Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Emotions run high

Calls for revenge and exceptional laws follow last week’s terrorist attacks in Cairo and Sinai. Khaled Dawoud reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Angry chants demanding the execution of Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been common during the funerals of army and police personnel killed in terrorist attacks. In the wake of the assassination of Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat and the death of 21 soldiers late last week in clashes with terrorists in northern Sinai, such calls are growing louder.

A government announcement that a new anti-terrorism law is close to being finalised has set alarm bells ringing among human rights organisations, the Press Syndicate and several political parties who warn it will violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression.

Speaking after Barakat’s funeral on 30 June President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi vowed to amend laws to speed up the trials of defendants in terrorism cases and fast track death sentences. In an oblique reference to senior Brotherhood figures held in detention, Al-Sisi claimed the order to assassinate Barakat had been issued from a prison cell.

Hundreds of death sentences against leaders of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood have been issued by first-degree criminal courts since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi two years ago. Under existing laws, a lengthy appeal process means it may take up to five years for a final verdict to be confirmed.

The Brotherhood denies any involvement in Barakat’s murder. But the jubilant reaction among Brotherhood supporters at the news of the prosecutor-general’s assassination has riled regime stalwarts.

“I want executions. Open the prisons now and execute them,” railed popular television presenter Ahmed Moussa during his daily talk show on the privately-owned television channel Sada Al-Balad.

“Don’t we have death sentences against them?” shouted Moussa. Morsi, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy, Khairat Al-Shater, are among those to have received preliminary death sentences. “Then carry them out now. I don’t want to hear a word about the Court of Cassation [Egypt’s court of final appeal.”

“There is no Court of Cassation. Those who killed the prosecutor-general did not wait for a trial. They held their own trial and carried out the sentence on the spot. That’s what we should do. This is what the people want.” Moussa said.

Moussa, long a cheerleader of those who opposed the 25 January, 2011 Revolution against Hosni Mubarak, warned that failing to punish Brotherhood leaders would encourage them to target President Al-Sisi.

Seven death sentences have been carried out since Morsi’s removal by the army two years ago.

“But what are seven death sentences?” asked Moussa. “They are nothing. There must be 1000 executions in revenge. One thousand heads is fair revenge for the prosecutor-general.”

In a demonstration held in front of Alexandria’s Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque on Friday protestors carried dummies of Morsi dressed in a red death row prison suit and demanded his execution.

Military, security and strategic experts vied to outdo one another in their demands for measures to be taken against Brotherhood leaders. Among the more practical suggestions have been a ban on media coverage of Brotherhood trials, and a halt to prison visits for six months in fear that they would issue instructions to lawyers and followers outside to carry out terrorist operations.

“President Al-Sisi revealed that instructions to carry out terrorist attacks were issued from the court cage,” former army officer Major-General Hossam Sweilam told state-owned Nile TV. “We have to be very careful of any exchanges that take place in court between the defendants and their lawyers.”

Any questions about possible security failings in the protection of Barakat were drowned out when, on 1 July, Welayet Sinai (aka Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis) attacked army checkpoints in north Sinai. Despite two years of army operations against extremists operating in the peninsula the group mustered an estimated 200 to 300 heavily armed terrorists to take part in the attacks.

In the aftermath came demands to expand the evacuation zone along the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Following a terrorist attack against the army in Rafah in late October residents within 1500 meters of the border were evacuated. Former assistant interior minister Mohamed Noureddin argues this is insufficient. After the latest confrontation, he says, it is necessary to evacuate the towns of Sheikh Zuweid (population of 60,000) and Rafah.

“We need to totally evacuate these two centres of terrorist operations so the Armed Forces can thoroughly search the area.”

Recent signs of a thaw in relations between Egypt and Hamas — the temporary opening of the Rafah border crossing to Gaza and the revoking of a court ruling designating Hamas a terrorist organisation – are likely to be reversed amid allegations that the attackers received support from the Palestinian group.

“Tunnels were used to take terrorists injured in the operation to Gaza,” says Naguib Gabriel, president of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organisation. An Israeli army spokesman backed up Gabriel’s assertion while Hamas denied any support.

Following the attacks Thoraya Abdel-Gawad, identified as a psychologist, told private daily Al-Watan that photographs of terrorists killed in the Sheikh Zuweid clashes proved “they were mostly non-Egyptians, mercenaries who have no cause or strong belief in what they die for.”

Sayed Abdel-Tawab, an anthropologist quoted by the same newspaper, insisted “the features of those killed suggest they were either Palestinians or Syrians. Only a handful of Egyptian looking faces were among the corpses. One had European features. He was probably a national of Sweden, Norway or Denmark.”

Both experts based their claims on photographs of charred and bloodied bodies of terrorists killed by the army issued by the army’s spokesman. On 6 July the army said 240 suspected militants had been killed in the five days following the clashes in Sheikh Zuweid.

On 4 July Al-Sisi visited north Sinai dressed in military fatigues despite having said, during the speech in which he announced he was running for president, that “this will be the last time you see me in a military uniform.”

Mustafa Bakri, a journalist and television show presenter with close links to the army, attacked “Western and US agents” for daring to criticise Al-Sisi’s visit to Sinai in military garb.

Bakri said it was a proud moment seeing Al-Sisi back in uniform and would reassure Egyptians that the president was fully engaged in leading the war against terror.

Bakri also declared his support for the draft anti-terror law, including articles that restrict press freedoms.

The Press Syndicate held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss an article in the draft law that stipulates two years prison sentences for anyone publishing information on terrorist operations that contradicts official statements، “Stop making this noise at a time the country is facing danger and is involved in a war supported by outside parties,” demanded Bakri in a post on his Twitter account.

“You cannot be more concerned about freedom than the president and the State Council and they have studied the law carefully to make sure it does not contradict the constitution.”

“If we held a referendum now it would make clear the size of the majority that supports the draft law.”

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