Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian perspective on Rabaa

The independent Egyptian fact-finding committee report on post-June 2013 violence paints a different, and wholly more accurate, picture of events than Human Rights Watch did, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Over recent months a general global perspective coalesced on events in Egypt from the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013 to the events at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Square on 14 August that year. The viewpoint was shaped by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that claimed to have clarified that period of Egyptian history and reached findings that condemn Egyptian authorities and virtually exonerate the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies of all fault. But now we have the report issued by the Egyptian committee that investigated incidents of violence that occurred from 30 June 2013 until the report was completed. This fact-finding committee was formed in accordance with a decree issued by interim president Adli Mansour, which appointed as its head the International Criminal Court judge (who served during the Bosnia hearings) and professor of law Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad who, in turn, formed a team made up of the best Egyptian minds reputed for integrity.

The findings of this committee differed remarkably from those of the US rights organisation. One of the most important differences was the timeframe for the beginning and end of the violence in question. For HRW, it was from 30 June, the date of the second Egyptian revolution, to the breakup of the Rabaa sit-ins and the immediate aftermath. For the Egyptian fact-finding committee the starting point was Friday, 21 June 2013, when Muslim Brotherhood members and their allies began to assemble in public squares and to issue various threats and menaces. The Egyptian committee also extended the endpoint in two ways: chronologically to the present and in topical scope so as to cover not just the violence connected with Islamist factions, which proliferated and intensified in brutality following the events at Rabaa, but also the rise in politically related violence in general and in specific types of violence such as violence against children and sexual harassment, as well as matters to do with what has become known as the “protest law”.

Another major difference in approach resides in the sources used by HRW and the Egyptian team. While the former relied primarily on testimonies from Muslim Brotherhood members and their friends and allies, and on media sources, the fact-finding committee, although unable to obtain Muslim Brotherhood opinions, availed itself of a considerable array of objective material. Not only did it consult the usual sources, such as reports from the public prosecutor’s office and other investigatory agencies, it also scrutinised autopsy reports, burial permits, concrete criminal evidence and interviews with prisoners.

A third difference related to the purported peacefulness of the pro-Morsi sit-ins and demonstrations. While HRW acknowledged a rare presence of weapons, it concluded that the protests and sit-ins were largely peaceful. The Egyptian fact-finding committee found that the weapons were hardly rare, that they came in various forms, from firearms to explosives and chemical substances, and from Molotov cocktails to knives, and that they were used systematically often from behind screens of unarmed demonstrators.

HRW and the Egyptian committee differed fourthly in their assessment of the behaviour of the demonstrators. The former, ignoring everything that transpired between 21 and 30 June, found that the sit-ins were “peaceful”, the demonstrators calmly voicing their views from the location of the sit-in. Here the committee underscores several points. The demonstrators’ violence actually began on 21 June with the obstruction of communications in the capital and the terrorising of residents in the areas where the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies had assembled.

In view of the different premises, the results of the two reports were different. HRW saw the events at the Republican Guards Palace and elsewhere purely as police and army assaults against innocent demonstrators. The committee established that far from remaining in their sit-in locations, the Muslim Brotherhood and allies embarked on forays outside that area, one of which targeted the Republican Guards Palace which they were fully determined to storm. In spite of repeated cautions, they proceeded with their attack, resulting in two deaths and 14 wounded. Only then did the Armed Forces respond.

The reports differed fifthly in their assessment of what occurred on 14 August 2013. HRW likened Rabaa to China’s Tiananmen Square a quarter of a century ago. Accordingly, its report held that the police had not given protestors sufficient warning and that when it did the warning was not audible. It also held that, when the breakup process began, there was no incremental increase in the use of force. It further claimed that, before this, demonstrators had not been given a sufficient safe exit as a result of which more than a thousand people were killed.

The fact-finding committee sets the record straight, using footage that it had obtained from television stations covering the demonstrations and from human rights organisations that had been present at the time of the breakup. That video testimony confirms that the warning had been issued a number of times over loudspeakers, that non-lethal means were used first, followed by water cannons and tear gas, and that fire arms were only called into play when persons from inside the Rabaa camp, as well as from adjacent rooftops, opened fire against the police.

With regard to the toll that day, the fact-finding committee found that far from HRW’s estimate of 1,000, 363 people were killed at Rabaa and another 88 at Al-Nahda Square. It is still an appalling figure, but it was clearly due to the refusal of a large group of demonstrators at Rabaa to heed police cautions followed by their intensive use of firearms from behind human screens. As for the rest of the demonstrators, they did indeed evacuate the area through the safe corridor provided by the police. In Al-Nahda Square, protestors asked for intervention on the part of the governor of Giza to act as a mediator in securing for them a safe exit. Their request was met and they were evacuated safely from the Faculty of Engineering building in Cairo University. Strangely, no sooner had they left than fire broke out in one of the stories of that building.

Unlike the HRW report, the Egyptian fact-finding committee looked beyond the breakup of the sit-ins to examine the on-going violence perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. Its report thus notes their attacks against courthouses, metro stations, police stations and other public buildings, and their uses of combustibles and various weapons in these attacks. It further notes how the violence spread to the Sinai in the form of a bloodthirsty group that calls itself Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which has extended its carnage beyond Sinai to the Nile Valley and sometimes to the Western Desert.

Another significant difference between HRW and the Egyptian fact-finding committee is that while the former sought to turn international public opinion against Egypt, the committee drew up a set of important recommendations for the Egyptian government, some of a political and others of a legal nature. Also, while the committee held the Muslim Brotherhood politically and criminally responsible for what happened, its report was not lacking in criticism of government authorities and agencies. It held that the police had not received the necessary training that could have reduced the number of casualties. It also criticised the government for its promulgation of the protest law, which the report maintains needs to be amended.

On the whole, the Egyptian fact-finding committee’s report offers a frank, objective and painstaking study that merits attention and esteem.

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