Sharif Abdel Kouddous writes: The Abu Zaabal prison complex lies some twenty miles northeast of Cairo, where the dense urban cacophony of the capital quickly gives way to rolling fields, rubbish-strewn canals and small clusters of hastily built red brick buildings. Outside the main gate—a pair of large metal doors flanked by Pharaonic-themed columns—sit four army tanks, their long snouts pointed up and out.
Gehad Khaled, a 20-year-old with an easy laugh and youthful intensity, has been coming to Abu Zaabal on a regular basis for nearly four months to visit her imprisoned husband. Abdullah Al-Shamy was among hundreds rounded up on August 14, the day security forces violently stormed two sit-ins in Cairo and Giza that formed the epicenter of support for the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, leaving up to 1,000 people dead.
Abdullah was at the Rabaa Al-Adeweya sit-in for work. As a correspondent for the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, the 25-year-old journalist had been stationed at the pro-Morsi encampment for six weeks, becoming a familiar face to the channel’s viewers in one of the summer’s biggest international news stories.
Gehad would visit Abdullah at the sit-in, where he was working around the clock. The two had been married in September 2012, though Abdullah spent little time at home because of regular deployments to countries like Mali, Libya, Ghana and Turkey for Al Jazeera. “The longest period we spent together since we were married was in Rabaa,” she says with a smile.
Now, Gehad sees Abdullah just once every two weeks inside Abu Zaabal, waiting hours each time for a fifteen-minute visit. She brings him food, water, clothes, newspapers, books, toiletries and other necessities to alleviate the austere conditions inside Egypt’s jails. [Continue reading...]
Bloomberg reports: Most Egyptians said the army was wrong to topple elected President Mohamed Mursi in July, and support for Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood held up after his July ouster, according to a poll by Zogby Research Services LLC.
The study, conducted in September, found 51 percent of respondents said Mursi’s overthrow was a mistake, compared with 46 percent who said the army was right. It was published on the website of the Arab American Institute.
Al Jazeera reports: A group of women have been jailed for 11 years for a peaceful protest in Alexandria, as Egypt’s interim prime minister gave a strong defence of a law further restricting public demonstrations.
The women, supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, received 11-year jail sentences on Wednesday for forming a human chain and passing out flyers earlier this month. Seven minors among the group were remanded to juvenile detention until they reach legal age. The youngest in the group is 15 years old.
Six men, described by prosecutors as Muslim Brotherhood leaders, were sentenced to 15-year terms, accused of being members of a “terrorist organisation”.
In a news conference also on Wednesday, Hazem el-Beblawi, the interim prime minister, defended a new law requires which citizens to apply for permission before marching as a “necessary step”.
“The cabinet confirms that it will apply the law fully to show its support for the police in the face of terrorism. The law is subject to change, but through the proper channels.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Egypt said on Saturday it was expelling Turkey’s ambassador and accused Ankara of backing organizations bent on undermining the country – an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi.
Turkey, which had forged close ties with Egypt under Mursi, responded by declaring the Egyptian ambassador, currently out of the country, persona non grata.
“We are saddened by this situation,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “But responsibility before history belongs to Egypt’s temporary administration which came to power under the extraordinary circumstances of the July 3 coup.”
Turkey has emerged as one of the fiercest international critics of Mursi’s removal, calling it an “unacceptable coup”. Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been staging protests calling for his reinstatement, has close ties with Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.
AFP reports: An Islamist coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday offered negotiations to end the deadly tumult since Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow, without explicitly insisting on his reinstatement.
The coalition “calls on all revolutionary forces and political parties and patriotic figures to enter a deep dialogue on exiting the current crisis,” it said in a statement.
The proposal comes after more than 1,000 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in clashes with police and thousands more arrested following his overthrow by the military on July 3.
The coalition, which has organised weekly protests despite the crackdown, insisted in its statement on keeping up “peaceful opposition”, but said it wanted a “consensus for the public good of the country”.
Much of the Brotherhood’s leadership has been put on trial, including Morsi himself.
“We have no conditions, and neither should they,” Imam Youssef, a leader of the Islamist coalition member the Asala party, told AFP.
But he said the talks must lead to a “democratic” solution, and the coalition wanted them to start within two weeks.
The Islamists were prepared to respect the demands of the millions of protesters who called for Morsi’s ouster, Youssef said.
“We want a democratic solution, and it does not necessarily mean we have to be in power,” he added. [Continue reading...]
David Ignatius writes: The U.S.-Egyptian relationship has been through some rocky months since the June 30 military coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the strain doesn’t seem to have diminished cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services.
Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy, the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, said had been “no change” in his organization’s relationship with U.S. spy agencies, despite delay of some U.S. weapons deliveries to the Egyptian military and talk of new Egyptian military contacts with Russia.
“Cooperation between friendly services is in a completely different channel than the political channel,” Tohamy said. “I’m in constant contact with [Director] John Brennan at the CIA and the local station chief, more than with any other service worldwide.” [Continue reading...]
Patrick Martin reports: The local headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, are burned-out shells in this Suez Canal port city, the birthplace of the Brotherhood 85 years ago. The remaining Brothers are trying to evade arrest by the authorities; the angry ones are considering a move across the canal to the lawless Sinai and a resort to violence.
There are many who see this as the end of the line for the once mighty Islamist organization. Its popularity with the people is at rock bottom and its leaders locked up, including deposed president Mohammed Morsi.
Other Brothers are hiding out or fleeing the country, and more than 1,000 of its supporters were killed in a brutal crackdown when the army seized power in August. To add further injury, an Egyptian court on Wednesday upheld a ruling banning the Brotherhood and all its branches from operating, and ordering the confiscation of its assets.
There’s nothing of value left in the office of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) on El Gomhoreya Street in the centre of Ismaila. It’s a poor neighbourhood, a block inland from the fishing port and just down the road from the luxurious English homes that run along the corniche.
Next to the old Ibad ar-Rahman mosque, the FJP office sits around the corner from where the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, taught school by day and preached the saving virtues of Islam in coffee houses by night. He set up The Society of Muslim Brothers in 1928 when six Suez Canal workers came to him complaining of the injustices suffered at the hand of the foreign owners.
Ismailia is normally a laid back city. People here tell you that people in Cairo work too hard. There’s lots of green space and the waterfront is never far away. There’s even a sign – in Arabic – that says “Smile, you’re in Ismailia.”
These days, there’s a tank parked beside the sign and a military checkpoint behind that. Down the road, 10 tanks stand in front of the courthouse.
Posters of Mr. Morsi still can be seen everywhere; most of them, however, have been defaced.
Mustafa Shaltoot, 27, has a tell-tale zebiba (it means raisin) on his forehead – the dark abrasion that comes from touching your forehead to the ground in regular prayer. But like a lot of young followers of the Muslim Brotherhood these days, his formerly thick beard has been shaved to about a three-day growth.
Mr. Shaltoot brought a journalist inside what remained of the FJP office, out of sight from the street. “What happened after the coup was terrifying,” he said, referring to the Egyptian army’s ousting of Mr. Morsi and the deadly crackdown on his movement that followed. “I’m afraid all the time. I’m afraid the security will see me talking to you,” he said.
“But this is our history,” he said. “It was this way under [Gamal Abdul] Nasser,” referring to the Egyptian president who ordered a crackdown on the Brotherhood in 1952. “We will survive this too.” [Continue reading...]
Meanwhile, BBC News reports: Egypt’s state of emergency and curfew have been lifted, the government has announced.
The move came two days earlier than expected, after a court ruling.
The state of emergency and the night-time curfew were introduced on 14 August after security forces forcibly ended sit-ins in support of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The measures had been due to last a month, but the government extended them for two more months on 12 September.
The New York Times reports: Held incommunicado for the four months since his overthrow as president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood walked into a makeshift courtroom on Monday for his new role as a defendant in a murder trial.
But Mr. Morsi, dressed in a blue suit, refused even to wear the usual all-white prisoner’s costume.
“I want a microphone so I can talk to you,” Mr. Morsi shouted three times from a special defendant’s cage constructed to obscure him from public view. “There is a military coup in the country,” he shouted, adding, “I am the president of the republic, according to the Constitution of the state, and I am forcibly detained!”
Repeatedly cited by the new government as evidence of its adherence to the rule of law, the trial instead threatened to embarrass its leadership, with the defendants and their lawyers seizing a rare platform to question the military takeover. Islamists around Egypt were galvanized by Mr. Morsi’s show of defiance as the judge failed to gavel him into silence and instead adjourned the trial for two months.
And the timing, analysts said, also proved awkward for Secretary of State John Kerry. On a visit to Cairo just a day before, he had said that — despite a series of mass killings of protesters, the shutdown of opposition news media outlets and apparently politicized trials like Mr. Morsi’s — “there are indications” that the generals who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected president intended to restore democracy.
The visit was “unbelievable timing,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt scholar at the Century Foundation in New York. He argued that opponents of the Islamists would see the trip as an American effort to protect Mr. Morsi, while Islamists would hear Mr. Kerry’s “soft and optimistic statements as a U.S. blessing to the new military-led political order.”
It was the second criminal prosecution of an ousted Egyptian president in the same venue within less than three years. But in a reversal of the dynamic during the live broadcast of Hosni Mubarak’s trial in 2011, on Monday the hearing quickly devolved into a tug of war over just how much attention Mr. Morsi could receive.
“Mubarak was hiding from the cameras, and now they are hiding the cameras from Morsi,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, who called the new government’s rush to trial “a miscalculation” because “this will increase the perception of him as a hero, an icon for the resistance.”
Ahmed el-Arainy, 42, a Brotherhood organizer, called the opening of the trial “a good day.”
“They just wanted to show him shaken in a cage, a defendant in prison clothes, but, God bless him, he stood in defense of his cause and not theirs,” he said. “What is on trial is the country, and its will to change,” he added. [Continue reading...]
Earlier this week, two Canadians, Toronto filmmaker John Greyson, and emergency room medical doctor Tarek Loubani, described their experiences in Egypt where they were recently released after 50 days in detention.
The Washington Post reports: Very few of the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood escaped the recent military-led crackdown on their movement. Some of those who did flew out of Cairo after paying thousands of dollars in bribes to airport security officials, while others took more convoluted routes, boarding planes in distant airports en route to friendlier nations.
One of those friendly nations is Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf state that helped bankroll rebels and Islamist democracy advocates throughout the Arab Spring and is now quietly absorbing the exiles that one country’s stumbling experiment in democracy has generated.
Cast out by — or, perhaps, saved from — the harshest political crackdown in recent Egyptian history, a handful of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist leaders found refuge here in the Qatari capital, while others traveled to Istanbul, London and Geneva.
The exiles’ community is small, disorganized and ideologically diverse, ranging from fairly liberal Islamist politicians to hard-line Salafists — groups that less than two years ago competed against each other in Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections.
Now, as they push back against the July coup that toppled their country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, they are on the same team.
At the same time, an exile leadership is starting to take shape here among the shimmering high-rises of Doha. Several of the exiles are living temporarily in hotel suites paid for by Qatar’s state-run Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera — and it is in those suites and hotel lobbies that the future of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and, more broadly, the strategy and ideology of political Islam in the country may well be charted.
“We are not the kind to escape. We do not prefer exile. We have a task: to communicate the crisis and deliver the message to the world,” said Ehab Shiha, the chairman of the Egyptian Salafist al-Asala party, as he sat in a hotel lobby in Doha. [Continue reading...]
When America’s obsequious Secretary of State John Kerry met Egypt’s ruling generals yesterday, he claimed they appear to be following a “road map” back to democracy — even though they have not pledged to lift emergency rule. Neither did he raise the issue of Morsi’s trial.
The New York Times reports: As Egypt’s new military-led government consolidates its power, Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president, went on trial on Monday, facing charges of inciting the murder of protesters, but he rejected the court’s authority and proclaimed himself to be the country’s legitimate ruler.
The trial got off to a late start, and the case was soon adjourned until Jan. 8.
The trial’s brief opening was Mr. Morsi’s first public appearance since his removal from office on July 3 and, in a dizzying turn for Egypt, the second criminal trial of a former head of state in less than three years. Former President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in February 2011 and now under house arrest in a military hospital, is facing a retrial at the same site, the auditorium of a police academy.
According to the website of Al Ahram, Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, the trial got under way as Mr. Morsi and 14 other Islamist defendants appeared in a caged dock and court officials called out their names. But news reports said the hearing was first delayed and then suspended after Mr. Morsi refused to dress in prison clothing and chants by his co-defendants drowned out the proceedings.
Journalists who were allowed into the courtroom were not permitted to take telephones or other communications devices, limiting the flow of information. But witnesses in the courtroom said that Mr. Morsi declared, “This trial is illegitimate,” and said he was still Egypt’s lawful president.
Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood had called for major protests against the trial, and the Interior Ministry said it had deployed thousands of riot police officers to secure the streets. Shortly before 11 a.m., as the trial began, the streets remained quiet, but the number of demonstrators began to grow from only a few dozen to perhaps 100 in two locations outside the court.
Pro-Morsi demonstrators gathered in larger numbers at the Supreme Constitutional Court in the Maadi district of southern Cairo, witnesses said.
BBC News reports on the changing tactics among Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
Protesters gather in small numbers in many different locations rather than holding mass rallies in one location like that of the Rabaa al-Adawiya or al-Nahda squares.
It’s been a little over two months now since security forces cracked down on those two squares where supporter of former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in their thousands.
Since then almost all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its supreme guide, have been arrested.
Many supporters have also been rounded up and thrown in jail. A recent incident in Alexandria saw more than 20 women supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in clashes with residents of one of the city’s most crowded neighbourhoods.
But all of that doesn’t seem to deter supporters of the ousted president from taking to the streets.
“It’s important to keep the momentum going,” said Yomna, a university student in her final year.
Yomna didn’t want her last name revealed. She said that as a Morsi supporter, she had to be careful not to reveal her identity. That alone shows how different things have become here in Egypt.
Despite what happened in Rabaa or even because of it, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters insist that the only way for them is the street.
“We’re tired but we are not defeated, we’re still in the street because people know that this is where they should be,” Yomna said.
“This trial will be a chance for us to regroup and unite again,” she added.
“Seeing that they have put our president on trial will make us even more determined.”
Despite this determination, Yomna admits that these past few months have been extremely difficult for her and many like her who still want Mohammed Morsi to be returned to office.
“Look what happened to those girls,” she said, referring to the women who were arrested in Alexandria recently.
“As a Morsi supporter I feel vulnerable to arrest at any time now. I’ll keep protesting but I know next time it could be me.
“Sometimes I feel like I no longer live in my own country.”
Human Rights Watch: Egypt’s authorities have yet to announce any move to investigate security force killings of protesters on October 6, 2013. Almost four weeks after police used lethal force to break up protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, the authorities have not said they have questioned, or intend to question, security forces about their use of firearms that day.
The clashes left 57 people dead throughout Egypt, according to the Health Ministry, with no police deaths reported.
“In dealing with protest after protest, Egyptian security forces escalate quickly and without warning to live ammunition, with deadly results,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Thirteen hundred people have died since July. What will it take for the authorities to rein in security forces or even set up a fact-finding committee into their use of deadly force?”
Judicial authorities have held security services to account in only one case since the military removed President Mohamed Morsy from power in early July, setting off a wave of protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. On October 22, Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat ordered the pretrial detention of four police officers for the deaths of 37 detainees they were transporting to Abu Zaabal prison on August 18. He referred them for trial on charges of “negligence and involuntary manslaughter” for shooting tear gas into the locked van. The detainees suffocated. The trial of the police officers opened on October 29.
“Egypt showed in the case of the police officers who fired teargas into a truck full of detainees that it is capable of holding security forces accountable,” Stork said. “It should do the same when police officers open fire on largely peaceful demonstrators.”
Throughout the past three months, in spite of over 1,300 people killed during demonstrations, the authorities have not established a fact-finding committee or attempted to rein in security services.
The New York Times reports: A year after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the man responsible for rooting out government corruption, Gen. Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, faced a very public barrage of allegations that he had deliberately covered up years of cronyism and self-dealing.
President Mohamed Morsi promptly fired the general, prosecutors opened an investigation, the news filled the papers and his career appeared to end in disgrace.
But now the general is back, and more powerful than ever. His protégé and friend, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, ousted Mr. Morsi about four months ago, and virtually the first move by the new government was to rehabilitate General Tohamy and place him in charge of the general intelligence service, one of the most powerful positions in Egypt.
Western diplomats and Egyptians close to the government say General Tohamy has emerged as the leading advocate of the lethal crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, in a drive to eviscerate the movement.
Any public trace of the corruption charges — leveled by one of the general’s own investigators — has disappeared.
“What happened to the prosecutors’ claim of evidence of his corruption and obstruction of justice?” asked Hossam Bahgat, one of the few Egyptian human rights advocates willing to publicly criticize General Tohamy. “Why was he ousted in that humiliating fashion? Why was he brought back from retirement the morning after the military takeover?” he continued. “There is zero public discussion of these very serious questions.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Egyptian security forces on Wednesday captured Essam el-Erian, one of the last few prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood still at large after a crackdown on the group that began with the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, its ally.
The seizure of Mr. Erian, a senior leader in the Brotherhood’s political arm and an adviser to the president, appears to complete the incarceration of the organization’s top leaders less than 18 months after they stood on the brink of consolidating power over the presidency and Parliament. He was among the most visible and outspoken leaders of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s mainstream Islamist movement, and his arrest caps a career that has traced the group’s evolution through years of repression, internal reforms, electoral victories and political failure.
The charges against Mr. Erian were not immediately clear, although many of his fellow Brotherhood leaders have been arrested on allegations of incitement to violence. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: Egyptian security forces on Sunday openly beat demonstrators sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, without any provocation, in a sign of how the once powerful group has become the target of official suppression.
The police reaction to the Brotherhood march stood in stark contrast to the scene blocks away, where pro-military crowds, summoned to celebrate Egypt’s war with Israel 40 years ago, hoisted soldiers and police on their shoulders and offered cheers.
The difference was apparent to two McClatchy reporters who left the pro-military demonstration to cover the Brotherhood gathering. As they witnessed police beatings, the two reporters were pounced on by security officers, who stole their cell phones and cameras and threatened to haul one away. The abuse ended only after the reporters proved they’d been at the other rally by pulling out posters of Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El Sissi, the head of the military who engineered the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi in July.
At previous demonstrations, Egyptian security forces have said the Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to office, instigated the clashes, some of which left hundreds dead.
But on Sunday, there was no sign of Brotherhood provocation. The beatings took place well away from the huge crowds that were celebrating the military. Residents nearby also played a role, refusing to give Brotherhood sympathizers shelter as they sought to flee the security forces’ onslaught. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: At least 51 people were killed as street clashes erupted in several Egyptian cities on Sunday, in a surge of violence that raised new questions about the ability of the interim government to secure the fractured country.
The death toll was the highest in a single day since mid-August, when the authorities began their punishing crackdown on Islamist supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the army on July 3. The military-backed government that replaced him has tried to project an aura of stability in order to lure back the tourists and investors scared off by several years of turmoil in the country.
But on Sunday, only grim, familiar scenes of violence returned, along with the sounds of gunfire.
The deadly bloodshed came as thousands of Egyptians celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel, setting up a day of bizarre contrasts that served as reminders of Egypt’s deepening polarization since the ouster of Mr. Morsi.
As the military’s supporters celebrated the anniversary in Tahrir Square in Cairo with music and fireworks, officers and armed civilian loyalists set upon Islamist protesters who were also trying to reach the square, driving back their marches with tear gas and gunfire.
More than 250 people were injured, officials said.
Over the last three months, with little resistance from the public, the military has set out to vanquish the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled Mr. Morsi to power. Since July, hundreds of Brotherhood members have been killed and most of the movement’s leaders have been sent to jail or fled the country.
And Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, who have re-branded themselves under the banner of the “anti-coup” movement, have continued to protest even with the repression of their marches and sit-ins, and despite dwindling attendance at their demonstrations.
They had billed the protests on Sunday as their own tribute to the armed services, while promising a new level of confrontation: for the first time since Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the Islamists called for marches on Tahrir Square, a stronghold of the anti-Morsi movement. [Continue reading...]