August 16, 2013

David Degner in Cairo: Putting Names and Faces to Morsi Supporters for a Change

Awataf Mohamed Ibrahim, from Shubra:

“Under Mubarak people that lived outside of Cairo, especially those in the Sinai and Upper Egypt were forgotten, as if they weren’t even Egyptian. Morsi gave them their rights and the supplies they need to work and farm. He provides them with investment and services.” “If we leave our children to these secularists they will grow up without morals.” “I didn’t have any relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, but after the revolution I wanted to know more.” “They are from us, and listen to us.”

Editors note: Photographer David Degner has been living and working in Cairo for several years and covering the Arab Spring and its turbulent trajectory there and also in Libya and Syria. After the Egyptian army and police stormed the Muslim Brotherhood’s encampments protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi yesterday, David made the following notes to accompany his photographs and interviews of the demonstrators:

Protesters need a strong motivation to leave the comforts of home and face discomfort, deprivation and danger. When I first asked about their reasons for being in Rabaa Al-Adiweya, I would get abstract responses about “the legitimacy of Morsi.” But, when they were pressed harder, many had personal stories.

The violent clearing of Rabaa was not an accident; Egypt’s security apparatus is now well rewarded with a reinvigorated enemy. The unreformed security state now has a popular mandate to fight the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, a reason for re-implementing emergency law, an excuse for excessive force, extralegal detentions, and torture.

Many secular Egyptians support the military government with the hope that it will restore their freedoms. While the new government will probably roll back Morsi’s Islamist agenda, it has no pressing motivation to return freedom of the press, respect for human rights, and reform the judicial system.

At the beginning of this revolution — two long years ago — I observed how the theater of state-controlled protests in Egypt had ended.  Now, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim said “We will not allow any other sit-in in any square in any place in the country”. The macabre theater has returned in full force. The pro-Morsi protesters were prodded into their role, labeled as terrorists and the security, state media pushed them to the edge to make sure they played their part well. Over six hundred people are confirmed dead across Egypt.

Taher Gamal El-Din, a software developer from Atfiha:

“Under Mubarak there were only 5 families that controlled all the wealth and power in the country and this corruption existed at all levels.” “I had a friend that graduated from law school with very high grades, when he tried to get a job in the court system he was refused because he didn’t have the right connections. Now he is a teacher.” “My grandfather was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that was 40 years ago.”

Shaban Hamada, 31, from Atfiha used to sell chickens:

“State security took my brother and tortured him for 13 days, breaking his hands and arms, to the point I had to help him do everything including wiping his ass.” “If the military doesn’t return Morsi to his rightful place we will set this country on fire, and if they come here they won’t have to kill just one, they will have to kill us all.” “I studied religion at Al-Azhar University. But the system is so corrupt and anti-religious that they continue to prevent me from taking my final exam so I can graduate.”

Tamer Sakury, a 36 year old Civil Engineer, a Nubian from Luxor in Upper Egypt:

“Morsi is the first president to respect the Nubians and treat us like full citizens.” “Morsi has increased pensions and social benefits to the Nubian community.” “He had the idea to give free health insurance to all.” “He has helped farmers get their chemicals and seeds.”

Amal Mohamad Hassan, a school teacher from Shubra:

“In the 90′s, after the events in Luxor, State Security broke down our door and disappeared my husband for a week. They didn’t have any reason or warrant, just that he was a religious man. This same system is now returning.”

Ramadan Shehaf, 41, from Atfiha, a town south of Cairo:

“State Security broke down my door and tortured me with electricity, attaching leads to my fingers, armpits and testicles. They told me to scream louder so that my neighbors would hear.” “The liberals said we would use a democratic system. We won the presidency, and 4 other votes because we have the majority. If you don’t want us in the government you don’t want democracy.” “I will sit here until I die. I came here to support his legitimacy, The secularists have played with the people using the media to lie to them.”

Manal Mahmoud of Zeitouna, is a grade school teacher in a girls school:

“I have family in the army that think opposite from me and we have been split. We can’t talk about politics when we meet, but the army is made of our brothers, sons, and uncles.” “The Brotherhood combine religion and politics in a way that helps spread the idea of love that is Islam. They speak the truth.” “The Mubarak regime was a failure. There wasn’t any freedom of opinion and if I said Mubarak was bad I would be taken to jail. I have friends that were woken from their sleep and taken to jail. But under Morsi is the opposite.”

Photographs by David Degner.  A larger edit is viewable at Getty Images.

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David Degner
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