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Egypt: a Breeding Ground for Terrorism

Destabilized by the supporters of the former regime, as witnessed by the dissolution of an elected Parliament in 2012 where his Freedom and Justice party along with the ultra-conservative islamist Al Nour party had won a majority of seats, and by hostile media campaigns, President Mohamed Morsi, the first Egypt´s democratically elected president (June 24, 2012), was confronted by enormous street protests erupting across Egypt on June 30, 2013 calling for his resignation. The military stepped in three days later to remove him from office.

Following the coup d’état, the pro-Morsi protestors, who quite legitimately decried the flagrant violation of law, were the victims of savage repression (more than 1,000 dead in Nahda and Ramses squares and at the Rabaa al-Adawiyya and Fatah mosques, the great majority killed by bullets on August 14, 15 and 16, 2013[1], many of them adolescents, such as Asmaa, the daughter of the islamist leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy, and several journalists Michael Deane of Sky News, Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz of Gulf News, Ahmed Abdel Gawad of Al-Akhbar, Mosab El-Shami of Rassd News Network [2], not to mention the murders of 38 islamist leaders on August 20 as they were being transferred to the Abu Zaabal prison). Female demonstrators were forced to submit, by order of the generals who had seized power, to humiliating tests of virginity. A witch hunt was organized against all the leaders of the movement, who were brought before military tribunals. The great majority of the 25 provincial governors were replaced by generals allied with the former dictator, Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011). More than 65 journalists were arrested.

More than 20,000 people were imprisoned. President Mohamed Morsi, held in total isolation since his arrest on July 4, 2013, appeared before the Criminal Court of Cairo in January 2014, where he was held in a soundproof glass cage[3]. The court handed down a death sentence for Morsi and 122 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, many of them in abstentia, including one of the spiritual leaders of the movement, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, a prolific and well respected author among the Muslim world, who had been living in exile in Qatar for 30 years before returning to Egypt after the fall of Mubarak in 2011. Moderate and respected leaders such as Ahmed Maher, Mohammed Abdel, and Emad Shahin were imprisoned and sentenced to death.

While young protesters were killed, such as 32-year-old Shaima al-Sabbagh as she went to place a wreath of flowers in Tahir Square [4] or abducted and detained, secretary of State John Kerry incautiously declared during a visit to Pakistan the Egyptian army was “restoring democracy in Egypt[5] and the British government the day after the condamnation of president Mohamed Morsi to death   invited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to London[6].

The government dominated by the military since Mubarak´s resignation, was led between between July 2013 and March 2014, by a 79-year-old Interim Prime Minister, Hazem al-Beblawi, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from France in 1992. Althought he had resigned in October 2011 to protest the killing of 27 Christian demonstrators by the army, an episode known as the Maspero Massacre, he approved the brutal repression carried out by the Egyptian army and police against the protesters from Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Cairo´s squares in July of 2013. “These are extraordinary times which must be confronted with brutality,” he said to news correspondent for ABC, Martha Raddatz[7]. The Vice President, Mohammad ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, resigned from the caretaker government set up after the coup d’état and chose exile to dissociate himself from the repression that had not spared journalists from the United States (Mick Deane of Sky News), Dubai (Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz of X-Press), and Qatar (Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed of Al-Jazeera, who was sentenced in August 2015 to 3 years in prison on the basis of unjust criteria). According to a prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists on December 1, 2015, Egypt was holding a record 23

journalists behind bars.. This did not stop Germany, acting on a request by Egyptian authorities, from arresting Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour on June 20, 2015 in Berlin. The authorities claimed that he had been sentenced in abstentia in 2014 to 15 years in prison for having “tortured an Egyptian lawyer in Tahrir Square”[8]. The man behind the coup, general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had just made an official visit to Germany, during which the Siemens Group announced the signing of an equipment contract worth 8 billion dollars[9].

Photojournalist Mahmoud “Shawkan” Abou Zeid, remains in prison more than 900 days after his arrest covering a protest.In April 2016, dozens of foreign and Egyptian journalists were arrested while covering major protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government in various parts of Cairo and in provincial cities. Egypt is ranked 159 out of 180 countries in the 2016 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, a freedom of expression advocacy group based in Paris. Confidential guidelines published apparently by accident by the Interior Ministry in May 2016 aimed to undermine the credibility of the journalists´ union by nominating retired police and military officers inside the mains country´s influential medias[10].

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged 8 billion dollars and Kuwait 4 billion dollars for the new government[11]. This prize for the coup from conservative monarchies that threatened the “Arab Spring” (the Morsi government benefited from financial aid from Qatar, Turkey, and the European Union) and the reluctance of the United States and its allies to take any retaliatory action are an eloquent testimony to the meagerness of hopes for democratization in Egyptian politics. Three months after the coup, President Obama announced that the United States would recalibrate its military aid, suspending, in particular, the delivery of heavy equipment (planes, helicopters, tanks). However, on his visit to Cairo on June 22, 2014, John Kerry provided reassurance to the Egyptians. A large portion of American aid ($1,2 billion each year) goes to financing weapons purchases from major U.S. corporations (e.g. General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin). The European Union pledged 90 million dollars in financial aid to the new regime and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, showed incredible poor taste by spending her 2013 Christmas vacation with her family in Luxor while repression was rampant throughout the country.

It was after an official visit to Paris in November 2014 by the new Egyptian president, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, installed after Morsi’s ouster and a sham election, that France announced, in February 2015, its premier trade agreement, worth 5 billion euros, involving the sale of Dassault Rafale fighter aircrafts[12]. The announcement was blazoned on official communiqués, echoing a similar enthusiasm expressed when a deal was made with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after his visit to Paris in December 2007 for 14 Rafale planes, a deal that ultimately came to nothing. It should be noted that the Egyptian Air Force already had 220 American F-16 fighter aircraft and that Egypt is only able to remain afloat economically thanks to financing from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates In September 2015, French President François Hollande announced the sale to Egypt of the two Mistral-class landing ships originally built for the Russian navy but their sale canceled in September 2014 because Russia´s involvement in Ukraine and mounting pressure from NATO to call off the sale[13].

The military coup, the incarceration of thousands of sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the former president elect,]/ Mohamed Morsi, who was warmly received in Beijing, Tehran (2013), Brasilia, Berlin and Moscow (2013), did not prevent the Conference of Investors from responding to an invitation by the Egyptian president, Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, to a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh (March13-15, 2015 with 22 heads of state. The meeting concluded with the signing of contracts announced as being worth a total of 34 billion euros[14]. The British BG Group (acquired in April 2015 by Royal Dutch Shell) and British Petroleum both made a commitment to invest $4 billion and $12 billion respectively.

The strongman behind the putsch, General Abdul Fattah al-Sissi, appointed Minister of Defense by President Morsi in 2012, got his education at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. He is a member of a privileged and wealthy caste, rubbing shoulders with the powerful for over sixty years. He now commands an army of 450,000 men with a budget that is no longer under Parliamentary control or scrutiny and administers 40% of the country’s economy. Each year, 500 Egyptian officers receive training in the United States. Despite American aid estimated at 50 billion dollars since 1979, one fourth of the Egyptian population is illiterate[15].

The Muslim Brotherhood, had been excluded for too long from Egyptian politics though its charity work, hospitals and social programs have done much over decades to improve the social climate in Egypt. Which lessons will be drawn by the islamist groups which were ready to accept democratic rule and those that are dedicated to armed struggle?

The car bomb that killed the Prosecutor General of Egypt, Hisham Barakat, who issued the death sentence against Morsi and the main leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in sham trials[16], and the resurgence of attacks in the northern Sinai illustrate the perils to Egypt of the repression wrought by Abdul Fatta al-Sissi, who declared his willingness in June 2015 to rework the legal code by means of decree-laws in order to “accelerate the pace of executions”[17]. The aberrant alliance with the army discredits liberalism and secularism in the Arab world. The people will discover at their own expense that it will only serve to reintroduce the same neo-liberal politics and put the same elite back in power, and the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who do not choose exile and manage to avoid death and incarceration will become radicalized and presented to us in the mainstream press as “terrorists”.

Notes.

[1]. “Military Madness”, editorial, International Herald Tribune, August 16, 2013.

[2] “All According to Plan. The Rabá Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt”, Human Rights Watch Report, August 12, 2014.

[3] “Egypt court controls voice of Morsi with a glass cage”, International New York Times, January 29, 2014.

[4] Kirkpatrick David, Coming to Mourn Tahrir Square’s Dead, and Joining Them Instead. Killing of Shaimaa el-Sabbagh in Cairo Angers Egyptians , International New York Times, February3, 2015

[5] Michael Gordon, Kareem Fahim, “Kerry Says Egypt’s Military Was ‘Restoring Democracy’ in Ousting Morsi”, International New York Times, August 1, 2013.

[6] Loveluck Louisa, “David Cameron invites Egypt’s Sisi to London after Morsi death sentence” The Telegraph, June 18, 2015

[7] “Egyptian Prime Minister Says He Does Not Fear Civil War”, ABC News, interview with Martha Raddatz, August 20, 2013.

[8]Melissa Eddy, David Kirkpatrick, “Al Jazeera Journalist Held in Germany Awaits Verdict on Egyptian Arrest Warrant”, International New York Times, June 21, 2015.

[9] He was freed several days later. See Ben Knight, “Germany frees Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mansour”, The Guardian, June 22, 2015.

[10] Walsh Declan, Youssef Nour, “Egypt´s Interior Ministry, in Error, Releases memos on restricting News Media”, International New York Times, May 3, 2016.

[11]. Robert Worth, “Monarchies in Gulf to write giant check for Egypt”, International Herald Tribune, July 11, 2013.

[12]. Dominique Gallois, “La vente du Rafale au Caire bouclée en un temps record” (Sale of Rafales to Cairo secured in record time), Le Monde, February 14, 2015.

[13] Frane refunded Russia 1 billion dollar for the cancellation.

[14]. Hélène Sallon, “Le monde investit en masse dans l’Egypte de Sissi” (The world invests en-masse in Sissi’s Egypt), Le Monde, March 17, 2015.

[15]. Thomas Friedman, “Tell me how this ends well”, The New York Times, April 20, 2015.

[16]According to Mohamed Elmessiny, who monitored the trial for Amnesty International, the defense was not authorized to argue its case, witnesses were not heard, and some of the defendants were tried in abstentia. See Patrick Kingsley, “Egyptian Judge Sentences 720 Men to Death”, The Guardian, April 28, 2014.

[17] Patrick Kingsley, “Egyptian president to change Law to allow faster executions”, The Guardian, June 30, 2015.

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Patrick Howlett-Martin is a career diplomat living in Paris.

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