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2013-07-10

With Deadly Crackdown, Is Egypt’s Military Repeating Same Mistakes of Post-Mubarak Transition?

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The standoff between Egypt’s interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood party it replaced in power continues to widen. Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and other top officials on charges of inciting the violence that ended in the army’s fatal shootings of at least 51 supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the wounding of hundreds more. The charges come one day after the Muslim Brotherhood rejected a role in Egypt’s interim Cabinet, which now includes former Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as interim prime minister and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president. We’re joined from Cairo by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. "Many critics say that this is repeating a lot of the same mistakes from the first army-led transition following Mubarak’s ouster: It was drawn up by an anonymous committee without any input from the main opposition groups that were calling for Morsi’s ouster, including the National Salvation Front, including the youth-led group Tamarod, who have voiced criticism for not being consulted in this process," Kouddous says. "It’s a bare bones document that outlines the bare necessities, but given that, it makes very clear that it shields the military from civilian oversight."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Egypt remains in a state of political crisis one week after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi after days of massive protests. On Tuesday, Egypt’s interim president named former Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as interim prime minister and also named Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president. The appointments came one day after Egypt’s interim leaders announced a timetable for forming a new elected government and ratifying a new constitution.

But several key groups have voiced concern over the military’s plans, including Egypt’s Coptic Church, Salafis and the youth-led Tamarod movement. Tamarod said the military’s plan, quote, "lays the foundation for a new dictatorship." Members of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood continue to oppose all moves by the military to form a new government. This is Safwat Hegazy, a prominent cleric and Muslim Brotherhood supporter.

SAFWAT HEGAZY: [translated] Egypt’s legitimate president is Mohamed Morsi, and he alone has the right to appoint a prime minister or agree on other ministers to be appointed. And with regards to the military and the person they are calling the interim president, they are all thieves, and it is not their right to appoint ministers or prime ministers, and we reject these appointments altogether.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, Egypt’s prosecutor’s office has ordered the arrest of the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Mohammed Badie. He’s accused of inciting violence in Cairo in the days after the coup. The arrest warrant is seen as part of a broader crackdown on members of the Brotherhood. Hundreds of members of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups have been detained along with the former president’s top advisers.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the Egyptian armed forces shot dead more than 50 supporters of Mohamed Morsi during a protest outside Cairo’s Republican Guard barracks where the deposed leader is believed to be held.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered $8 billion in aid to the interim government to help shore up the economy and counter Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Well, for more, we go to Cairo, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Welcome back, Sharif. We last talked to you on [Tuesday]. You had just come from the site of the massacre. Now the—Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie. Can you talk about the significance of all of this?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, this news just came down a few minutes ago that Mohammed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been ordered arrested along with several top aides. They’re reportedly going to be charged with incitement to violence outside the Republican Guard headquarters. As you mentioned, more than 50 supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president, were killed in early Monday morning, mostly by live ammunition. And this was one of the bloodiest days since Mubarak’s overthrow, if not the bloodiest incident of state violence. This is a very troubling trend of an increasing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, still the largest political group in Egypt. We’ve seen their members detained. Now their leaders—their figurehead, the supreme guide, is being ordered arrested. We’ve seen their media channels being shut down. And the state media and private media have taken a—completely adopted the military’s line, repeated the military’s claims that the military came under attack first by armed assailants, hardly shown any video or footage of the attack and of the many dozens dead or wounded, and have called the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and so forth.

And this has only increased the polarization and division in the country. And it will be very difficult, going forward, when we have this kind of crackdown by the army and state security services, which are—have ridden this popular wave of anger against Mohamed Morsi for his many failures in his year of office, and looking to reassert themselves into the state and into positions of authority. It’s going to be very difficult, going forward, to have the biggest political group in the country not taking part and feeling like it is being oppressed, as it has been for many decades under successive autocrats. And we’ll have to see what happens in the coming days.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sharif, what do you think accounts for the disproportionate crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood? What has been historically the relationship between the security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, as I mentioned, the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered—long suffered oppression under successive autocratic regimes in Egypt. It was Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, after he led a coup against the pro-British monarchy, who first clamped down on the Brotherhood and drove them underground, where they remained for very years. And they—many of their leaders have been jailed. Many of them have been killed.

But since the revolution, they, I think, sought to co-opt parts of the state when—after coming into power through the ballot box. And so they struck political pacts with the army, and granting it everything it wanted in the constitution. Mohamed Morsi repeatedly thanked the police for their work, even despite mass police killings and torture. And instead of, I think, addressing grievances of people, he was seeking to co-opt these parts of the state, but ultimately failed. And once this popular mobilization got going, in large part because of the steadily declining economy, as well as political isolation and no real way for people to air their grievances, I think the army sought to step in, push the Brotherhood out and reassert itself into the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the $8 billion promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which—to try to prevent the collapse of the Egyptian economy, but also seen as a counter to Qatar, which has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government, the vying between Arab rivals for Egypt?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. I mean, this is very significant, $8 billion coming at a time when the Egyptian economy is on the brink of collapse. This will certainly support the shaky military-led transition. And it comes in the wake, as you mentioned, of repeated cash injections from Qatar, which has supported the Brotherhood through this kind of aid, through gas deals, and helped prop up the Egyptian economy in sort of an artificial way when it was really, you know, collapsing from a lack of foreign reserves. So, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which very much want to see a return of, you know, an army-led and—or a return of the former regime, which they very much backed, and were very much afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and their claims to political Islam through the ballot box. I think they were very threatened by that and have historically been at odds, in certain ways, with Qatar over foreign policy, although Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of course, have the same—similar policies toward Syria. So, I mean, this is a significant cash injection. Eight billion dollars almost matches the total that Qatar has given over many months, so it’s a clear sign of support to this military coup and to the army-led transition.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sharif, could you outline what some of the more controversial aspects of the constitutional declaration are and what the main opposition to the transition plan has been from all groups involved?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. So this constitutional declaration essentially now is the law of the land after the head of the armed forces abolished the 2012 constitution that was pushed through by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it basically sets forth a very speedy transition to a civilian government. It’s about 33 articles. And it will essentially go in the order of amending the 2012 constitution within four months by a committee of legal scholars, followed by parliamentary elections and then presidential elections.

Now, many critics say that this is repeating a lot of the same mistakes from the first army-led transition following Mubarak’s ouster, that it’s—it was drawn up by an anonymous committee without any input from the main opposition groups that were calling for Morsi’s ouster, including the National Salvation Front, including the youth-led group Tamarod, who have—who have voiced criticism for not being consulted in this process. You know, it’s a bare bones document that just outlines kind of the bare necessities, but given that, it makes very clear that it shields the military from civilian oversight. So, that’s a clear—you know, it clearly prioritizes the military. And it promises inclusiveness, but gives no procedural guidelines for how to do that. And the timetable is very fast. So, it’s not a—you know, it looks like it’s repeating a lot of the same errors of the first transition which led to this political crisis. And we’ve seen the National Salvation Front and Tamarod come out and be quite critical, which is a step forward. At least they’re voicing concerns that they’re not being consulted, but we’ll have to see, going forward, how much their voice carries weight with the military at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, the U.S. is not quite willing to call what happened in Egypt a coup, which would jeopardize the $1.3 or $1.5 billion the U.S. government gives to Egypt. Can you talk about the significance of that? And what people are saying in Egypt, the many—perhaps the largest protests, even larger than the anti-Mubarak ones that led to Morsi’s downfall, like Tamarod, the youth group, what they are now saying?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, this is a very divisive question in Egypt, this issue of do you call it a coup, or do you call it an uprising overthrowing Morsi? And it’s part of a growing polarization between different camps in Egypt and a very complicated situation. I would say, technically, of course this was a coup. It was the army that ousted Morsi. We saw the head of the armed forces, al-Sisi, get on TV. And, you know, the interim president that we have right now, in his constitutional declaration, stated that his power comes from al-Sisi’s statement. So that’s a clear sign that this was a military coup. And we saw APCs and soldiers deploying to the streets of Cairo.

Having said that, what forced—or what facilitated the military to come in was a mass popular uprising, like you mentioned, one that even eclipsed the level of protest we saw against Hosni Mubarak. And I think there was a culmination of different forces coming together, ordinary Egyptians whose daily lives have become much harder given the deterioration of the economy, political groups who felt completely isolated and rejected and not consulted on any policy by Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. And we saw that the Brotherhood used its very thin electoral mandate to push through all of its policies without really consulting NGOs or civil society on any kind of state policy, and also, as I mentioned before, looking to co-opt elements of the deep state, like the army and the police, and not looking to reform them whatsoever.

So I think all of that culminated, and we had elements of the former regime, as well, coming together on June 30th in this massive protest. And that allowed the military to reinsert itself into civilian politics in a very real way. And it’s a very difficult time right now because I think the military is the most, possibly, destructive force to Egyptian politics, and it’s the most brutal force. It has the biggest economic interests to defend. And we’re seeing them, very successfully at the moment, reassert themselves, use this wave of popular anger against Morsi to try and clamp down on any kind of dissent, and that is being targeted really at Islamist groups right now. And we’re seeing the state media, the private media, really drumming—acting as a conveyor belt for the army’s policies. And so, it’s a very difficult time right now in Egypt.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, during the attack on Muslim Brotherhood supporters on Monday, an Egyptian photographer working for a newspaper affiliated with the party was killed. The 26-year-old journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, reportedly filmed his own death. His family released footage he took that reportedly shows an army sniper taking aim at him. This comes as several Al Jazeera reporters were arrested. In the past two weeks, two journalists and a student have been killed while documenting protests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, prior to these deaths only four journalists had been killed in Egypt since 1992. Sharif, could you talk about the significance of this? What’s been happening to the media in the midst of these protests and the ouster of Morsi?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, we saw, right when the head of the armed forces ousted Morsi, in that statement on July 3rd, the channel, the main channel of the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr 25, went black. There was also raids and attacks by security forces on other pro-Morsi channels, where workers were arrested, although many of them have been released, but those channels shut down. And so, we’ve hardly seen any coverage by the private media and, of course, the state media, which has completely toed the military line, of these continued protests by the Muslim Brotherhood, hardly any coverage of the massacre that happened on Monday at the hands of the military, completely adopting the military lines. There is this crackdown on the media.

And Al Jazeera, which has been seen, especially since the beginning of what we called the Arab Spring, as being a pro-Morsi channel, has also come under attack. Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, which is a local affiliate, was raided. A lot of its—its director was held for a day. And then, subsequently, a lot of its workers resigned, saying—claiming bias from their managers to, you know—bias to influence the editorial line towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

But more than that, we’ve seen also, as I said, private channels really demonize Islamists, call them terrorists, and, in a way, incite violence in their own way, and have no compassion whatsoever for the dozens of deaths that took place on Monday. So, there’s a real polarization in the media. And, you know, we hardly are—with the voices and the channels of the pro-Morsi camp really being silenced, we’re only getting ones that completely support the military, and it’s a very vicious dialogue that’s happening right now over the airwaves.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, Sharif, finally, the Al Jazeera Arabic reporter who was kicked out of the government news conference by other reporters, who later applauded the spokesman—we’re just going to play a clip.

[clip]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the sound and scene at a news conference when they were throwing out the Al Jazeera Arabic reporter. Final comment, Sharif?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, Amy, this was a shameful display of so-called journalists, who completely support the military and who forced out this Al Jazeera crew out of the press conference by the army, chanting "Out! Out! Out!" before the press conference started and refusing to allow it to begin before they were kicked out. So, you know, these are a lot of so-called journalists who completely toe the government line, who report blithely what the military says, and, in fact, after the army spokesman finished his press conference, loudly applauded his statements, which completely denied any wrongdoing of the killing of more than 50 people on the streets of Cairo. So, again, that’s the kind of polarized media landscape we have, and, frankly, very terrible coverage from almost any side of what’s happening in Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 30 seconds, Sharif, but the significance of the appointment of the prime minister, Beblawi, and the vice president, who originally they were going to say was prime minister, the Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Beblawi is a liberal economist with an academic background. He’s a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party after Mubarak’s ouster. He served as finance minister in 2011 under the first army-led transition. He’s been somewhat critical of the military. He wrote a book criticizing their heavy-handed approach of the first Cabinet that he served in. He also submitted his resignation in October 2011 following the killing of 27 protesters at Maspero by the military, which is interesting given that he accepted this position a day after the military killed nearly double that on the streets of Cairo. But I think it’s important to remember, ideologically, he won’t be around for very long, and his position is really to be seen as a consensus candidate. And the important thing is how much political consensus he can build around him to form this new government. He’s already reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has firmly rejected any participation in the new transition.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I want to thank you for being with us again. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo. His most recent piece for The Nation, we’ll link to at democracynow.org; it’s called "What Led to Morsi’s Fall—and What Comes Next?" This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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