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2013-07-26

Egypt Tensions Escalate as Morsi Detained and Supporters of Army, Brotherhood Hold Rival Protests

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In the first update on ousted Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi’s status since he was forced from office and held incommunicado, Egyptian state media reports authorities have issued an arrest warrant calling for him to be detained for 15 days. A court is investigating Morsi’s alleged collaboration with the Palestinian group Hamas to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime. The news comes as both sides of Egypt’s political divide are holding major protests after Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for public backing of a military crackdown on what he called "violence and potential terrorism" by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. "The [Morsi] charges are a way to whitewash the former regime’s crimes and whitewash police crimes during the Mubarak era and the revolution," says Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, joining us from Cairo.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Egypt, where state media is reporting authorities have issued an official order to detain ousted President Mohamed Morsi. This is the first update on Morsi’s status, who has been held incommunicado since he was forced from office July 3rd. The arrest warrant calls for Morsi to be detained for 15 days pending investigations into his suspected collaboration with the Palestinian group Hamas to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising. He is also accused of working with Hamas to attack police stations, killing and abducting police officers and prisoners during the uprising, and espionage. Senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian responded by condemning the arrest warrant.

ESSAM EL-ERIAN: [translated] The announcement that Morsi has been detained for 15 days today, the morning of this merciful day, the Friday of the sermon, on which millions of Egyptians are gathering to demand the return of the legal president, the return of legitimacy, the constitution and the elected Parliament, is proof of the confusion that prevails amongst those who carried out the coup. And it is also proof of the collapse of agreement that we live in a state of laws.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri responded to the allegations against Morsi in a statement to the outlet Middle East Online, saying, quote, "This is a dangerous development, which confirms that the current powers in Egypt are giving up on national causes and even using these issues to deal with other parties—first among them the Palestinian cause," he said.

The news comes as Egypt braces for major protests today in support of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The army’s top general has called for people to demonstrate in support of a military crackdown on what he called violence and potential terrorism.

We go now directly to Cairo, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, can you respond to these latest developments—first, Morsi being detained? I mean, he has been in detention, is that right?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, he’s been held incommunicado by the military since July 3rd, when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces, deposed him and overthrew him, following that massive uprising on June 30th. There haven’t been any charges leveled against him. And then this morning, which is—you know, it’s a Friday morning, it’s a vacation, it’s a weekend, and the judiciary typically does not work on the weekends—we have this order coming down from a judge leveling the first kind of any formal legal measure against him, and those were detention pending investigations into these accusations.

Now, these accusations are very telling, that they include, you know, a suspected collaboration with the Palestinian group Hamas to break out of prison. We have to remember that Morsi himself and other top Muslim Brotherhood leaders, as well as a number of activists, were rounded up in the first days of the January 25th uprising in 2011 and were held as political prisoners. And so, the fact that, you know, breaking out of prison during what was essentially a political detention is the charge, I think is very telling.

And it also accuses him of conspiring with Hamas to attack police stations, to attack soldiers. We have to remember that, you know, in the opening days of the January 2011 uprising, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were in the streets, and many groups—and they included the Muslim Brotherhood on January 28th; they were a minority—but many police stations were attacked. Ninety-nine or a hundred were burned down across the country. And this was by many Egyptians, who saw the police force as a lawless militia that was engaged in torture and so forth. I mean, the revolution itself began on January 25th, which was National Police Day, and they did that for a reason: to oppose the police.

So, these charges that, you know, accuse Morsi of collaborating with Hamas to attack police, I think, is also a way of trying to whitewash the former regime’s crimes and whitewash police crimes during the Mubarak era, but also during the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response of the progressive forces that were in the streets to oust Morsi just a few weeks ago to what is happening now, and then to this bringing in the issue of Israel and Palestine here?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, as you mentioned, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces and who’s, you know, de facto running the country right now, went on television a few days ago and, you know, dressed in full military regalia and wearing dark sunglasses, really looking like kind of an army general of a banana republic from Latin America in the 1980s, and then saying—you know, calling on Egyptians to go and fill the streets of Egypt today to give him what he called a mandate to confront what he said was potential violence and terrorism—and, you know, a clear indication against Morsi supporters who have continued a month-long sit-in in—or nearly a month, in different parts of Cairo, and who have taken to marching across the city in—across Cairo and different cities across the country, at times provoking clashes. Both sides have been armed. Nearly 200 people have died over the past month. The worst case was the army shooting at Morsi supporters outside the Republican Guard headquarters, that killed over 50 people. But so, we have these two kind of very polarized sides coming to the streets now in a very tense and violent time.

So we have members of—who support the military, support the military’s overthrow of Morsi, and that includes the National Salvation Front, that loose coalition of opposition groups. Mohamed ElBaradei himself, who’s in the interim government, has not really spoken out against this. Tamarod, the youth group that gathered petitions to—that really were the first to call for the June 30th protests, have also backed this. But there also have been Morsi critics who have opposed the defense minister’s call today, groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and other leading activists who are staying home and reject what they see as a very dangerous pretext for the military to come in and perhaps use widespread—you know, a very harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood. Many see this as possibly a pretext, especially given that Morsi was charged, to clear these large sit-ins that Morsi supporters have had in different parts of the country.

We see military APCs now that are deployed around Tahrir Square, and a lot of police trucks, as well. They’re handing—some of them are handing out posters of the head of the armed forces, al-Sisi. And we’ve also seen the media, the private media, which has been really toeing the army line and really bolstering the army narrative, has decided—many of the channels—to cancel their entertainment series tonight. You know, it’s Ramadan, and after people break their fast, there’s usually these very highly produced and highly watched drama TV series and different TV shows, and they’ve canceled all of those today to entice people to go out, to—also to cover the rallies. So, you know, it’s this kind of atmosphere that we’re in, and there’s, I think, a widespread fear of more violence with this many people on the streets and the minister making these kind of provocative calls.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, the Obama administration has delayed the planned delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian government. This marks the administration’s first direct action in response to Mohamed Morsi’s ouster earlier this month. It comes as the U.S. continues to refuse to brand Morsi’s removal a coup, which would trigger an automatic suspension of military aid. This is State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

JEN PSAKI: We do not believe that it would be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change all of our assistance to Egypt. We are reviewing our obligations under the law and are consulting with Congress about the way forward. Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward with the delivery of F-16s at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to play a clip from Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the crisis in Egypt. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul said U.S. law necessitates the suspension of aid. He has written legislation that would cut off aid to Egypt in the wake of Morsi’s ouster.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Our law says that when a coup occurs, you know, the aid ends. So, we can debate whether it’s a good idea to end, and you’re welcome to have opinions on whether it’s a good idea to have aid or not to have aid, but the law is the law. And if we decide that we’re above the law, it’s very hard for us to be preaching to the rest of the world about having the rule of law. So I think this seriously undermines our standing in the world, and it seriously goes against anyone who claims that they’re for the rule of law.

But I would go one step further. Even if you say this is not a coup because a military is not—there’s not a general currently running it, I think that’s, you know, semantics and really not going to the point of this, because our law says, basically, if the military had a substantial involvement in replacing a democratically elected government, so it doesn’t matter, according to our law, whether there’s a general in charge or not. But putting a president who’s been elected under house arrest, putting—we don’t know where some of these people are—I mean, this is the definition of the kind of thing that we’re supposedly opposed to. And I was no great fan of the Muslim Brotherhood. I wasn’t for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, either. But the thing is, is if we’re not going to obey the law, if we’re simply going to say that we bring a panel before us that says aid is a good idea, realize that if you’re telling us that the aid should continue, you’re telling us to flout the law.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. Sharif, if you could respond to both what he said and the holding up of the F-16 fighter jets?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. Well, apparently, the Obama administration has determined now that it doesn’t—it’s not legally required to even determine whether a coup took place. You know, and there’s an official quoted in The New York Times today saying that the law does not require us to make a formal determination. So they are, you know, skipping past the issue, because, as you heard Congressman Rand Paul say, which is correct, that if the U.S. determines this to be a coup, then it automatically, by law, forces them to stop providing the more than $1.3 billion in annual aid that it’s given. The Obama administration, in its first move, in its first sign of any kind of displeasure with what is happening, has ordered the halt of these four F-16s. You know, in the broader scheme of things, this is—seems like a very calibrated position that keeps the aid going but shows a sign of discomfort.

But I think we have to make an important note here, is that Egypt—the military does get this $1.3 billion of aid, but it has to be spent purchasing U.S. weapons. And so, all of this money really gets funneled to U.S. defense contractors that are the real big beneficiary of these funds, that have very large lobbying firms in Washington and that lobby very strongly for this aid to keep going. And Egypt has more tanks than Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa combined. We just keep buying this equipment, and it’s sitting in warehouses. And we also have to understand that there’s—_The Washington Post_ had a very interesting article today showing that since the 1980s the United States has granted Egypt an extraordinary ability to make these orders with these American defense contractors that are worth far more than the funds Congress has already appropriated. So it’s essentially like this massive credit card that Egypt has, with a limit of billions of dollars. And it’s something called "cash flow financing." So Egypt can submit these large orders for equipment that will take years to produce and deliver, and it’s under the assumption that U.S. lawmakers will just continue funneling the aid. And so, when you had lawmakers like Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont, trying to reassess U.S. aid to Egypt, they were stunned to learn how difficult it is to actually shut off this pipeline. So, I think, you know, there’s a deep level of intricacy with these U.S. defense contractors and the way the aid is structured that keeps this aid flowing to Egypt regardless of what’s happening on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I want to thank you for being with us, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo. We’ll link to your article of The Nation magazine at democracynow.org.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be talking about the George Zimmerman acquittal, because a second juror has come forward, the only woman of color on the six-woman jury. She first wanted second-degree murder; in the end, she voted to acquit. We’ll analyze what she says. Stay with us.

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