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In Washington on Tuesday (Oct. 22), the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked Derek Chollet, the Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, to talk about the recent aid cuts. Appeals were made by the US administration to Congress to find ways to keep aid flowing to Egypt, citing the usefulness of the relationship, for instance, in preferring the passage of US warships through the shipping queues at the Suez Canal. It appears that although the US hasn’t officially termed the ouster of the duly-elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, from power, a ‘coup’, nevertheless, the letter of US law seems to take a dim view of governments that arrive suddenly by force, irrespective of what they are actually called.
In the course of these same proceedings we heard the interventions of certain Republican congressmen defending the coup in Egypt, with one particular heated intervention from Dana Rohrabacher who angrily attacked the US government’s recent approach to events in Egypt as “hanging General Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi out to dry”, despite its Houdini-like contortions trying to keep in with the Egyptian Junta leader its defiance of its own laws. Dana Rohrabacher, if you remember, was the congressman who said that Iraq should pay back the costs of the US invasion.
But, it is not without help that the Egyptian Junta is keeping in with US lawmakers, for it becomes clear that they have hired the lobbying firm Glover Park Group to burnish their image. Given that they are charging $250,000 per month for their services, Glover Park must think that there is a lot of burnishing to do. Note that this is happening as Egypt’s economy is driven to the brink of ruin by the Junta, with food prices soaring and the unusual sight in Egypt of the poor going hungry.
The odd thing is that no-one is denying that the Egyptian Junta came to power by force, not least Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi himself. In comments of his in a leaked recording broadcast on al-Jazeera Mubashir concerning the attack on the protest camp at Raba’a al-‘Adawiyya, not only does he admit that there were 3000 deaths, but also adds that he had expected there to be even more. He rationalises the attack in a manner that would resonate with the prejudices of the likes of Dana Rohrabacher, namely that these were ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, and these people are people ‘who don’t listen’ and need to be dealt with roughly. Of course, Mohammed el-Baradei, previously a partner with Sissi in the coup, resigned from the ruling Junta because he maintained that absolutely no attempt was made to hold talks despite his entreaties, and that immediate sudden and extreme violence was planned as the new régime’s first port of call in dealing with such protests.
So the day after the proceedings of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (on Wednesday Oct. 23) we have Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announcing in a news conference in Brussels that he thinks the Egyptian “interim government”, is moving in the right direction, with a road map toward “inclusive, free democracy, rights for all people, assuring that all individuals, all citizens of Egypt have the same rights”. So it seems that we now have a principle that it doesn’t matter what you do at first, or how you get power, it doesn’t de-legitimise you, as long as you plan for democracy in the long term, everything is all right. This approach is reminiscent to the approach of the US and the UK to the Khalifa régime in Bahrain. There we have Egyptian Professor Cherif Bassiouni who led the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which reported on 23 November 2011, damning the Bahraini government’s use of systematic torture and cataloguing a broad range of human rights violations. The commissioning of the report by the Bahraini government on the instigation of the UK would unbelievably seem in of itself to have absolved it of its guilt, for it continues the same repression, backed by the same foreign powers, who simply reiterate Bahrain’s ‘commitment to establishing democracy’. We are clearly dealing here with a purely noetic and entirely non-practical commitment, however.
In the case of Egypt, it should be questioned whether any commitment of even this interesting sort can be said to exist. A ‘Committee of Fifty’ was formed to tear up the 2012 Constitution which passed with a popular mandate of 64%, contested by absolutely no-one, and to draft a new constitution in secret. To qualify to become one of its members you had to be a rabid supporter of the military coup, so, apart it being led by National Salvation Front leader and octogenarian Amr Moussa, the committee was filled with the likes of Tamarod leaders Muhammad Abel-Aziz, and Mahmud Badr, film producer Khalid Yusuf, writer Mohammed Salmawy, poet Sayyed Haggab, lawyer Sameh Ashour, the Mubarak’s family’s close social circle comprising Diaa Rashwan, Mervat Tallawy, and Mona Zulfikar, not to forget token representatives of the Coptic Church and al-Azhar, as well as Bassam Zarqa, the Salafist leader of al-Nour party, the Saudi fifth column in Egyptian politics.
The proceedings of this committee are so secret that many of its members don’t know what is going on, leading to disputes and complaints. For instance Esam Abdel-Samad, head of the Union of Egyptians in Europe, lodged a complaint and resigned, and Rami Mohsin, head of the National Centre for Parliamentary Advisory Services in Cairo, who cites violations by the committee of its very own procedures, in excluding ‘alternates’ from drafting meetings. But the matter which has entirely dominated the drafting of this new constitution arose from an intervention by Sissi himself. Unhappy with the prospects of presidential elections even with almost the entire Muslim Brotherhood opposition in prison, he has demanded that a clause be included in the constitution to protect his own position. Thus a clause to guarantee Sissi the position of Minister of Defence for the equivalent three consecutive presidential terms (12 years), so that no-one can fire him, not even any future President, becomes his hedge on the vagaries of potential future democratic processes, in the event that he himself is not President.
While under Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians became past masters at faking democracy, a major stumbling block remains in the way of this Junta in the form of a democratically elected President who has been kidnapped and held until now without charge in a military prison, one to boot who refuses to resign or handle any papers whatsoever passed to him by his captors. The strategy that the Junta seems to have devised in the course of these four months of Morsi’s captivity is to attempt to smear him with criminal charges. The first charge involves a charge of collaboration with Hamas during his term as President, apparently endangering the national security of the country in dealing with a supposedly ‘terrorist’ organisation. The second set of charges relate to alleged incitement to murder during riots in front of the Presidential Palace (‘al-Ittihadiyya’) on Dec 5, 2012.
Morsi has refused to accept counsel and insists on defending himself, while in the process of taking the depositions for the trial which is due to begin on Monday Nov 4, all normal procedures which require the attendance of all parties at a police station, with proper facilities for recording proceedings, were ignored. According to his family, Morsi was taken blindfolded to an unknown location for this purpose, had the charges read to him, but was given no time for preparation or method of recording them. But this is the least of it, for in the case of an incumbent President of the Egyptian Republic; such criminal proceedings are not legal, for only a process of impeachment on the part of the legislature qualifies for his arrest and trial.
In respect of the first case to do with Hamas, the Junta have assumed the Israeli definition of Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation’ to apply, whereas this does not exist in Egyptian law, and in any event, if it did, would not limit the activities of a President, who often does have to deal with terrorist organisations. We know that the difficult situation posed by Israel’s last attempt to attack Gaza was defused by Morsi. This approach on the part of the Junta against Morsi and other members of his government appears simply to take the view that they had never formed a government in Egypt, as if the Mubarak era had continued up until the 3rd July coup.
In respect of the second case to do with the Presidential Palace riots, this had involved a concerted attack on Morsi’s Presidential Palace by his opponents, while he was present. The scale of the violence by the opposition that we now know were funded by the backers of the eventual 3rd July coup, clearly warranted a defence of the premises, which is obviously not been granted in charges which hold that there was a premeditated incitement to murder. That the attack on the Ittihadiyya Palace was an aggressive, concerted attack on Morsi’s property and ultimately on his person, is partially evidenced by the fact that all six recorded deaths during those clashes on Dec 5 were all Muslim Brotherhood members, specifically targeted by armed thugs.
As is clear from this brief description of the legalities of the charges against Morsi, it is highly unlikely that the Junta is looking for a clear cut case of any kind against him. Given that Sissi aides have been in lengthy discussions with the principal talk-show hosts for the Egyptian media, Mahmud Saad at Al-Nahar TV, Lamis Hadidi at CBC , and Imad Adeeb at Saudi-owned Orbit TV, the aim would appear that they intend use the proceedings to smear him in the public’s eye and attack his legitimacy.
Whether this work or not is unclear, and seems unlikely. There is however another more sinister potential intention. The Nov 4 trial is being held in no ordinary court-room but at the Institute of Police Officers at Torah, the site of Egypt’s largest prison complex. Residents have reported of the astonishing preparations that have been taking place in the area, with new tarmac being laid on the roads, walls built, rooftops secured, trees cut down, and the residents themselves warned to stay indoors throughout the proceedings. The stage is clearly being set for confrontation with demonstrators. On their part, demonstrations have never stopped, but they are likely to get much more heated during trials which are widely seen as being show trials.
The trials will last some time, and it seems as if, with the duly-elected President of the country being trailed backwards and forwards to and from his place of trial, accidents can occur or be made to occur for the Junta to try and overcome their main stumbling block. If anything untoward does happen to Morsi, they might think that with the media under their control, they will be able to spin events to their favour and move on. If they do, then they haven’t seen what is happening in the street, where the demonstrations are getting bigger every day, now including many previous supporters of the coup who feel betrayed.
Mohamed Malik can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Omar Kassem can be reached through his website: http://different-traditions.com/.