Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

HRW’s Rabaa report

The report of Human Rights Watch on the breakup of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda square last summer shows an absurd disregard for the facts, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the mid-1980s I took part in setting up the Amnesty International office in Cairo. It was an opportunity to get acquainted with international rights groups and organisations and see how they operated. One of their most important strengths, I learned, was the meticulousness of their inquiries into gross human rights violations around the world. At the end of that decade my attention turned to other matters, but I continued to follow the activities of these groups.

I never doubted the nobility of their aims but I became convinced that there were serious problems. These problems were connected to political or non-objective practices in some of the human rights monitoring. I was particularly struck by the fact that political and ideological biases overshadowed the ostensible professionalism of some major organisations.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) was one of the organisations that always had a huge question mark hovering over it. Because of this, I was not surprised by the harshness of the report it issued last week on the breakup of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square sit-ins last year, and by its disregard for many facts and its distortion of many others.

Totally ignored in the report was the general context surrounding the breakup of the sit-ins. This reflects a complete bias with respect to the political origins of the conflict. The sit-ins began on 21 June, well before the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi. They were clearly intended to defy and threaten a mass grassroots revolution that was building up momentum for a specific day.

The campaign of intimidation, threats of violence, and vows to crush their enemies were seen and heard by all and documented in recordings and videos. The Islamist alliance that formed beneath the banner of “legitimacy” expressed the collective outlook of a number of violent secret organisations: the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and other jihadist groups. The first of these has a history steeped in violence. Others were involved in terrorist operations in the past. Many of their operatives were released from prison during the era of the Muslim Brotherhood president and some of these took part — and were proud of having done so — in the assassination of President Anwar Al-Sadat.

The report’s silence on this alliance and the starkly contrasting non-Islamist alliance that was moving to defend the Egyptian civil state is shocking. This latter alliance did not include only the armed forces, as the report suggests, but also Al-Azhar, Egyptian churches, non-Islamist political parties and civil societies, and representatives of youth and women’s groups. All of these entities and organisations rallied around the political programme and roadmap drafted by the Tamarod (Rebel) movement, which had been popularly approved through a petition drive that gathered some 22 million signatures.

The HRW report remained equally silent on what happened in the Rabaa and Nahda sit-in camps from 21 June to 14 August. This is quite amazing given that these events were documented on television, most notably by the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera channel even after it had been banned from working in Egypt. An Al-Jazeera team commandeered an Egyptian television vehicle from which it transmitted its coverage from the squares, to which other news channels added their own input.

Collectively, they recorded the threats issued by Safwat Hegazi, who warned that those who “spray Morsi with water will be sprayed with blood” and, before and after this, the threat to use car bombs (which, in fact, occurred) and to set buildings on fire (which also took place, targeting numerous churches and police stations; those inside the Kardasa Police Station in Giza, in one such attack, were massacred).

Also recorded live was the statement by Mohamed Al-Beltagui, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood hierarchy, that the terrorist activities that had erupted in the Sinai would stop the moment that Morsi was reinstated in office.

None of the foregoing was noted in the human rights report; nor was there mention of any of the terrorist acts perpetrated in Sinai and Upper Egypt. Worse yet, the report clung to its insistence that the sit-ins were peaceful, even though it acknowledged that there were at least 15 people carrying weapons in those camps.

That those weapons happened to be Kalashnikovs, automatic machine guns capable of killing large numbers of people, was apparently unworthy of mention.

Equally irrelevant, apparently, were admissions of the existence of Molotov bombs used to set cars and people on fire, and the occupation of a school whose staff was expelled so that it could be turned into a slaughterhouse to butcher cows in order to feed sit-in participants.

Moreover, while the report referred to government soldiers on the roofs of some buildings overlooking the area, it did not note the pro-Muslim Brotherhood snipers who were stationed on two other rooftops and who killed six policemen in the first minutes of the operation to clear away the sit-ins. So determined was the HRW that the sit-in was “peaceful” that it ignored its mobile aspect: the details of “demonstrators” who were dispatched to other parts of Cairo, far (Maadi) and near (Salah Salem Street), to intimidate residents and stir up trouble. At Rabaa, in addition to systematically harassing area residents, their sit-in cut off one of Cairo’s most important transportation arteries. For 48 days, the sit-ins paralysed life not just in the capital, but also in the whole of Egypt.

Neither of the sit-ins was peaceful. Neither of them was unconnected to the demonstrations, disturbances and other terrorist acts taking place in various parts of the country. Their aim, at the very least, was to damage the economy and create chaos and, ultimately, to overturn the 30 June Revolution. When they failed in their objectives, the international campaign for human rights came into play, and in a manner intended to divorce the sit-ins from the existential struggle to safeguard the identity, nature and future of the Egyptian state.

A full year has passed since the events of last summer. In spite of our grief over the lives lost during that confrontation, the enormous sacrifices made by the Egyptian police and army to rescue the country should be judged on the basis of two criteria. The first is quantitative. By April of this year, 475 police and army officers and conscripts had lost their lives and dozens more have been killed since then.

The second is in terms of developments elsewhere in the region that show us the picture of Egypt’s future if the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies had won this existential conflict. The images from Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine graphically illustrate the heights of violence, barbarism and bloodthirstiness that political movements in religious guise can attain. This was another factor the HRW report overlooked, as though all the burnt down churches, road obstructions, soldiers killed in ambushes and bombed buildings were not sufficient to understand the nature of the political and moral battle that Egypt experienced, and that continues to rage throughout the region in various forms.

The human rights organisation that produced this report is either staffed by some very naïve people or by a special breed of liberals who tacitly approve the slaughtering of men, the raping of women and the expulsion of those from minority faiths.

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