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...]

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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...]

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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...]

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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.

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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...]

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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...]

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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.

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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...]

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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...]

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Sisi says Muslim Brotherhood will not exist under his reign

The Guardian reports: Egypt’s former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Monday night that the Muslim Brotherhood – the group he removed from power last year – will not exist if he is elected president later this month.

The comments, in an interview broadcast on two Egyptian television stations, were the clearest indication yet there was no prospect for political reconciliation with the Islamist group that propelled Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in 2012.

“There will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure,” Sisi said on Egypt’s privately-owned CBC and ONTV television channels.

The Brotherhood has been subject to an aggressive state-led crackdown in the months since Morsi’s overthrow. The movement was formally blacklisted as a terrorist organisation on Christmas Day and continues to be blamed for bomb attacks across Egypt, although many have been claimed by militant groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Beit el Maqdis.

Sisi said he had survived two assassination attempts in the months since Morsi’s ousting in July last year.

The former field marshal’s claims appeared to vindicate the tight security measures that have dominated his campaign. Instead of taking to the campaign trail like his sole opponent, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, Sisi will reportedly be sending emissaries to his rallies across the country. [Continue reading...]

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Egyptian court sentences top Muslim Brotherhood leader to death

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month.

The Brotherhood, in a statement issued in London, described the ruling as chilling and said it would “continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule”.

In another case signaling growing intolerance of dissent by military-backed authorities, a pro-democracy movement that helped ignite the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was banned by court order, judicial sources said.

The death sentence passed on Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s general guide, will infuriate members of the group which has been the target of raids, arrests and bans since the army forced President Mohamed Mursi from power in July.

Some Brotherhood members fear pressure from security forces and the courts could drive some young members to violence against the movement’s old enemy, the Egyptian state. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt sentences 683 to death in latest mass trial of dissidents

The Washington Post reports: An Egyptian court in the southern city of Minya sentenced 683 people to death Monday in the most recent of a series of mass trials that have alarmed the international community, nine months after a military coup ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

The ruling came one month after 529 people were sentenced to death in a similar mass trial in the same courtroom, and it coincided with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy’s visit to Washington to meet with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in an effort to smooth relations between the United States and one of its most significant Middle East allies.

The defendants, all alleged supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, included Mohammed Badie, the “supreme guide” of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which captured the lion’s share of votes in the country’s first democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012. If the sentence is upheld, Badie would be the first Brotherhood leader to face execution in nearly 50 years. [Continue reading...]

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UK’s Muslim Brotherhood inquiry looks like response to pressure from allies

Simon Tisdall writes: David Cameron’s decision to order an investigation into the “philosophy and activities” of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly as they relate to Britain, stems from a broader nervousness in western European capitals about a wave of Islamist extremism and jihadism fed by the chaos in and around Syria.

But Downing Street’s decision also looks suspiciously like a response to specific political developments in Egypt, where the Brotherhood was founded in 1928, and to external pressure from close British allies.

The US and Saudi Arabia were never comfortable with the Brotherhood’s ascent to power in the person of Mohamed Morsi, who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012.

So when Morsi was overthrown by a military coup in July last year, the Obama administration, while bleating about the importance of democracy and the Arab spring, made no great objection.

The US, which for decades backed another dictatorial Egyptian general, former president Hosni Mubarak, with billions of dollars in aid, quietly embraced the new junta’s leader, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Sisi represented a way of doing things that Washington was used to, even if was heavy-handed. Here, apparently, was a man they could do business with.

In fact, Sisi’s efforts to strengthen his grip on power as he prepares to stand for the presidency next month have outdone Mubarak for sheer bloody-minded repressiveness. [Continue reading...]

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Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, no longer in uniform, is poised to become Egypt’s next president

n13-iconThe Washington Post reports: Three years ago, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi was a mostly unknown member of a council of Egypt’s top military officers. On Wednesday, the field marshal, whose image is now plastered on billboards and chocolate bars, declared what everyone in this nation was expecting — that he would run for president, a position he is virtually certain to win.

“The state needs to regain its posture and power,’’ he said in an address on national television. “Our mission is to restore Egypt.’’

Officially, Sissi, 59, will seek office as a civilian. But his election would complete the defeat of Egypt’s brief experiment in Islamist rule, and it would make him the sixth military man to lead the country over what has been a nearly unbroken 62-year span of autocracy.

It was under Sissi’s command that the military staged the coup in July that toppled Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, from power. If Sissi wins the backing of voters, he could gain greater legitimacy. But his role continues to pose a challenge to the United States, which is eager to maintain close ties with Egypt, its longtime ally, without appearing to endorse its shift away from democracy. [Continue reading...]

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Court bans activities of Hamas in Egypt

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court on Tuesday banned all Hamas activities in Egypt in another sign that the military-backed government aims to squeeze the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist group and which they have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Mursi, from the presidency in July.

“The court has ordered the banning of Hamas’s work and activities in Egypt,” the judge, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

During his year in power, Mursi gave red-carpet treatment to Hamas, angering many secular and liberal Egyptians who saw this as part of a creeping Islamist takeover following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The military-buttressed authorities now classify Hamas as a significant security risk, accusing it of supporting an Islamist insurgency that has spread quickly since Mursi’s fall, allegations the Palestinian group denies. [Continue reading...]

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How did 37 prisoners come to die at Cairo prison Abu Zaabal?

f13-iconThe Observer reports: Some time after midday on Sunday 18 August 2013, a young Egyptian film-maker called Mohamed el-Deeb made his last will and testament. It was an informal process. Deeb had no paper on which to sign his name and there was no lawyer present. He simply turned to the man handcuffed next to him and outlined which debts to settle if he should die, and what to say to his mother about the circumstances of his death.

Deeb had good reason to fear for his life. He was among 45 prisoners squashed into the back of a tiny, sweltering police truck parked in the forecourt of Abu Zaabal prison, just north-east of Cairo. They had been in the truck for more than six hours. The temperature outside was over 31C, and inside would have been far hotter. There was no space to stand and the prisoners had had almost nothing to drink. Some had wrung out their sweat-drenched shirts and drunk the drops of moisture. Many were now unconscious.

Most of the men inside that van were supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president. Squashed against Deeb was Mohamed Abdelmahboud, a 43-year-old seed merchant and a member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Following four days of mass protests against his year-long rule, the army had overthrown Morsi and the Brotherhood in early July. In response, tens of thousands of people camped outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in east Cairo to call for the president’s reinstatement. Within a week, the space outside Rabaa turned from an empty crossroads to a sprawling tent city that housed both a market and a makeshift field hospital. At Rabaa’s centre was a stage where preachers led prayers and firebrands spouted sectarian rhetoric. At its edges were a Dad’s Army of badly equipped guards, dressed in crash helmets and tae kwon do vests, standing before a series of walls built of stones ripped from pavements. From behind these barricades, two or three times a day, protest marches would snake into nearby neighbourhoods, blocking major thoroughfares and paralysing much of the city. Clashes between armed police and protesters claimed more than 170 lives. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s crackdown on journalism

a13-iconThe New York Times reports: The three men, wearing white prison scrubs in metal cages reserved for criminal suspects, listened to the list of explosive charges accusing them of aiding a plot to undermine Egypt’s national security.

They had links to terrorists, the prosecutors contended, and before their court appearance on Thursday, the men were detained for weeks among prisoners whom the government considers its most dangerous opponents. The charges could bring up to 15 years in prison.

But the three suspects are all seasoned journalists. Their crime was filing news reports for their employer, Al Jazeera English, before state security officers came to the hotel suite they used as a makeshift studio in December, ultimately rounding them up and throwing them in jail.

The charges against the men, branded the “the Marriott cell” by government-friendly news outlets, are the most serious against journalists here in recent memory, rights groups say, part of a widening crackdown by Egypt’s military-backed government that has ensnared scores of reporters, as well as filmmakers, bloggers and academics.

What began months ago with mass arrests and repression of the government’s opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily broadened into a campaign against perceived critics of all stripes. In all, thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also some of the best-known activists from the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — have been put in jail, many of them still awaiting trial. [Continue reading...]

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Sisi’s turn

f13-iconHazem Kandil writes: There is no getting around it. What Egypt has become three years after its once inspiring revolt is a police state more vigorous than anything we have seen since Nasser. As in the dark years of the 1960s, the enemy is everywhere, and any effort to expose and eradicate him is given popular assent. Since Egypt’s national security, its very existence as a sovereign state, is said to be at stake, those who refuse to toe the line must be ostracised, and those who persist punished as traitors. The talk of human rights that sustained the original uprising is dismissed as a distraction, the preoccupation of self-righteous amateurs, while seasoned servants of the old regime are rehabilitated. Most disheartening of all, the sycophants who rushed for cover three years ago are re-emerging to offer their services to the new masters. Egypt’s briefly empowered citizens have come to see that their intervention almost paved the way for religious fascism, and now that disaster has been averted, they prefer to keep their hands off the political controls. Mubarak warned that the alternatives to his rule were Islamism or chaos. Both were tried and neither was liked. People wanted bread, dignity and freedom, so they shunned the daydreamers of 2011 and pinned their hopes on a new Nasser on the Nile. If only Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could be installed as president, all their problems would be over. Crowning a field marshal has become the battle the citizenry is determined to win.

How did it come to this? As the Brothers tell it, their embattled president spearheaded a revolutionary assault which provoked a counter-revolution. This is pure fiction. It is certainly true that the Brothers have been outmanoeuvred by an alliance of old regime loyalists and secular activists. But it was the Brothers’ complacency that alienated their revolutionary allies and, more important, the people. The 2011 uprising left the security apparatus intact, and the military regained the autonomy they had lost under Mubarak. But the question of who would hold political office was open to negotiation, and the generals didn’t mind trying out the power-hungry Islamists. They were more organised than the activists who sparked the revolt, and less embittered than the remnants of the old regime. They didn’t pose a threat to military privileges and deferred amiably to the security forces who set out to crush the revolt. And they had no intention of dismantling the infrastructure of dictatorship and submitting themselves to the volatile moods of a democratic process; they just wanted to take Mubarak’s place at the top. Morsi was no more Egypt’s Allende than Sisi was its Pinochet.

On 1 February 2011, while the protesters were still entrenched in Tahrir Square, Morsi and the future head of the Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party, Saad al-Katatni, entered into secret negotiations with the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman for a larger share of power in return for stopping the revolt. Once Mubarak was ousted, the Islamists adopted the military-security programme: elections first, constitution and reform later. Those who argued that new democracies need to establish some basic guidelines before rushing to the ballot box were dismissed. The idea that the security agencies should be overhauled before any election took place was seen as nothing more than a delaying tactic. Throughout the transitional period, the Brothers blamed the protesters for the violence directed at them by the state – they were staging illegal protests, after all – and repeatedly alleged that the activists were pawns of foreign intelligence services. In parliament, they took every opportunity to praise Egypt’s gallant law enforcers and blocked every attempt to hold them accountable. As soon as Morsi was sworn in, he congratulated the police for reforming themselves, audaciously referring to them as esteemed partners in the 2011 uprising. Even more significant was the Brothers’ decision to drop a report detailing police crimes – among them the shooting of demonstrators – even though its contents had been leaked to several newspapers (including Al-Shorouk and the Guardian) and Morsi’s handpicked prosecutor had promised arrests. Needless to say, security abuses surged during Morsi’s short tenure, and official coercion was reinforced by the Brothers’ own militias. [Continue reading...]

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