Moreover, there were credible reports, including from Brotherhood members, that the pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo were accumulating weapons and defensive equipment and were also building barricades, meaning that as time passed it would become harder to remove them by force and the number of casualties would have been greater. Such an outcome could have caused the US and Britain to turn their backs on the interim government and stop the flow of much-needed foreign cash to the Egyptian economy.
In light of this, it is clear why the army decided to clear the Nahda Square and Rabaah al-Adawiya pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo. Hundreds of thousands of Islamists barricaded themselves in al-Adawiya, the larger protest encampment, located at the heart of the bustling middle-class Nasr City neighborhood.
Apart from the threat on the legitimacy of the regime in Egypt, this compound disturbed the locals and was slowly becoming an environmental hazard. This begs the question: Why was it not evacuated sooner? The main reason is the Egyptian army's fear of global public opinion.
The economic aid Egypt needs urgently is conditioned on at least the semblance of support by Western governments. The forceful evacuation of the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps jeopardizes the status of the revolution in Egypt.
The second reason is linked to the first. Western figures, including American senators, US Secretary of State John Kerry's emissary and the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, all tried to convince the Muslim Brotherhood to reach a peaceful compromise with the new Egyptian government, but the Brotherhood refused to budge even one millimeter from its positions.
Encouraged by the newfound interest by international forces in their cause, they continued to demand Morsi's release as well as his reinstatement to the presidency. Until it was utterly clear that the Muslim Brotherhood refused to make peace with the new reality, General al-Sisi was under pressure to refrain from moving against the mass sit-ins.
The third reason was the Ramadan fast. The Egyptian army did not want to act against a group of people already overflowing with religious zeal as a result of the Ramadan period, and hence al-Sisi and the new interim president decided to wait until the post-holiday season – after Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Ramadan. The operation was intended to take place immediately after Eid al-Fitr, however, by Sunday the plan was leaked to the Muslim Brotherhood, prompting the army to postpone the operation. But, not for too long.
It seems that it was obvious to the senior officers currently running Egypt that the continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood's mass sit-ins by even a couple of days might embolden the Islamists in Sinai to turn up the heat in their attacks against the Egyptian army. For the army, it was important to show that they would tolerate no such thing.
But this was not the main reason: What motivated the army's decisive action more than anything was the fear that the Brotherhood would gather further strength as well as public support. Among other rumors published, some news reports claimed that the Brotherhood had place snipers on rooftops throughout the Nasr City neighborhood in a bid to take out force attempting to evict their encampment.
Even the attempts to reach a political compromise that continued until Tuesday eventually failed. The Muslim Brotherhood were just unwilling to take part in any constructive process towards installing a new democratic rule in Egypt and were just as unwilling to accept anything less than Morsi's reinstatement. Hence the operation was undertaken with extreme force and diligence as al-Sisi felt that he has some form of support from the international community.
The operation was slated to begin at 9 am, when the majority of those in the Muslim Brotherhood's encampment left for work, thus significantly reducing the number of those within, specifically the number of women and seniors. The resistance they met was fiercer than they had expected and was facilitated by pre-constructed barricades made of barrels full of concrete and stone. Apparently both sides fired live rounds at each other.
The ensuing street battles have yet to conclude. The Nahda Square sit-in near Cairo University was easily cleared, but the clashes near the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr City are still raging. The army and Interior Ministry leading the operation are in no rush. They are using a lot of tear gas and have called in the massive D9 bulldozers to take down the barricades.
Formally the operation is being led by the Interior Ministry so as to grant legitimacy to the attempt to instill public order by a civilian authority as opposed to an act of political oppression by the army. As such, the army is attempting to preserve the public sympathy it still enjoys in Egypt.
If the operation succeeds, it will have implications for Israel as well. The Muslim Brotherhood's loss in Cairo will damage the morale of the jihadist and salafists in Sinai, possibly leading them to decrease their attacks and raids on Egyptian forces in northern Sinai as well as rocket launching activities against Israel. Only the death toll of the operation will decided the level of legitimacy that the interim régime will enjoy from the international community once the dust settles.
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