Noose Tightens Around Freedom in Egypt
- The ongoing crackdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi has prompted some analysts to warn of the apparent resurgence of the Mubarak-era police state.
“Since the Jul. 3 military coup against President Morsi, we’ve seen what can only be described as a return of the police state,” Seif Abdel-Fattah, professor of political science at Cairo University and former Morsi aide (who resigned from the post last November), told IPS.
“We’ve now reverted to Mubarak-era fascism, replete with killing demonstrators, raiding homes [of political activists], emergency laws and perpetual surveillance,” said Abdel-Fattah, who is not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since Morsi’s ouster, hundreds – possibly thousands – have been killed by security forces, including Brotherhood members and others opposed to renewed military rule.
On Wednesday Aug. 14, hundreds of demonstrators were gunned down in a violent dispersal of a pro-Morsi protest in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawia Square.
The authorities say that scores of security personnel have been killed in clashes with “armed demonstrators” and in attacks by “militants”.
Speaking on Monday (Aug. 19), social solidarity minister Ahmed al-Borei defended the methods used by security forces to disperse pro-Morsi protests, alleging that demonstrators at Rabaa al-Adawiya were armed and had posed a “threat to national security.”
Following the bloody protest dispersal and the angry demonstrations that came in its wake, the government announced a month-long state of emergency, including an 11-hour daily curfew. A staple of Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Egypt’s emergency law allows police to make arrests without charge and search homes without warrant.
This week, authorities rounded up hundreds of Brotherhood members nationwide, along with figures from allied Islamist groups, such as Egypt’s Gamaa Islamiya. At least 1,000 high- and mid-ranking Brotherhood members are reported to have been arrested to date.
On Tuesday (Aug. 20), Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie was arrested in Cairo and charged with “inciting violence”. His trial has already been set for later this month and he reportedly faces the death penalty if convicted.
“Carrying out mass arrests in such a manner…constitutes nothing less than a return to the Mubarak era, the emergency state, media lies and fabrications,” Gamaa Islamiya declared in a statement.
It went on to note that senior group member Mustafa Hamza had been arrested by “dawn visitors” who raided his home in Egypt’s Beni Sueif province, “taking him from his family without levelling any charges.”
“Dawn visitors” is a Mubarak-era term used to describe early morning raids by security forces on the homes of the regime’s opponents.
The military-backed government, insisting that it is “fighting terrorism,” blames the Brotherhood for a series of attacks on security installations and personnel in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
On Monday, the government announced that 25 policemen had been killed by “suspected militants” near the North Sinai city of Rafah.
The Brotherhood has condemned the violence in Sinai, denying any involvement or that of its Islamist allies. It also strenuously denies any connection to a recent spate of attacks on Christian churches, and has continued to call for strictly peaceful means of protest.
State media organs, meanwhile, along with most of their privately-owned counterparts, have consistently portrayed pro-Morsi demonstrations as “violent” threats to the general public – while providing little credible proof in support of their claims.
Last year Brotherhood candidate Morsi became Egypt’s first-ever freely elected president. On Jul. 3 of this year he was overthrown by the head of the powerful military establishment Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, head of military intelligence under Mubarak, amid massive and well-coordinated demonstrations against his presidency.
Morsi, who faces a raft of criminal charges his supporters say are politically motivated, has been held at an undisclosed location ever since.
Morsi’s opponents call his ouster a “second revolution” along the lines of Egypt’s January 2011 uprising, which ostensibly ended the Mubarak regime.
But Morsi’s supporters call it a “military coup” against a democratically elected president; a “counter-revolution” by Mubarak’s “deep state” which they say has remained deeply entrenched in Egypt’s judicial system, media institutions, intelligence apparatus and security services.
Fears of looming oppression – especially of Islamists – were stoked last month when interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced the reactivation of a Mubarak-era police unit devoted to monitoring and combating “religious extremism”. The unit had been part of Mubarak’s dreaded state security apparatus, known for committing gross rights violations, especially against the regime’s Islamist opponents.
Last week Ibrahim went further, vowing to provide levels of “security” unseen since before Egypt’s Jan. 25, 2011 uprising. “As soon as conditions stabilise and the Egyptian street stabilises… security will be restored to this nation as if it was before Jan. 25 – and more,” he said.
According to Cairo University’s Abdel-Fattah, Ibrahim’s comments “reveal an intention to restore the interior ministry to its pre-revolution glory with all that it entails, including rights violations, spying, heavy-handed policing, a total lack of accountability, and the domination of Egypt’s political and cultural spheres.
“And from what we’ve seen recently,” he added, “it’s already begun.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Ati dismissed any comparison between the Mubarak regime and Egypt’s new military-installed government.
“The emergency law will only last for one month and for one objective: to fight terrorism,” he declared. “And the only way to fight terrorism is to apply the rule of law and some emergency measures, for only one month, to restore law and order.”
Abdel-Fattah, in line with increasingly common opinion, was not reassured. “Since Morsi’s ouster, some of those most closely associated with the Mubarak regime, including key members of Mubarak’s [now defunct] National Democratic Party, have begun returning to political life.”
On Wednesday, Mubarak himself was released from prison after being acquitted of corruption allegations. Although he still faces other criminal charges, including complicity in the murder of unarmed protesters in 2011, the Brotherhood described the development as “a victory for the counter-revolution.”
The Muslim Brotherhood formally renounced violence in the 1950s and says it has used strictly political methods to accomplish its aims ever since. Under Mubarak, the group was outlawed and its members routinely persecuted.
In Egypt’s first post-revolution parliamentary poll in late 2011, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won roughly half of the seats in the People’s Assembly (later dissolved by the military), while another quarter went to other Islamist-leaning parties.