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Back Publications Briefings The Never-ending Story of Egypt: Al-Sisi and the Military Legacy

The Never-ending Story of Egypt: Al-Sisi and the Military Legacy

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Caterina Aiena on Egypt's military legacy


Table of Contents

  • Introduction 
  • Post-revolution background 
  • A systematic "pattern of execution"
  • Process Violations and Mass Death Sentences 
  • Media Targeting
  • Activists Targeting
  • Protest Law 2013
  • Acquiescence of Western States
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Following the removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Egypt has experienced the worst wide-scale violence since the era of President Nasser. According to widespread reports Egyptian security forces have used excessive force on numerous occasions including six mass killings of Morsi supporters, which peaked with the clearance of the protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya – in which at least 637 people died-, and thousands more were arrested, imprisoned and/or tortured. In addition, the judicial authorities have handed down the largest number of capital punishment convictions in the country's recent history. Nonetheless, rather than expressing outraged rejection to the military forces, the international community seems to hail the new president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as a saviour who will lead Egypt to democracy.

Post-revolution background

It is difficult to figure out how many Egyptians have been killed, injured, or imprisoned during the country's recent turmoil due to the government's routine aversion to transparency. Currently, Wiki Thawra initiative, an open source database launched by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), has reported the following counts, which are still approximate:

• Killed: 3,248 Egyptians are estimated to have been killed in various acts of violence during political events, such as protests and clashes, between July 3, 2013, and January 31, 2014.

• Wounded: an estimated 18,535 Egyptians have been wounded in more than 1,100 demonstrations and clashes between July 3, 2013 and February 28, 2014.

• Detained: an estimated 41,163 Egyptians were arrested in the period between July 3, 2013 and May 15, 2014, including 36,478 detained during political events and a further 3,048 arrested as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to lawyers at ECESR, only a quarter of these prisoners have been released.

Such figures have been unmatched by any other ruler in Egypt's recent history and unfavourably compare with those harking back to the darkest days of October 1954, when the government arrested thousands of Brotherhood members alleged to have been involved in the attempted assassination of President Nasser. Accordingly, at that time the number of the organisation's leaders jailed, tortured and placed in concentration camps rose to 20,000, along with the execution of six Brotherhood leaders. The current estimates reflect an unprecedented use of violence and offer a lucid illustration of the repressive depths to which Egypt's political conflict has plunged.

A systematic "pattern of execution"

According to numerous testimonies, it has been possible to identify a systematic modus operandi whereby the Egyptian law enforcement forces crack down on dissidents who are repeatedly subjected to:

 abduction and forced disappearance from streets or their domiciles;

 displacement to the Azouli secret military prison while being kept blindfolded;

 arbitrary detention for months;

 humiliating and inhumane conditions of imprisonment;

 unfair treatment during detention in which detainees have no access to lawyers or families; many of them have not even been charged or referred to public prosecutors and the courts;

 inhumane acts of systematic violence and torture. Many prisoners are taken blindfolded to a separate building- known as S-1- , a few minutes' drive from the prison, where they are interrogated, tortured, extensively electrocuted, and hung for hours until they memorise specific confessions to acts of terrorism;

 unfair trials based on confessions made under duress before a police prosecutor in the state security offices. Reportedly, the detainees have been expressly threatened by military intelligence with transfer back to Azouli prison to face more torture in the event of retraction of their original forced confessions.

There is not much information about the secret Azouli military prison, which has become a key symbol of repression. Thanks to testimonies, it is known that the prison of the Second Field Army Command is located in Ismailia as a part of a military camp that includes a military court, the prison and Military Intelligence offices. Purportedly, the majority of Azouli detainees are Salafis, allegedly involved in militant attacks after the violent dispersal of a pro-Morsi protest camp in August 2013. Many are from the northern Sinai peninsula, the centre of the insurgency. Others are members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and others are civilians involved in students' protests. A significant minority are people with no connection to religious movements who have been arrested at random.

Due to the secrecy of the prison, all Azouli's prisoners are held outside judicial oversight in circumstances that allow their jailers to act with impunity.

Process Violations and Mass Death Sentences

Since July 2013 the judicial process has shown clear and serious procedural deficiencies that routinely deprive detainees of elementary human rights. Arbitrary pre-trial detention orders without formal and unsubstantiated allegations; unfair trials and show trials, lengthy sentences or even mass death sentences and suggested en masse executions are all increasingly glaring examples of the military's tyrannical rule.

As recently as two months ago, the criminal court in Minya, a city in central Egypt, sentenced over 1,200 defendants among the over 16,000 Egyptians arrested by the government. On March 22, Sa'ed Youssef, judge of the criminal court of Minya, sentenced to death 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, of which the vast majority were tried in absentia, for their alleged participation in a mid-August 2013 attack on a police station, which led to the death of one police officer. The court summarily convicted the defendants without evidence in a one-hour hearing. Defence lawyers were prevented from presenting their case or calling witnesses. A second session was held two days later solely to announce the verdict. According to the official court judgment, the specific charges included that of the police officer's murder, the attempted murder of two others, damage to public property, seizure of weapons, illegal public assembly, and membership of a banned organisation.

On April 28, the same judge sentenced to death another 683 people on similar charges. Among them were the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamad Badie and the Freedom and Justice Party chairman Saad El-Katany. The court tried most defendants in proceedings that fell far short of internationally accepted standards of justice. Defendants were not allowed to mount a meaningful defence. For this reason, defence lawyers decided to boycott the Adwa trial because the judge refused to consider evidence produced by the defence, or to hear testimony from defence witnesses.

Targeting of Media

The Australian al-Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, the Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, and the local producer Baher Mohamed, along with Rena Netjes, Cairo correspondent for Holland's Parool newspaper, and lastly the two British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, were all sentenced, the latter three in absentia, of being party to an alleged terrorist plot. The pro-government media has labelled them the "Marriott Terror Cell".

Greste and Fahmy were arrested on December 29 in a night-time raid on al-Jazeera's makeshift offices in the luxury Marriott Hotel in Cairo, while Mohamed was arrested at his home in Cairo. They were charged by the public prosecutor on charges of "fabricating news", tarnishing Egypt's reputation and later of belonging to former president Mohamed Morsi's now-banned party, the Muslim Brotherhood. On June 23, a court in Cairo sentenced Greste and Fahmy to seven years in jail and Mohamed to 10 years on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security. Fahmy and Mohamed were further convicted of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shockingly, the evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events that had nothing to do with Egyptian politics or the al-Jazeera news network. The prosecution's case was also severely undermined by the retraction of testimonies from the three key prosecution witnesses during the proceedings.

Equally, Al-Jazeera reporter Abdullah al-Shami is now in jail after being arrested at a protest in August, and in a separate case freelance broadcast journalist Hossam Meneai claimed he was tortured while in jail facing similar charges.

These trials are all a political attack against al-Jazeera, a Qatar-owned news channel that Egypt's government accuses of being the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood. The arrests are also aimed at intimidating the free media in Egypt, where at the present time over 166 journalists are jailed. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently named Egypt the third deadliest country for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.

Targeting of Activists

On 20 May, a court in Alexandria upheld an earlier verdict against a group of activists who had been sentenced to two years in jail for organising an unauthorised protest during the Khaled Said murder retrial. Mahienour El-Masry, one of the most famous symbols of the revolution, , was convicted, along with seven others, of organising an unauthorised protest, blocking the road, assaulting a police officer and destroying a police vehicle on 2 December.

On 22 December, Douma, alongside Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, co-founders of the 6 April political movement, was convicted of rioting, assaulting Abdeen courthouse security personnel and possessing weapons during five days of "cabinet clashes", which followed the appointment of Kamal Al-Ganzouri as prime minister by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Douma is also a member of the Egyptian Popular Current movement led by Hamdeen Sabahi – the only candidate to challenge Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in last month's presidential election. The three were sentenced to three years' hard labour and fined EGP 50,000. Furthermore, a Cairo court recently ruled to ban the 6 April organisation, which was a vocal player in the 25 January Revolution, for "espionage" and "activities that distort Egypt's image". The trial, along with other 269 defendants, has been postponed to 4 August 2014.

On 11 June an Egyptian court convicted Alaa Abdel-Fattah of organising an unauthorised demonstration, assaulting a policeman and vandalism. An activist and blogger, Abdel-Fattah has been a key figure in the Egyptian revolution. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined nearly $14,000. The sentence is the toughest against any activist and was the first conviction since former army chief al-Sisi took office as president.

Protest Law 2013

Protesters are prosecuted under the Protest Law enacted in November by the interim President Adly Mansour. The law effectively bans protests, subjects them to near total police discretion, and gives the Interior Ministry the right to prohibit any meeting "of a public nature" involving more than 10 people. Article 10 of the draft law allows the Minister of Interior or the concerned security director to cancel, postpone or change the route of a protest should he acquire "serious information or evidence that the assembly would threaten national peace and security". Also, Article 13 entitles security forces to respond in proportionate measures against protesters according to their right to "legitimate self-defence".

The Protest Law violates Article 73 of the constitution that requires a "notification" for any public meeting, as opposed to the Protest Law that not only requires a prior "permit", a more constraining order, but also gives the interior minister the additional power to cancel planned protests. As a result, the law aims at normalising the state of security and turns it into a permanent state. For that reason, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Acquiescence of Western States

Indisputably, Egypt has and continues to benefit from international support following the military coup against democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi. Regardless of the widespread human rights violations many western politicians justified their support on the basis that a sanguinary military coup is preferable to rule by so-called religious fundamentalists. Accordingly, the military regime becomes an essential step towards democracy because, in Tony Blair's words, "the Muslim Brotherhood took the country away from its basic values of hope and progress, and the military acted at the will of the people when calling for Morsi's removal". Al-Sisi played on this fear when he called on the US to help Egypt "to avoid the creation of new Afghanistans in the Middle East".

But if it is hope and progress that the West is aiming to help foster in Egypt, the statistics suggest the opposite. Since the 25 January 2013 revolution Egypt has become a far more violent and unstable place than it was in the darkest days of the 1990s. Between 1992 and 1998, credible estimates suggest that approximately 1,500 people were killed by terrorist actions, with the deadliest years being between 1993 to 1995, in which a total of 747 were killed by near-daily attacks which have included assassinations of government officials, police officers and tourists. Another spate of terrorism in the 2000s claimed a total of 150 victims.

In the first year following President Morsi's ouster the pace of terrorism-related deaths in Egypt surpassed the worst years of the 1990s. A total of 1,714 Egyptians are estimated to have been killed in terrorist attacks only between July 2013 and May 2014. Most attacks have involved killings of police officers, soldiers, security officers and high-level government officials.. Worryingly, the current terrorist attacks now are not limited to the Sinai region as in the past, but are taking place across twelve different provinces.

Conclusion

For decades, western democracies did not mind rampant human rights crises provoked by the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. Western allies aimed only at protecting their economic and geopolitical interests, while disregarding the criminal policies perpetrated by their client states in favour of political stability. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that many countries supporting the current president, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, extended a lifeline exceeding $12 billion in cash and petroleum products to help Egypt stave off economic collapse. In addition, recently the U.S. offered a loan deal of £338m with the International Monetary Fund through the U.S. financial services company Lazard Ltd., which would rekindle a level of trust necessary to spur foreign investment. Furthermore, as an important source of direct foreign investment to the UK, Egypt is also heavily indebted to British companies and a politically staunch ally is a sine qua non condition for the redemption of existing debts.

Endnotes:

[1] Other sources counted over 7000  people died during clearance of the protest camp.

[2] http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/24/egypt-s-unprecedented-instability-by-numbers/h5j3

[3] Source in Arabic, available on http://wikithawra.wordpress.com/

[4] http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/24/egypt-s-unprecedented-instability-by-numbers/h5j3

[5] http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/24/egypt-s-unprecedented-instability-by-numbers/h5j3

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/22/disappeared-egyptians-torture-secret-military-prison

[7] http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/egypt-dozens-disappeared-civilians-face-ongoing-torture-military-prison-201

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/22/disappeared-egyptians-torture-secret-military-prison

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/22/disappeared-egyptians-torture-secret-military-prison

[10] http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/24/egypt-s-unprecedented-instability-by-numbers/h5j3

[11] On the same day, after receiving an opinion from the Gran Mufti, who must ratify a death sentence before it can be executed, the same judge and court upheld 37 of the 529 death sentences issued on March 22, and commuted the rest to life in prison. On June 21, the Grand Mufti confirmed the death sentence against the Muslim Brotherhood's general guide Mohamed Badie and more than 180 others. See http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/egypt-court-confirms-badie-death-sentence-201462181411531752.html

[12] In a statement, prosecutors said the defendants aimed "to weaken the state's status, harming the national interest of the country, disturbing public security, instilling fear among the people, causing damage to the public interest, and possession of communication, filming, broadcast, video transmission without permit from the concerned authorities". See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/29/egypt-to-charge-20-al-jazeera-journalists-damaging-countrys-reputation.

[13] Wiki Thawra, estimates available on http://wikithawra.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/d985d8add8a7d981d8b8d8a9-d988d986d988d8b9-d8a7d984d988d8a7d982d8b9d8a9.png

[14] http://www.alternet.org/world/behind-egyptian-juntas-iron-curtain

[15]http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/03/24/egypt-s-unprecedented-instability-by-numbers/h5j3

[16] Loai Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Omar Abdel-Aziz Hussein, Islam Mohamed Ahmed, Nasser Abul-Hamed Ibrahim, Hassan Mostafa, Moussa Hussein, and Hassan El-Siyad

[17] http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/104535/Egypt/Politics-/Egypt-court-postpones-cabinet-clashes-trial-of-Dou.aspx. See also http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/07/09/cabinet-clashes-trial-postponed-4-august/

[18] http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-egypt-activist-sentenced-20140611-story.html

[19] http://www.worldbulletin.net/haber/137982/egypt-group-to-take-prison-abuse-complaint-to-un

[20] http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/6/24/egypt-s-crackdowngoesdeeperthanjazeeraverdict.html

[21] http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/11/24/president-issues-protest-law/

[22] http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/06/03/constitutionality-protest-law-challenged/

[23]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/tony-blair-gives-backing-to-egyptian-military-coup-criticises-brotherhood-and-calls-for-international-community-to-support-leadership-9096547.html

[24] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/15/us-egypt-sisi-idUSBREA4E07X20140515

[25] Figures provided by Ibn Khaldun Centre, available on http://www.ibnkhalduncenter.org/

[26] Hafez, Mohamed M., “Violence as Contention in the Egyptian Islamic Movement”, in Wiktorowicz, Q. Islamic Activism: A Social Theory Approach”, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, pp. 61-88.

[27] http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/06/08/us-egypt-sisi-inauguration-idINKBN0EJ07D20140608

[28] http://www.ibtimes.com/egypt-takes-help-western-advisers-including-lazard-remodel-its-economy-sisi-takes-over-new-1595784


Caterina Aiena's field of research is Islamic Reformism as to Family Law, Constitutional Law, and Human Rights.  She  graduated from the University of Naples "L'Orientale", with a Bachelors Degree in Islamic Studies and afterwards earned a Masters degree in Law and Governance in Middle East at SOAS University in London.

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