Egypt appoints outspoken Brotherhood critic justice minister

Reuters: Egypt appointed a hardline judge and outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood as justice minister on Wednesday in a move decried by a leading opposition figure as a disaster for justice in the world’s most populous Arab country.

Ahmed el-Zend, a former appeals court judge, has in contrast to his predecessor been publicly outspoken in his criticism of the Islamist movement removed from power in mid-2013 by the army and banned as a terrorist organization.

Some Egyptian judges are seen by critics as hardliners whose rulings are in line with the toughest crackdown on Islamists in the country’s history. The judiciary says it is independent.

Liberal activist Shady el-Ghazaly Harb said the appointment was part of a trend towards empowering opponents of the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.


U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ by Egypt’s death penalty decision for Mohamed Morsi

Reuters: The US is “deeply concerned” about an Egyptian court decision to seek the death penalty for the former president Mohamed Morsi, a State Department official said on Sunday.

The US criticism follows condemnation from Amnesty International and Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after the court ruling on Saturday against the deposed leader and 106 supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood in connection with a mass jail break in 2011.

The ruling against Morsi is not final until 2 June. All capital sentences are referred to Egypt’s top religious authority, the Grand Mufti, for a non-binding opinion, and are also subject to legal appeal.
Islamists warn of backlash over Mohamed Morsi death sentence
Read more

“We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former president Morsi,” the State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Egyptian court sentences ousted President Morsi to death

The New York Times reports: An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Morsi, the country’s deposed president, to death on Saturday over his involvement in a prison break during Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising.

Mr. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the country’s first democratically elected president and came to power following the 2011 revolt that ended the three decades of autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. After a divisive and chaotic year in office, Mr. Morsi was ousted from power by the military in July 2013 following another wave of protests.

The jailbreak case was a sign of the sweeping reversal of Egypt’s political tide since the 2011 uprising. The former head of state had been detained in a revolution that many Egyptians hoped would bring about an end to arbitrary detentions and other abuses by the security state. [Continue reading…]


Egypt’s Morsi: jail sentence seals dramatic reversal of fortune

Reuters: Ousted president Mohamed Mursi once dreamed of creating an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation”. That seemed more unreachable than ever on Tuesday after a judge sentenced him to 20 years in jail for violence, kidnapping and torture.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule, has repeatedly portrayed his Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group which poses an existential threat to Egypt.

That message was well received by many Egyptians whose desire for stability made them turn a blind eye to Sisi’s subsequent crackdown on Mursi, his supporters and other Brotherhood leaders. It was the toughest in Egypt’s history and about 800 protestors died.


Egypt sentences Muslim Brotherhood leader, others to death

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and 13 other senior members of the group to death for inciting chaos and violence, and gave a life term to a U.S.-Egyptian citizen for ties to the Brotherhood.

The men were among thousands of people detained after freely elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was toppled in 2013 by the military under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is now president.

Sisi describes the Brotherhood as a major security threat. The group says it is committed to peaceful activism and had nothing to do with Islamist militant violence in Egypt since Mursi’s fall following mass protests against his rule.

Egypt’s mass trials of Brotherhood members and people accused of links to the group, as well as its tough crackdown on Islamist and liberal opposition alike, have drawn international criticism of its judicial system and human rights record.

The sentences, pronounced at a televised court session on Saturday, can be appealed before Egypt’s highest civilian court in a process that could take years to reach a final verdict.

U.S.-Egyptian citizen Mohamed Soltan was sentenced to life in jail for supporting the veteran Islamist movement and transmitting false news. He is the son of Brotherhood preacher Salah Soltan, who was among those sentenced to death. [Continue reading…]


Four years after the Egyptian revolution

Thanassis Cambanis writes: In the four years that I’ve been reporting closely on Egypt’s transition from revolution to restoration, I’ve seen young activists go from stunned to euphoric to traumatized and sometimes defeated. I’ve seen stalwarts of the old regime go from arrogant and complacent to frightened and unsure to bullying and triumphalist. And yet, so far, the core grievances that drew frustrated Egyptians to Tahrir Square in the first place remain unaddressed. Police operate with complete impunity and disrespect for citizens, routinely using torture. Courts are whimsical, uneven, at times absurdly unjust and capricious. The military controls a state within a state, removed from any oversight or scrutiny, with authority over a vast portion of the national economy and Egypt’s public land. Poverty and unemployment continue to rise, while crises in housing, education, and health care have grown even worse than the most dire predictions of development experts. Corruption has largely gone unpunished, and [President Abdel Fattah el-]Sisi has begun to roll back an initial wave of prosecutions against Mubarak, his sons, and his oligarchs.

[Basem] Kamel [one of the leaders of the revolution] has abandoned his revolutionary rhetoric of 2011 for a more modest platform of reform, working within the system. He was one of just four revolutionary youth who made it into the short-lived revolutionary parliament of 2012, and he helped found the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, one of the most promising new political parties after the fall of Mubarak.

He expects to run for parliament again with his party, but the odds are longer and the stakes lower. The parliament will have hardly any power under Sisi’s setup. Most of the seats are slated for “independents,” which in practice means well-funded establishment candidates run by the former ruling party network. The Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s largest opposition group, is now illegal. Existing political parties can only compete for 20 percent of the seats, and most of them, like Kamel’s have dramatically tamed their criticisms.

“I think Sisi is in control of everything,” Kamel said. “Of course I am not with Sisi, but I am not against the state.”

That’s why he’s devoting his efforts to a training program for Social Democratic cadres, a sort of political science-and-organizing academy for activists and operatives that will take years to bear fruit. “It’s long-term work,” he said.

Still, something fundamental changed in January 2011, and no amount of state brutality can reverse it. Many people who before 2011 cowered or kept their ideas to themselves now feel unafraid. [Continue reading…]


Why everyone walked free in the Mubarak trial

Mada Masr: Judge Mahmoud al-Rashidy knew that the acquittal of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six of his aides on charges of inciting and conspiring in the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution would shock many.

He released a 280-page long judgment to mitigate the shock.

As Rashidy flatly dismissed the charges against former strongman Hosni Mubarak on procedural grounds, the judgment that was given to the media must be read, as his reasoning behind the exculpation of the interior minister and his aids.

The case largely hangs on the testimony of security officials and former regime officials. Incriminating testimony has been dismissed and individual acts are justified given the extenuating circumstances.

At the heart of it all, Rashidy argues, is a global conspiracy.

Below, we have laid out the key arguments in Rashidy’s judgment:

The conspiracy

Through the document, the judge moves beyond the scope of the case and gives his view of the events that occurred within the case’s time frame (January 25-31). Rashidy maintains that an American-Zionist conspiracy had been plotting to divide the country.

This claim, Rashidy continues, is based on the testimonies of “the nation’s wise men,” namely the late intelligence head Omar Suleiman, former Defense Minister Hussein Tantawy, Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, his head of intelligence Mourad Mowafy and other top officials, in addition to journalist Ibrahim Eissa.

The Muslim Brotherhood were key conspirators, helping groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to sneak into the country. These actors, the court concludes, executed a choreographed plan on January 28 to bring down the state. [Continue reading…]


Brotherhood leader’s arrest in Jordan is seen as warning from monarchy

The New York Times reports: Zaki Bani Rushaid, the provocative deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, has never been shy with his opinions.

For years, Jordan did nothing as he railed — often on nationwide television — against Jordan’s “meager” political reforms and what he sees as continued attempts to cozy up to the United States, which he calls “the cause of tyranny in the Middle East.” Despite his high profile, the kingdom appeared not to see him, or the Brotherhood, as a threat.

Then, on Nov. 17, Mr. Bani Rushaid took to his Facebook page with a new complaint, inveighing against the United Arab Emirates, which had recently branded the Muslim Brotherhood movements as terrorist groups. Among his accusations: that the Emirates plays the role of the “American cop in the region,” “supports coups” and is a “cancer in the body of the Arab world.”

Within days, he was behind bars, accused under a recently strengthened antiterrorism law for “acts harmful to the country’s relations with foreign countries.” Last week he lost an appeal for bail, and he is now awaiting trial and a possible sentence of at least two and a half years in prison.

The reason for the government’s sudden shift, analysts say, was that he crossed a political line by lashing out at the Emirates, an important ally of Jordan’s and one of several countries in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are on a campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]


Egypt prosecutor asks for death sentence for ousted President Morsi in espionage trial

The Associated Press reports: Egypt’s state news agency says prosecutors have asked for the death sentence for ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders on trial on espionage charges.

Prosecutor Emad el-Sharawy said in closing remarks Wednesday that Morsi and his aides leaked state security documents to foreign intelligence agencies, naming Iran, while in office for one year. The military removed Morsi from office in July 2013 following mass protests against him accusing him and the Brotherhood of monopolizing power.

El-Sharawy said the defendants, who include Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and 34 others, cooperated with militant groups, including Gaza’s Hamas, to destabilize Egypt. [Continue reading…]


Qatar expels Egypt Muslim Brotherhood leaders

The Associated Press reports: Leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group and allied clerics said on Saturday that they are departing Qatar, where they had sought refuge following the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters.

Their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha’s relations with Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which view the more than 85-year-old Islamist movement as a threat. The expulsion threatens to further isolate the group, which rose to power in Egypt through a string of post-Arab Spring elections but suffered a dramatic fall from grace during Morsi’s divisive year in office.

Former minister Amr Darrag, who was also the top foreign affairs official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and fiery cleric Wagdi Ghoneim said they are leaving Qatar following a request to do so by the Gulf monarchy. [Continue reading…]


Egypt: The anatomy of an unfair trial

Amal Alamuddin writes: Sentencing a political opponent to death after a show trial is no different to taking him out on the street and shooting him. In fact, it is worse because using the court system as a tool of state repression makes a mockery of the rule of law. Egypt’s constitution guarantees the right to be presumed innocent. And yet in a recent case, an Egyptian judge — after a “trial” lasting 100 minutes — sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death. Egypt’s constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, yet many journalists languish behind bars.

Three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English news network — Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — are among them. Mr. Fahmy used to work for CNN and the New York Times. Mr. Greste worked for the BBC and had only been in Egypt for a few days before his arrest. I am Mr. Fahmy’s lawyer and have had contact with him in Egypt. I have studied the case file, read the reports of trial observers who were at each court session, and read the judgment that sentences the journalists to lengthy prison terms of seven years or more. It is clear beyond doubt that their trial was unfair, and their conviction a travesty of justice.

What does the Egyptian state, through its prosecutors and judges, charge? That these three men promoted and gave material support to the Muslim Brotherhood group that they are members of; and that they produced false news that harms Egypt’s reputation and its national security. The judgment convicts them on all counts and finds that “through their actions, [they] had compiled audiovisual film material and falsified untrue events to be broadcast by a satellite channel in order to stir conflict within the Egyptian State.” More specifically, the judges condemn them for betraying “the noble profession of journalism” by “portraying the Country — untruthfully — to be in a state of chaos … internal strife and disarray.” This sinister plot was apparently orchestrated “upon the instructions of the … terrorist Muslim Brotherhood Group” headquartered at a Marriott hotel suite off Tahrir Square.

The story is completely fabricated. [Continue reading…]


The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too

Shibley Telhami writes: Cairo’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, according to conventional wisdom, have largely been dictated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s animosity toward Hamas. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has declared a terrorist organization and regards as a serious threat.

That is why, this argument goes, the Egyptian ceasefire proposal ignored Hamas’ conditions and why the Israelis so quickly supported it. The proposal called for an immediate ceasefire. Only then would the terms be negotiated, including Hamas’ demands for an end to Israeli attacks, an end to the blockade of Gaza and the release of rearrested Palestinians who were freed in a prisoner 2011 exchange.

The story is far more complicated, however, for both Sisi and Egypt. Because the longer the war goes on, the more Gaza becomes a domestic problem for the Egyptian president. One he does not want.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Egyptian President al-Sisi in CairoIndeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi’s opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now — he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war. [Continue reading…]


Egypt: Morsi supporters jailed for 25 years for protesting without a permit

Al Ahram reports: A court in Minya has sentenced three supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to 25 years in prison for protesting without a permit.


Why Egypt wants Israel’s assault on Gaza to continue

The Economist: The Israelis reckoned it would be cleverer to get Egypt to handle Hamas, knowing that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s new president, also dislikes it intensely. The terms of the ceasefire offered through Egypt’s offices amounted virtually to a surrender by Hamas. “It was a trap,” says a European diplomat who still meets Hamas. “Hamas knows that Sisi wants to strangle the movement even more than Israel does.” Since Egypt’s generals overthrew Mr Sisi’s predecessor, Muhammad Morsi, last year, they have closed most of the tunnels under the border with Gaza which served as a lifeline, carrying basic goods as well as arms into the strip. Mr Sisi seems content to see Hamas thrashed.

Steven Cook writes: Depending on whom one asks, Egypt’s failure so far to mediate a cease-fire is either a function of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s perfidy or incompetence, or Egypt’s diminished status among Muslim countries. But there’s another explanation: The Egyptians seem to believe that a continuation of the fighting — for now — best serves their interests. Given the intense anti-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Hamas propaganda to which Egyptians have been subjected and upon which Sisi’s legitimacy in part rests, the violence in Gaza serves both his political interests and his overall goals.

In an entirely cynical way, what could be better from where Sisi sits? The Israelis are battering Hamas at little or no cost to Egypt. In the midst of the maelstrom, the new president, statesman-like, proposed a cease-fire. If the combatants accept it, he wins. If they reject it, as Hamas did — it offered them very little — Sisi also wins.

Rather than making Sisi look impotent, Hamas’s rejection of his July 14 cease-fire has only reinforced the Egyptian, Israeli, and American narrative about the organization’s intransigence. The Egyptians appear to be calculating, rightly or wrongly, that aligning with Israel will serve their broader goals by bringing Hamas to heel, improving security in the Sinai, and diminishing the role of other regional actors. In other words, Sisi is seeking to accomplish without a cease-fire what Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi accomplished with a cessation of hostilities.

Sisi’s strategy, of course, could backfire. Mubarak tried something similar during the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon — supporting the operation with the belief that the mighty IDF would deal a blow to Hezbollah, only to be exposed politically when the Israelis underperformed and killed a large number of Lebanese civilians in the process. Confronted with an increasingly hostile press and inflamed public opinion — posters lauding Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became common around Cairo — Mubarak was forced to dispatch his son, Gamal, and a planeload of regime courtiers to Beirut in a lame effort to demonstrate Egypt’s support for the Lebanese people.

A similar dynamic might alter Sisi’s calculations on Gaza. Egyptian officials may have whipped up anti-Hamas sentiment in their effort to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood, but this does not diminish the solidarity many Egyptians feel for the Palestinians.

It may be that Egyptians have come to loathe the Brotherhood, but they hate Israel more. As Operation Protective Edge widens and more civilians are killed, Sisi’s collusion with Israel may become politically untenable. [Continue reading…]


Egyptian media applauds Israel’s Gaza offensive

AFP reports: Israel’s escalating attack on the Gaza Strip has triggered worldwide debate. Egypt is no exception.

But there is little of the traditional Arab solidarity towards Palestinians to be found in the Egyptian media.

Adel Nehaman, a columnist for the Egyptian daily El-Watan, said bluntly: “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas.”

Azza Sami, a writer for government daily Al-Ahram, went so far as to congratulate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter: “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas!”

Star presenter of the Al-Faraeen TV channel, Tawfik Okasha, an ardent supporter of Egypt’s military regime and known for his firm stance against the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, attacked the entire Palestinian population live on air.

“Gazans are not men,” he declared. “If they were men they would revolt against Hamas.”

His broadcast was even picked up by Israeli TV to demonstrate Egyptian support for Israel. [Continue reading…]


The creation of Hamas

A commenter wrote this:

Perverse that the organization called a “Terrorist Organization” by the world media and political community was founded in part by Israel as a means of keeping violent militancy under close surveillance and control in Palestine/Gaza/West Bank.

This comment reiterates an oft-repeated view that Hamas was created with Israel’s approval. This is a misrepresentation of history.

In Hamas Unwritten Chapters, Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian scholar with close ties to Hamas, describes how the organization came into existence.

Although formally announced in 1987 at the beginning of the First Intifada, Hamas began as a branch of Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928. The ability for Ikhwan to thrive in Gaza was provided by the Israeli occupation which began in 1967. Prior to that, Ikhwan had been suppressed by the Egyptian authorities.

Tamimi writes:

Israel opted to revive certain aspects of archaic Ottoman law in its administration of the affairs of the Arab populations in the West Bank and Gaza. This permitted the creation of voluntary or non-governmental organizations such as charitable, educational and other forms of privately funded service institutions. This was a fortunate development for the Palestinians under occupation. For the first ten years of occupation, from 1967-1977, the Israeli occupation authorities pursued a policy of ‘non-intervention’ drawn up and supervised by Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defence in the Labour government. The intention was to be responsive to Palestinian wishes, allowing them the freedom to enjoy their non-political institutions as far as these institutions remained consistent with Israel rule and posed no threat to it… [It was under these conditions that] the Ikhwan succeeded in more than doubling the number of mosques under their authority.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, following seven years of intermittent civil conflict in that country. Israeli forces advanced all the way to the Lebanese capital Beirut, with the eventual eviction of the PLO from Lebanon. While Beirut was under siege by the Israeli forces, commanded by Israel’s then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, between two and three thousand unprotected and unarmed Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila camps were massacred by Israel’s ally, the Christian Lebanese Forces. Palestinian populations across the world felt a suffocating sense of anger, impotence and frustration.

Amid all these dramatic events, pressure was mounting on the Ikhwan in Palestine to take action on behalf of their cause. Their social reform program had seemed to absorb all their efforts at a time when developments in and around Palestine called for a more dramatic response. Having successfully outflanked the nationalist and leftist forces within Palestinian society the Islamists now faced the criticism that while others had been making sacrifices resisting occupation they had restricted themselves to social and educational services. Their detractors went so far as to accuse them of brokering a deal with the Occupation Authorities, as a result of which their activities were tolerated and their projects were licensed. The Islamists’ enemies embarked on old-fashioned Nasir-style propaganda, labeling the Ikhwan as the invention of Britain or the United States, or as lackeys of the Zionists.

From 1979 to 1981, throughout the network of the Ikhwan organization inside Gaza and the West Bank, the younger members, who were electrified by Saraya Al-Jihad’s resistance operations, voiced one persistent question: “Why are we not involved in the military resistance to occupation?” [Saraya Al-Jihad was a group of Islamic-oriented members of Fatah that had launched a campaign of armed resistance in the West Bank.] Little was known at the time about a plan to engage in military action which had already been drawn up, during the same period of soul-searching, by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, as the leader of the Ikhwan in Gaza. Clearly, the Ikhwan, or at least some of its leaders, could no longer withstand the pressure from within their own ranks and the mounting scepticism of Palestinian society as a whole. They had also begun to suffer, perhaps, from a growing sense of guilt on their own part over their inaction.

No one took the decision to ignite the Intifada on 8 December 1987; it was triggered by an accident, which in turn set off the spontaneous explosion of anger by the masses. However, it was an explosion anticipated by the Palestinian Ikhwan, for which they had been preparing since at least 1983. The day the Intifada began, the institutions created by the Ikhwan inside and outside Palestine came into action, with each performing the tasks assigned to it. The Ikhwan had no option except to seize the occasion. They needed to exploit it the the limit of their ability, in order to reinstate themselves as the leaders of the jihad to liberate Palestine. Had they not done so, it would have meant the demise of their movement. In addition, only the Ikhwan had the intention, the will, the infrastructure and the global logistical support to keep the flame of the Intifada alight for as long as it could be maintained.

For the Ikhwan, now acting under the name of Hamas, the Intifada was a gift from heaven. They were determined to end the occupation, and to ensure that this would be only the beginning of a long-term jihad. They mobilized their members, employing the network of mosques and other institutions under their control, foremost amongst which was the Islamic University [in Gaza]. They called for civil disobedience and organized rallies, which almost inevitably culminated in stone-throwing at Israeli troops, burning the Israeli flag and setting up improvised road blocks with burning tyres. The Intifada was an explosion of anger in the face of the occupation, sparked off by the dreadful and inhumane conditions endured by the Palestinians for many years and the humiliation and degradation to which they had been subjected. However, the Ikhwan’s slogans were not confined to demands for the end of the occupation. They went further, also demanding the abolition of the state of Israel. Most of the demonstrators had been refugees, and their real homes were not the squalid and wretched UN camps of Gaza or the West Bank but the hundreds of towns and villages that once stood where Israel exists today.


Egypt silent as Israel attacks Gaza

The New York Times reports: Again and again over decades, Egypt has leapt in to play the role of mediator during hostilities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, including the time two years ago when Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, helped broker a cease-fire after eight days of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.

But in the latest battle, the Egyptians appear to be barely lifting a finger, leaving the combatants without a go-between as the Palestinian death toll mounts.

Officials with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza, said on Wednesday they had seen almost no sign of an Egyptian effort to defuse the crisis, in sharp contrast to previous conflicts under Mr. Morsi and President Hosni Mubarak. Making matters worse, according to Palestinian officials, Egypt continued to keep its side of the border all but sealed on Wednesday, barring even humanitarian aid.

Egypt’s apparent willingness to sit out the crisis reflected shifts in its foreign policy under its new president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who led the military ouster last summer of Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a close ally of Hamas. The Brotherhood was outlawed after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, and accused by Egyptian officials of terrorism during a crackdown on the government’s opponents. In various plots against Egypt described by the authorities, Hamas was often cast as the Brotherhood’s menacing accomplice. [Continue reading…]


Human Rights Watch: Al Jazeera convictions in Egypt a miscarriage of justice

Human Rights Watch: A Cairo court sentenced three Al Jazeera English staff members to multi-year prison sentences on June 23, 2014, after a trial in which prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These convictions are the latest step in Egypt’s unrelenting assault on free expression, dramatically reversing gains made following the January 25, 2011 uprising.

The verdict comes the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry. During the meeting, news media reported, Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” that the US would soon restore suspended aid to Egypt, noting that President al-Sisi “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment” to “a re-evaluation of the judicial process.”

“Sentencing three professional journalists to years in prison on the basis of zero evidence of wrongdoing shows how Egypt’s judges have been caught up in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria fostered by President al-Sisi,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is punishing people for exercising basic rights that are essential to any democratic transition, and US legislation requires progress on those rights before the Obama administration can certify additional military aid.”

The Al Jazeera English bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egypt national, and a correspondent, Peter Greste, an Australian, were each sentenced to seven years in prison, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years. The charges included editing video footage to falsely “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war,” operating broadcast equipment without a license, and membership in and support for a “terrorist organization.” Human Rights Watch reviewed the material prosecutors presented in court and spoke with independent observers who monitored the trial and found no evidence indicating any criminal wrongdoing. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events with nothing to do with Egyptian politics or al-Jazeera. It included videos of trotting horses from Sky News Arabia, a song by the Australian singer Gotye, and a BBC documentary from Somalia.

Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms who has observed every session of the trial for Amnesty, said the verdict sent a chilling message to all opposition figures in Egypt.

“It’s a warning to all journalists that they could one day face a similar trial and conviction simply for carrying out their official duties,” Lotfy said. “This feeds into a wider picture of a politicised judiciary and the use of trials to crack down on all opposition voices.”

The verdict came a day after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signalled that ties between America and Egypt were inching closer to normality.

After a 90-minute meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the former general who was elected president last month, Kerry told reporters that a delivery of attack helicopters – delayed by the US last year, in protest against Egyptian human rights abuses – would go ahead.

“The Apaches will come, and they’ll come very, very soon,” Kerry said, after an earlier admission by state department officials that all but $70m (£41m) of a $650m aid package to Egypt had been released. [Continue reading…]