group of fu­el­ing vi­o­lence and have branded it a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

An of­fi­cial at Egypt’s In­te­rior Min­istry, which is re­spon­si­ble for the po­lice, said its poli­cies aim to erad­i­cate law­less­ness and chaos, say­ing it must con­front those who seek to in­cite youth in rough neigh­bor­hoods to vi­o­lence.

Youssef, a Brother­hood mem­ber who leads protests in the greater Cairo area, said he op­poses a turn to vi­o­lence, but adds that oth­ers are em­brac­ing it in the face of po­lice abuses.

“We have all lost lots of friends. And as a re­sult there are lots of opin­ions. Some feel the only way to re­sist now is with armed strug­gle,” said the 20- year- old busi­ness stu­dent. Oth­ers also in­volved in or­ga­niz­ing demon­stra­tions made sim­i­lar state­ments.

Protests oc­cur al­most daily in poor, for­got­ten corners of the cap­i­tal and coun­try­side. Ban­ners are less about Morsi and more about re­venge against po­lice.

‘Peace is dead’

“Peace is dead,” pro­claimed one at a re­cent march in the Cairo slum of Matariya. In the nearby vil­lage of Nahia, another ban­ner bore the slo­gan “peace­ful” — then mocked it by adding a smi­ley face car­ry­ing an as­sault ri­fle. Some de­mon­stra­tors chant slo­gans prais­ing the Is­lamic State group.

“Most of these young guys were not po­lit­i­cal be­fore. They were politi­cized by vi­o­lence, by see­ing friends or fam­ily mem­bers shot and killed by po­lice or be­ing ar­bi­trar­ily de­tained,” said Basem Zakaria alSa­margi, who works at the Cairo In­sti­tute for Hu­man Rights, an ad­vo­cacy group, and lives in Matariya. “There are many peo­ple who now want vengeance from the state.”

Jerome Drevon, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester and a spe­cial­ist on mil­i­tant groups in semi-au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes, said the con­flict is not about ide­ol­ogy, but rather peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to avenge them­selves and their friends against the se­cu­rity forces and join what­ever group can help them achieve that.

At a news con­fer­ence this month in Cairo, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry quoted Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who has said that “when peo­ple are op­pressed, and hu­man rights are de­nied ... when dis­sent is si­lenced, it feeds vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.”

Matariya, a crowded dis­trict of nar­row al­ley­ways with few ser­vices and a history of ne­glect, has seen some of the coun­try’s blood­i­est clashes with po­lice in the past two years. Dozens were killed in gun­bat­tles there in Jan­uary. Rights groups have raised alarm over pos­si­ble abuses at the dis­trict’s po­lice sta­tion, where de­tainees have died in cus­tody and where res­i­dents talk of ram­pant tor­ture and of young men dis­ap­pear­ing af­ter night raids on their homes.

Ab­delrah­man’s fam­ily is like many oth­ers in the dis­trict. His cousin is in a wheel­chair af­ter be­ing shot by po­lice at a demon­stra­tion. His un­cle was re­cently ar­rested for protest­ing. His brother, known for orches­trat­ing at­tacks on po­lice, is on the run.

Nahia, the nearby vil­lage, is a vir­tual nogo zone for the state at the mo­ment. There, hun­dreds of youth march un­op­posed in for­ma­tion down main roads, call­ing for the ouster of Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi, the army chief who de­posed Morsi and later was elected to of­fice.

While march­ing, Ab­delrah­man has waved the Is­lamic State group’s black flag. He says the only vi­o­lence he has com­mit­ted is burn­ing three po­lice cars. But he adds: “I’m ready to fight.”

Now liv­ing in a safe house away from his fam­ily, he says he knows whom to con­tact in or­der to join the group but that he needed to have a spon­sor and go through vet­ting be­cause it is wary of gov­ern­ment in­fil­tra­tors.

Some Brother­hood mem­bers have at­tacked po­lice sta­tions or planted bombs on the street, but they usu­ally get ar­rested, Ab­delrah­man said.

“I tell peo­ple they should join a ji­had group,” he said, “and if not, take the risky step of form­ing a group on their own, or even act­ing alone.”


In this June 23 pho­to­graph, mem­bers of Ul­tras Nah­dawy, a youth group of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, sing anti-army chants in a protest ahead of the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the ouster of Is­lamist Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi in the Nahia dis­trict, near Cairo, Egypt.

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