US-Brotherhood Conspiracy? Egypt Trials a ‘Potent Symbol’ of ‘Counter-Revolution’ [Democracy Digest]

August 26, 2013

“Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, and their arch-enemy, Hosni Mubarak, faced separate trials in Cairo on Sunday – in both cases for killing protesters – in a coincidence underscoring the momentous political reversal the country has undergone over the past two months,” the FT’s Heba Saleh reports from Cairo:

The trial of Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader (above), and deputies Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, opened and was adjourned within minutes to October 29, because the defendants were not present. …Mubarak’s release from prison, even if he still faces charges, while Mohamed Morsi, the elected president kicked out by the army last month remains in incommunicado detention, is seen by many as a potent symbol of a counter-revolution.

Democracy activists are also alarmed by what they consider the resurgence of the police state with the reimposition of emergency law. They fear that fragile gains in freedoms since 2011 might be clawed back.

Badie is “not considered a particularly influential Islamist thinker,” Howard Schneiderreports for the Washington Post:

Like many other top Brotherhood figures, he comes from a scientific and technical background, and his biography on an organization Web site lists no formal religious training. But because he has ties to the organization that date to one of its formative moments, his trial holds symbolic weight — and may be a clear sign of the lines that the military is drawing for the country’s next phase.

The 70-year-old’s arrest “is a clear message — that this is a major confrontation, and it is not just arm-twisting. It is all-out war,” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo and the editor of the “Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics.”

The juxtaposition between the fates of the two ousted presidents is notable, said analyst Hisham Kassem.

Mubarak “committed numerous crimes… against the country, but managed to hide the evidence, particularly as all the state’s institutions were working for him at the time he was overthrown”.

“The opposite is true for Morsi, who was thrown in prison while all the state’s apparatus were against him.”

During Morsi’s time in office, Egyptians “gave the Brotherhood a chance and the benefit of the doubt,” but the Islamists “blew both,” writes analystRachel Shabi.

It failed to govern by consensus or work towards unifying the country. Its power-grabbing and the unrepresentative constitution it imposed (approved by a revealingly low-turnout referendum) sparked protests, which the Brotherhood sent the security services to crush – measures that, post-revolution, were seen as a terrible betrayal. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights documented that police use of torture and violence continued under Morsi as it had under the loathed Mubarak regime.

Meanwhile, strikes doubled under Morsi, as factory and public workers alike concluded that the Brotherhood was no better than Mubarak when it came to labor rights: the protests, aggressively dispersed, were over the targeting of trade unionists, mismanagement and corruption, as well as the lack of a minimum wage amid spiraling energy and food prices.

The Brotherhood “committed a strategic error by mixing peaceful protests with armed clashes with civilians,” said Abdullah el-Sinawi, an Egyptian analyst. “Many supporters are now staying away fearing that new civilian-on-civilian clashes will erupt.”

The trials raise questions about the integrity of Egypt’s judiciary, said H. A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“One must keep in mind that over the past few years there have been several high-profile cases where assumptions were made about the political leanings of a judge, one way or another, and then surprises took place, so it is very difficult to predict how this is going to go,” he told al Jazeera.

“A more liberal branch of the interim cabinet has lobbied for the government to endorse a charter with pledges of inclusiveness and a commitment to democracy and the rule of law, so as to clear the air and coax Islamists to accept their defeat. Yet this looks likely to be ignored,” The Economist reports:

For the time being, the Egyptian state’s harder men feel immune from criticism. They have responded fiercely to pressure from Western countries and from the European Union, which has announced a ban on the sale of security equipment. Officials accuse critics of supporting terrorism and have fanned a vitriolic campaign against foreign journalists for purportedly pro-Brotherhood bias.

The United States is coming under fire from both the authorities and opposition groups.

“A strong anti-American undercurrent has always existed in Egypt, but such views are more normally associated with radicals and Islamists, and in reaction to American support for Israel.  But now anti-American sentiment is being stoked by an outpouring of dubious pronouncements from both state and private news media,” Rod Nordland reports for the New York Times:

Anti-Americanism has even been given the ultimate imprimatur of state tolerance: billboards. One next door to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, shows President Obama with a beard like those worn by the Brotherhood, alongside a more flattering picture of the clean-shaven military leader, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

Youm 7, which claims to be the Arab world’s biggest news Web site, recently invited reader reactions to a forum titled “America and Al Qaeda: One Hand Against Egypt.” Hundreds responded.

“Maybe it’s insane,” allowed Khaled Salah, Youm 7’s editor in chief, “but we are in a time when crazy things are happening.” Egypt’s leaders have carefully avoided anti-American rhetoric, Mr. Salah said. “After a time, rationality will return.”

Interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi told reporters Saturday that restoring security is his government’s main priority. If the price of adopting less harsh tactics “is that people don’t feel secure, we won’t accept that,” he said:

He said it was important also to pursue a political process aimed at restoring democracy, but he emphasized that it should not include “those who don’t accept the principles of no use of violence, no religion in politics, no attacks against minorities and no discrimination” — allegations the government has repeatedly leveled against the Brotherhood.

“The predominant ideology now is one of exclusion,” said Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst for the International Crisis Group in Cairo. “Reconciliation is not on anyone’s agenda, including the Islamists, and it is likely to persist for the foreseeable future with no outcome …….other than more security crackdowns and intermittent violence.”

Source: Democracy Digest

Photo: Democracy Digest

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