Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mixed reactions

Disputes have erupted in Egypt following the release of the latest Human Rights Watch report, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The US NGO Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report on the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in last year received mixed reactions from Egypt’s political parties and activists this week.

The report, entitled “All According to Plan: The Rabaa Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” was issued last week and blamed state institutions for the high number of deaths during the dispersal, arguing that the incident was a “crime against humanity.”

The security forces dispersed the 45-day sit-in on 14 August 2013. According to HRW, more than 1,000 people were killed. The HRW report was released electronically during a video conference on 12 August, after it was initially intended to be released inside Egypt in a private briefing with diplomats.

The video-conference format was chosen because HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Middle East Director Sara Leah Whitson were denied entry to the country. The decision was justified by the Interior Ministry on the grounds that the delegation had not obtained the proper visas.

The delegation should not have tried to enter the country on tourist visas, it said, since tourism was not the purpose of the visit. The ministry stressed that it had asked HRW to postpone the visit until September, saying that it would be “inappropriate” to hold the visit in August.

 “The organisation’s delegation arrived at Cairo International Airport at the time it set [August] without obtaining the necessary visas. This is consistent with the approach the organisation has always taken, considering itself to be above the law,” the ministry said.

In the 195-page report, the human rights watchdog said that it could confirm the deaths of 817 protesters in the Rabaa sit-in and 1,150 in total in the two months after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July last year. It said there was evidence suggesting that at Rabaa alone over 1,000 people had been killed.

It also stated that the high death toll was the result of the government’s policy “to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds.” It said that the security forces had not provided a safe exit for 12 hours, had opened fire with little or no warning, and had shot into the crowd indiscriminately.

The report follows a one-year investigation in which HRW interviewed over 200 witnesses, including protesters, doctors, independent journalists and residents present during the dispersal. It also analysed video footage and examined statements by government officials.

The State Information Service (SIS) condemned the report on the day of its issue, describing it in a statement as “negative and biased.”

 “The report ignores operations against Egypt at the hands of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group in 2013,” the SIS statement read. The SIS accused HRW of “ignoring” the fact that the first fatality during the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in had been a policeman.

It accused HRW of “highlighting the claims” of the National Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy, a coalition of pro-Morsi political parties and movements headed by the Muslim Brotherhood. It added that the report had come as “no surprise” given HRW’s “well-known approach.”

HRW has suggested that several top officials should be investigated and held accountable for the killing of protesters, among them Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and the then defence minister, now president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Following the release of the report a wave of criticisms were made of HRW by Egyptian political parties and activists. Ahmed Al-Boraei, vice-president of the Al-Dostour Party, said the report was biased and did not present the full picture. Many residents from the areas surrounding the sit-in had been subjected to violence and threats, he said, adding that the report had failed to mention the violence of the Brotherhood, for example in the Bayn Al-Sarayat district where 17 people died.

Alaa Essam, from the leftist Tagammu Party, said the report was “illogical” and argued that it “gives the impression that Egypt is living in an oppressive and violent period, when the opposite is true. The country is now witnessing a period of freedom and peace,” he said.

Organisations of the HRW type are notorious for focusing on government errors in order to incite chaos in third-world countries, he said, and for following the agendas of foreign intelligence agencies.

Human rights activist Mohamed Abdul-Naim, chairman of the National Organisation for Human Rights, described the HRW report as “politicised and biased” in its account of the Rabaa dispersal. He said that the timing of the report was suspect, suggesting that HRW had received funding from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Among other accusations was that the report ignored the vile rhetoric and incitement to violence and sectarianism that had emanated from the sit-ins and failed to cover the destruction of churches that took place as radical Islamist retaliated for the violent dispersal.

During a phone interview with the CBC channel, Nasser Amin, a member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), said the report was “a disgrace to the organisation for being biased and dishonest.” The report had underestimated the presence of arms inside the Rabaa sit-in, neglecting proper human rights standards, he added.

However, Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said that the report had not ignored the weapons in the Rabaa sit-in. “The number of weapons mentioned in the report match the number in the Interior Ministry’s report,” Eid told the Weekly.

Human Rights Watch said it had found evidence of a few instances of protesters firing at the security forces during the Rabaa dispersal, but it did not deem these as justifying what it called “the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.”

After the Rabaa dispersal, the interior minister announced that 15 guns had been found at the site where 85,000 protesters were present at the time, which according to HRW supports the conclusion that the police and army had “gunned down hundreds of unarmed protesters.”

 “Great efforts were made in the preparation of this report. Its credibility is not questioned. However, it is logical for the government to attack the report since it has been found guilty in it. It would be better for the government to deal with the report in order to uncover the truth and not to underestimate the number of civilians killed during the sit-in,” Eid said.

 “I’m not astonished to find a number of activists attack the report in order to curry favour with the state,” he added.

Eid also accused the NCHR of being “complicit” in the state’s actions by attempting to beautify its deeds. “The state did not commission a fair and transparent investigation into the Rabaa dispersal, casting doubt on its criticisms of the HRW report. Even the NCHR report stated that 624 people had been killed during the dispersal, whereas only eight policemen died,” Eid said.

Activist Wael Abbas said that most respected jurists and independent human rights organisations had not questioned the credibility of the report. “Most of the political figures and activists who have accused HRW of being biased earlier praised it when other reports matched their political and ideological backgrounds,” Abbas told the Weekly.

The report had also mentioned the violent attacks by members of the Muslim Brotherhood on churches in Upper Egypt after dispersal of the sit-ins, Abbas said. According to HRW, after the dispersal “crowds of men attacked at least 42 churches, burning or damaging 37, as well as dozens of other Christian religious institutions.”


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