Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The walls have ears

Leaked tapes are part of the arsenal in the battle being waged by the Muslim Brotherhood and its opponents. Khaled Dawoud reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Two days before the fourth anniversary of the 25 January 2011 Revolution several news websites carried what they claimed were secret recordings made of two Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Mohamed Al-Beltagui and Azza Al-Garf, criticising ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The recordings, dubbed the “Brotherhood leak-gate”, first appeared on the website of a little known group called the Repentant Brothers. There were no details of when or where the recordings had been made.

Brotherhood officials immediately responded. The recordings, they said, — 20 seconds of Al-Garf and 35 seconds of Al-Beltagui — were both fake, an amateurish attempt to distract attention from the extremely embarrassing leaks that television channels affiliated to the Brotherhood have been airing over recent months, allegedly involving senior army officers and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s aides.

Al-Beltagui, known as a hardliner, has repeatedly rejected any compromise with Al-Sisi who, as defence minister, ousted Morsi on 3 July 2013 following widespread popular protests against Brotherhood rule. He was arrested in August 2013, two weeks after the bloody dispersal by security forces of two pro-Brotherhood sit-ins.

Al-Beltagui’s daughter was among more than 800 protesters killed in in Rabaa on 14 August 2013. He is facing a number of life sentences for inciting acts of violence.

Al-Garf served as an MP for the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, in the only parliament elected after the 25 January Revolution. As an MP she was known for her wholehearted support of Morsi and for making vociferous attacks on his opponents.

In a recording posted on the anti-Brotherhood website, Al-Garf is heard to say: “When Morsi was in power he turned against democracy, he turned against the rights of millions of people who went out and voted, and turned against the democratic process we had dreamt of for 60 years. We dreamed that we would have a voice, that our voices would be heard and that we would see democracy and the rotation of power in Egypt.”

The statements attributed to Al-Beltagui in the recordings are more confusing, since it is unclear whether Morsi is being criticised for failing to run the country or for not taking stronger action against those who took to the streets to protest his rule.

The taped Al-Beltagui comments run as follows: “Dr. Morsi is the reason behind the retreat in all aspects of life in Egypt. He wasted our land and honour during the year he ruled. On 30 June we will arrest Morsi and hold him in prison. This image that lasted for a year nearly led the collapse of the country and the people. We cannot remain silent anymore.”

The short recording continues, though the meaning of the quote is less than clear: “If I was appealing and admitting to organising thugs who carry criminal weapons, taking part in crimes and in arranging, planning, organisation and financing. Who is paying money to those?”

The recordings have been used by the Brotherhood’s many opponents to argue that even the group’s senior leaders were unhappy with the way Morsi was running the country. It is an argument difficult to square with the fact that members of the group turned out in large numbers for demonstrations across Egypt to mark the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution on Sunday.

According to the Ministry of Health, 23 people died on Sunday and over 100 were injured. Alleged Brotherhood supporters are also accused of attacking police stations and government buildings, blowing up power stations, placing bombs at railway stations and shooting dead five security personnel.

Meanwhile, no official explanation has been offered for recordings aired by Brotherhood television channels, allegedly made in the presence of Major-General Abbas Kamel, the head of Al-Sisi’s office when he was serving as defence minister.

Mekameleen, a private satellite channel based in Turkey, has so far aired four long clips. The latest, broadcast last week, contained conversations that supposedly took place in Kamel’s office.

The Prosecutor-General announced that the recordings were faked yet also said that he was investigating the case. He later referred the investigation to the Military Prosecution.

State and private media channels loyal to Al-Sisi have largely ignored the recordings, despite their containing sensitive information.

“Ongoing terrorist acts carried out by the Brotherhood, the deteriorating economy and Al-Sisi’s massive popularity means nobody really cares about recordings aired by the Brotherhood television channels,” said one official who asked not be named.

The first recording, aired a month ago, included a conversation purported to be between Major-General Kamel and the army’s senior legal advisor, Major-General Mamdouh Shahin. They were discussing the necessity of forging papers to prove to the court trying Morsi that the deposed president had been held in a prison under the supervision of the Interior Ministry.

After his forced removal from power, Morsi was reportedly held at an army base in Alexandria and was not moved to an official Interior Ministry prison until his first trial began in November 2013. If such reports are true then Morsi would have been held illegally and the court would be obliged to quash his trial.

The recording included a phone call in which Shahin appears to ask Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim to predate a decree designating part of the army base a prison under the Interior Ministry’s control.

The second recording, which also purports to be a conversation between Kamel and Shahin, includes a request from the former that Shahin “speak to the judge” presiding over the trial of four police officers accused of negligence that led to the death of 37 prisoners. A first degree court had handed the police commander a ten-year sentence and the three junior policemen suspended jail terms.

The four were later acquitted by the Appeals Court. On 22 January the Court of Cassation accepted an appeal made by the Prosecutor-General against the acquittal of the officers. A new trial is due to be held, though no date has been set.

In the third recording a voice claimed to be Kamel’s asks an executive at a Dubai-based pan-Arab television channel to halt broadcasts of Bassem Youssef ‘s popular satirical programme.

The fourth recording, aired last week, is of Kamel making a phone call to the army’s former spokesman, Lieutenant Ahmed Ali, asking him to contact the presenters of all major television talk shows in Egypt — he calls them “our people” — and dictate what they should be saying in support of Al-Sisi. Secular opposition parties have long complained that both state-owned and private channels exclude voices that are critical of Al-Sisi.

Leaks of tapped phone conversations have been a fixture of the news in Egypt since Morsi’s ouster. A year ago a talk show hosted by a pro-Mubarak anchor broadcast recordings of calls made by former vice-president Mohamed Al-Baradei and leaders of a number of the youth movements that triggered the 25 January Revolution.

The presenter, who said he was fully aware that the broadcasts were illegal, claimed he had included them in his programme to prove to the public that the 25 January Revolution was a conspiracy orchestrated by foreign agents.

A reporter working for a private daily newspaper leaked off-the-record remarks Al-Sisi made during an interview with the reporter’s editor to the pro-Brotherhood, Qatar-based television channel, Al-Jazeera. There have also been leaks from closed meetings Al-Sisi held with senior army officers before he was elected president.

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