September 21, 2017

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  • Egypt’s deep state was never dismantled, is now stronger

    Rabaa protester's T-shirt says: "I'm not a terrorist, I'm a Muslim and I love my country"

    BY LEYLA DOSS Cairo – More than 10 days after attempts by envoys from the US, the EU and Arab Gulf states to mediate a standoff between Egypt’s military-installed interim leadership and supporters of the recently ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the presidency announced Wednesday that diplomatic efforts have failed.

    The statement by interim President Adli Mansour has raised fears amongst human rights advocates on an imminent crackdown on two large Islamist sit-ins which began late June.

    Following Morsi’s ouster on July 3 in a military coup after mass protests against his rule, a strengthened Interior Ministry announced plans to resurrect its previous secret service units dedicated to pursuing political and religious opponents in the Mubarak era.

    Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since the overthrow, including dozens of Morsi supporters shot dead by security forces in two incidents.

    Fueling fears of a bloody dispersal, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi called on the interior minister to “take all necessary measures” to “confront violence and terrorism” at pro-Morsi sit-ins, where, according to a report by Amnesty International, some Morsi opponents were tortured and at least 11 may have been killed.

    A return or a strengthening of the deep state?

    Two and a half years since millions flooded Egypt’s streets in protest on Jan. 25, 2011, in defiance of police brutality on National Police Day, prospects for human rights and security sector reform remain dim in Egypt.

    Similar to his predecessors, during his one-year as President, Morsi ignored any requests to reform the country’s notoriously brutal police, at times even publicly denied their violations.

    “The deep state never left and had the blessing both of Morsi and SCAF,” says Heba Morayef, Egypt Director in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. She believes that the official dismantling of the state security forces in March 2011 was only a façade.

    Politicised selective justice or transitional justice?

    At least 140 Morsi supporters were killed in violent crackdowns by army and security forces on July 8 and 27, dozens of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders have been arrested, others have had their assets frozen and hundreds have been rounded up. Within moments of the announcement of Morsi’s removal, Islamist TV channels were taken off air and Al Jazeera, which broadcasts round-the-clock events at the Rabaa El Adaweya sit-in, the bigger of the Cairo protests, is often scrambled.

    Arrested MB leaders, including Morsi, have been held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family. Lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel Maqsood, for instance, was arrested in Tora prison when he appeared to represent ex-speaker of the People’s Assembly and the head of the Freedom and Justice Party Saad El-Katatni.

    Osama Morsi, the son of Mohammed Morsi, announced in mid-July that his family has referred to local and international courts against his father’s ‘kidnapping.’

    “Illegally detaining MB members beyond 48 hours is a violation of the Egyptian Criminal Procedures Law, ” says Mohammed Zaree, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

    Zaree believes that although unlikely, Morsi’s family could turn to the United Nations for litigation purposes.

    Similarly to previous “insulting the president” charges, Muslim Brotherhood leaders are being charged with “insulting the judiciary” and “instigating violence.”

    Nevertheless, despite criticisms of litigation processes, human rights advocates claim there are grounds for criminal charges against Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

    According to a report published by the Egyptian Organisation for Human rights in June, during Morsi’s year in power, 3,462 political prisoners were detained and at least 40 civilians were killed in clashes with police during portests at the Presidential Palace and in Port Said when a court sentenced 21 people to death for killing 72 football fans at a game months before. His year in office, where there was an unprecedeted level of press freedom, also saw 28 charges of “insulting the President”, compared with 24 charges in the last 115 years. There were also over 300 alleged cases of police torture within that year.

    Meanwhile, since the January 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak, which left at least 1200 dead and thousands injured, only three police officers have been convicted for killing or injuring civilians.

    Collective punishment of all Islamists

    Human rights organisations have condemned the current crackdown as being a collective punishment of Islamists and Islamist journalists.

    The arrests have expanded to include members of other Islamist-leaning parties such as Al Wasat and Strong Egypt Party, as well as ultraconservative Salafi Islamists.

    Morayef also believes the TV channels cannot be shut down via executive order. “Any individual journalists and politicians should be charged on a case by case basis for their incitement of violence.”

    Unlike during the Mubarak era where thousands of Islamists were held illegally, arrests on such a massive scale have not yet begun. “Homogenising all Islamists as ‘terrorists’ points to possible short-term oppression of all Islamists and long-term oppression of all political opponents,” says Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

    Almost 700 Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members were arrested in the past month in Cairo alone. Approximately 650 were released on bail, with the rest unable to afford bail.

    Meanwhile, some human rights activists arrested during Morsi’s presidency, such as Ahmed Douma and Hassan Mostafa, were recently released. Morayef believes this may be a temporary attempt to win public support.

    State-sponsored violence and civilian violence

    While admitting that there are some instances when police are allowed to use force, especially when confronting armed protesters, Morayef claims their classic methods point to excessive use of force with live ammunition.

    Amnesty International claims that the cause of death of most of the 140 Morsi supporters who were killed by security forces was live bullet wounds to the head and chest.

    EIPR has also claimed that 165 people have been killed in the past month during skirmishes between civilian supporters and opponents of Morsi.

    Human Rights Watch noted that in instances of civilians clashes, as in the case of the Manial clashes on July 5 which left 7 residents dead, police forces often failed to intervene for hours.

    Meanwhile, Amnesty International claims 8 anti-Morsi protesters were found tortured to death in the vicinity of pro-Morsi sit-ins in the past month.

    Acknowledging that some Morsi supporters have tortured and killed those they call “infiltrators”, Morayef insists that those who commit crimes should be held accountable on an individual basis.

    Prospects of Interior Ministry reform

    Morayef is concerned that similar to Essam Sharaf’s government in 2011, the current government will be either unwilling or unable to have decision-making power.

    Following Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s call on Egyptians to give a “mandate” to the armed forces to crack down on “terrorism”, military personnel were also given sweeping arrest warrant powers.

    Reform of the Interior Ministry also seems unlikely, with Mohamed Ibrahim, the current minister, holding his post since January, during Morsi’s presidency. Despite reports by human rights organisations, Ibrahim claimed at a press conference on July 28 that police officers never used “one live bullet against protesters.”

    Ibrahim was also head of the Prisons’ Authority in the Mubarak era. His police forces were praised in a speech by Morsi in March when the families of 21 sentenced to death for their role in a football massacre in Port Said the previous year, attempted to storm the police station. The clashes left 30 protesters dead at the hands of security forces. Ibrahim also failed to investigate increasing sectarian violence against Coptic Christians and Shiaa Muslims in recent months.

    Despite their virulent anti-Morsi stand, the April 6 and the Tamarod (Rebel) movements warned the state against reverting to “old methods” or violating human rights under the guise of fighting terrorism.

    Dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-ins

    Bahgat urged the government to exhaust all political options first before resorting to dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa El-Adaweya mosque in Nasr City and at Nahda Square in Giza.

    Human rights groups are calling for an inclusion of the peaceful and moderate Islamists in the political process.

    “Any prospects of reconciliation are impossible if paralleled with police violence and lack of appetite for police reform,” says Bahgat.

    In a seemingly positive step, the Interior Ministry called on all human rights groups to observe the dispersal of sit-ins and ensure that police do not use excessive force.

    Overall, Morayef’s concern, like many other human rights advocates, is not limited to the crackdown on Islamists, and extends to the future implications of all human rights violations.

    “If the government decides to forcibly disperse both pro-Morsi sit-ins, which contain thousands of protesters, a bloodbath will be likely and reconciliation will be impossible,” she concludes. “It will be a dangerous precedent and a turning point of no return for Egypt.”

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