Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri
Palestinian faction Hamas on Saturday denounced as “shocking” an Egyptian court decision to designate the movement a “terrorist organisation”.”Labeling Hamas as a terrorist organisation is a dangerous decision that represents a shift in Egyptian-Palestinian relations,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Anadolu Agency.
“Unfortunately, the situation has been turned upside down: Israel the enemy has become a friend of Egypt while Hamas – which is an integral part of the Palestinian people – has become a terrorist,” Abu Zuhri said.
The spokesman, however, said that Hamas will not be affected by the Egyptian court verdict as it came to “export Egypt’s domestic problems.”
Earlier Saturday, an Egyptian court designated Hamas as a “terrorist” group over claims that the group had carried out terrorist attacks in Egypt through tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip.
In March 2014, the same court outlawed Hamas’ activities in Egypt and confiscated its offices.
The court had said that the ban would be temporary until another court – which is trying ousted President Mohamed Morsi for alleged “collaboration” with Hamas to carry out “hostile” acts in Egypt – delivers its final verdict.
Last month, the same court declared the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, a terrorist organisation.
A number of Hamas members have been among the defendants in two trials that Morsi – a Muslim Brotherhood leader – currently faces for alleged espionage and jailbreak.
Egypt’s media has blamed Hamas, an ideological offshoot of the Brotherhood, for a series of deadly attacks on security forces since Morsi’s ouster. Hamas has consistently denied the allegations.
A regime bereft of legitimacy, save for its promise to guarantee national security, turns citizens into active players in a new culture of surveillance and reporting.
During his recent visit to Cairo in November 2014, Alain Gresh, former editor- in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, met with a couple of Egyptian acquaintances (a journalist and a student) in a downtown Cairo café. During their chat, which unsurprisingly involved Egyptian politics, a middle-class Egyptian woman at the next table became highly alarmed by the exchange. Her anxiety did not stop at shouting at the journalists, accusing them of conspiring to destroy Egypt, but extended to actually calling upon the security personnel guarding the nearby British Embassy to investigate the said conspiracy. The sad saga, which lasted for a few hours, ended with embarrassment for the Egyptian authorities and an apology to the French journalist.
Despite the Kafkaesque tone of the event, the ‘concerned citizen’ had actually behaved in the only logical way expected of her after a relentless, year-long campaign by the regime and dominant pro-regime media to create a state of mass hysteria regarding Egypt’s security. Since the military takeover of 2013, a public discourse has evolved churning out incessant accounts in which enemies of the Egyptian state and its people, external and internal, known and unknown, human and otherwise, are constantly conspiring to plot against the country and target its security as well as the health of its national economy. Against a rich tapestry of intrigue and terrorist discourse, the security apparatus has emerged, in this narrative, as the only national saviour capable of protecting the country from complete chaos. In fact, the legitimacy of the Sisi regime continues to derive largely from his promise to rid the country of terrorists and to restore security and order. In this regard, he makes grateful use of actual violent attacks against military and other targets especially in Sinai.
However, restoring a sense of trust in the police after the 2011 uprising remains unimaginable for the time being. After all, the 25 January uprising was in many ways a revolt against police brutality and the role of security institutions in reproducing Mubarak’s authoritarian neoliberal order and protecting its elite.
Contrary to mainstream accounts of the 25 January uprising as a peaceful episode led by middle-class, technology-savvy youth, the 18 days uprising saw heavy violence by protesters directed mainly against police targets. During the first days of the uprising, almost 100 police stations were set on fire, many detention cells opened to release detainees and police cars torched. To revamp the image of the police and its tarnished standing for the majority of citizens, an atmosphere of panic in which the police is presented as the only guarantor against total chaos is employed as a strategy. All the same, succeeding in this strategy has been no small feat especially against the backdrop of a shocking series of acquittals of all police officers of any charges of killing thousands of protesters since the January uprising. The regime’s objective of elevating the police image to that of national protector has required the spinning of a web of laws, of deepening layers of surveillance into areas of the everyday lives of citizens and, more importantly, enlisting citizens as participants in an omnipresent police regime.
Criminalising the everyday
During 2014, and in the absence of a functioning Parliament, two consecutive presidents, Adly Mansour and Sisi, decreed 140 new laws between them. The laws either criminalised new areas or made the penalties for already defined criminal activities more severe. This legal arsenal has resulted in criminalising many everyday activities and turning the mundane into the subversive in the public’s mind. The 140 new laws cover areas as varied as civil society organisations receiving foreign funding, practising politics inside university campuses and insulting the national flag. The last instance, embodied in the presidential law 41 of 2014, criminalised any form of insult to the national flag or national anthem which is punishable by a prison sentence of no more than one year and a 30,000 EGP fine. In a bid to comply with the law, the Ministry of Education decided that the same punishment will apply to school pupils whose behaviour in morning assembly could be perceived as ‘insulting’ the Egyptian flag. This could simply be the act of moving or passing in front of the flag while it is being saluted in morning assembly. The responsibility for surveillance and reporting of miscreant pupils is left to fellow-pupils, teachers and school management.
Turning citizens against each other and fuelling existing tensions between competing groups in order to create a ‘culture of informing against fellow citizens’ reached high levels in 2014. One example stands out. After repeated failures to clear Cairo’s city centre of street vendors, despite the use of violence, increased fines and prison sentences, especially since 2012, the Cairo governorate issued a shrewd decree. The decree went beyond pursuing street vendors to targeting fellow citizens who could now be punished for not reporting the offending vendors. The decree punishes, by closure and licence confiscation, any shop owner who allows street vendors to set up their stalls in the immediate vicinity of their shop. Sure enough, the new decree led to a wave of clashes between street vendors and shop owners who had long resented their presence and regarded them as unwanted competition. Many shop owners were only too happy to report the vendors, especially when egged on by the fear of losing their licences.
In a similar spirit of this informing against other, the Ministry of Transport has recently launched the campaign ‘Long live Egypt-Security is our collective responsibility’, encouraging conscientious citizens to report any suspicious behaviour of fellow commuters through a number of hotlines. The reward for reporting is an annual free transport subscription.
Layers of policing
Implementing the myriad new laws and providing surveillance for new areas of criminality has inevitably required an increase in the police force, its budget and its mandate. Already under Mubarak, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) employed 1.7 million individuals in 2009, including 850,000 police personnel and administrative staff, 450,000 Central Security Forces (CFS) personnel, and 400,000 individuals as part of the State Security Investigation Services (SSIS). In addition to formal forces and in order to support the needs of an ever-expanding regime of terror, the MOI started to ‘outsource’ its most ‘dirty’ business to baltagya (thugs). Baltagya are criminals, known to the police, usually with a record of violence, who are paid to carry out duties of ‘disciplining’ members of the public in return for the police turning a blind eye to their criminal activities.
The baltagya’s job description expanded to include voter intimidation, beating up, raping and sexually abusing criminal suspects and political activists, breaking up demonstrations and workers’ strikes, forcibly removing farmers from their land and much more. With the increasing dispossession and impoverishment of more groups in society due to intensive marketisation, Mubarak’s regime became heavily reliant on the police. Since the 1990s, therefore, the MOI budget has consistently increased its share of general expenditure, exceeding those of education and health combined. Since the 25 January uprising, the trend has continued and the budget of the MOI has increased further.
To meet the growing demand for personnel, Egypt’s Police Academy admitted 1850 students for the new academic year in July 2014. The successful candidates, accepted on the basis of lower academic achievements compared to previous years, constituted the largest class intake in the history of the academy. In a press conference held by MOI to mark the occasion, Ahmad Gad, assistant to the minister, quoted the inspiring role of the police force during the June 30th ‘revolution’ to a new generation of youth as the main factor for the rush of young people to join the academy. On the same occasion, it was also announced that new screening procedures had been put in place to exclude from admission any students who belonged to the banned Muslim Brothers (MB) organisation. Around the same time, 75 existing students were being investigated, and facing the prospect of expulsion, in an effort to purge the academy and the police force of any MB elements.
A larger, more tightly-vetted group of police graduates will come in handy to serve the proliferation of new police units. In July 2014, the MOI also reintroduced the traditional system of darak, which was abolished in 1952 in favour of more modern forms of policing. The traditional darak consisted of a single, low-ranking police officer who would patrol the streets to provide surveillance. The reinstated system will now consist of mobile units of three security officers working together. These include one officer armed with a pistol and two conscripts armed with batons. The role of the darak is one of surveillance and reporting. The unit will patrol the streets and report any suspicious behaviour to the closest police station, thus creating a better network of informing and surveillance. The plan is for this new system to be introduced in the two middle-class areas of Zamalek and Qasr El Nil (downtown Cairo) as a first step in a wider national plan.
The MOI has also been recruiting beyond graduates of the academy. In October 2014, the legislative section of the state council approved a draft law establishing community police, a new branch envisaged to involve a larger section of citizens in policing society. This new branch will hire both men and women in the age group between 18 and 22 who hold the minimum qualification of a middle school degree. They will be granted the power of arrest. The new community police units will work on ‘aiding the police in facing crime, enhancing a sense of security among citizens and [more importantly]… creating a culture of security’.
An inflated police force is not unique to Egypt. With the rise of neoliberal capitalism and its strategies of ‘accumulation by dispossession’, many regimes, including those in the ‘democratic’ west, have increased investment in policing and surveillance, especially targeting particular localities and populations; namely the poor, the unemployed, migrants and blacks Different policies such as the infamous ‘stop and search’, the ‘Injunctions for the Prevention of Nuisance and Annoyance’ in the UK and the ‘Prohibited Behaviour Order’ in the State of Western Australia have created a ‘culture of reporting’ and often given increasing discretionary powers to the police.
However, what is peculiar to Egypt is the total sense of impunity that the police has long enjoyed. This impunity, along with the increasing resources and extended mandate discussed above, is set to continue into the foreseeable future as the police serves the current regime in one crucial way. A regime bereft of any source of legitimacy, save for its promise of guaranteeing security to the nation, stops at nothing to inflate a discourse of national security around which to rally an otherwise disgruntled citizenry. Central to cementing this security discourse is the enlisting of large sectors of the population into becoming active players in the surveillance and reporting of society. Perhaps the recent call by the Chairman of the Journalists Syndicate on journalists to report any colleagues ‘proven to have incited against the army and police’ is a taste of what is yet to come.
Egyptian prosecutors referred 271 people to a military court on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and attacking court buildings in central Egypt two years ago.
The defendants were charged with ransacking and torching a court building, as well as a prosecution office in the city of Malawi in the Minya province, in August of 2013.
The attack on Malawi’s official buildings happened following the dispersal of two major protest camps staged by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Mursi in Cairo and Giza, during which police and security forces killed more than 1,400 people.
Egyptian prosecutors are legally permitted to refer cases to the military prosecution in cases involving charges of vandalizing government property.
In October of last year, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a law that allows the referral of violations against state institutions to military courts.
The move was widely criticized by local and international rights organizations, which voiced fear that defendants would not receive fair trials before military courts.
In recent days, prosecutors referred 570 people to military trials on similar charges.
After Sisi’s rise to power, more than 15,000 Mursi supporters were imprisoned, while scores have been sentenced to death after speedy trials which the United Nations has denounced as “unprecedented in recent history.”
Mursi and many top leaders of his now-banned Muslim Brotherhood are themselves in jail and on trial in cases in which they face the death penalty if convicted.
Besides Islamists, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following a ban on unlicensed protests.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a new law on terrorism, announced in the official Gazette on Tuesday morning.
The law’s 10 articles focus on defining terrorist entities, listing such groups and bodies, and stipulating legal processes for appealing these lists.
The law has been widely criticized since it was first drafted, with some claiming it restricts civil liberties.
Article one of the law defines terrorist entities as: “any association, organization, group or gang that attempts to, aims to, or calls for destabilizing public order; endangers the wellbeing or safety of society; harms individuals or terrorizes them, or endangers their lives or freedoms or rights or safety; endangers social unity; harms the environment or natural resources or monuments or communications or transportation or funds or buildings or public or private property, or occupies them; obstructs the work of public authorities or the judiciary or government entities or local municipalities or houses of worship or hospitals or scientific institutions or diplomatic missions or international organizations; blocks public or private transportation, or roads; harms national unity or threatens national peace; obstructs the implementation of the constitution or laws or bylaws; uses violence or power or threats or acts of terrorism to achieve any of its goals.”
The second article gives the prosecution the right to draw up lists of identified terrorist entities, including groups that are officially ruled as terrorist organizations. The prosecution will also be tasked with generating lists of “terrorists” found guilty of organizing identified terrorist groups.
The law stipulates that organizations designated as terrorist entities must remain on such lists for three weeks, and if no judicial order is issued to confirm the nature of these organizations, the prosecution retains the right to extend the period for further investigation.
Penalties against designated terrorist entities can include dissolving the organization, suspending its activities, shutting down its headquarters, banning meetings held by its members, halting funding to the organization directly or indirectly, freezing assets owned by the organization or its leaders, banning membership to, or promotion of, the group, and temporarily banning the group from political participation.
Mohamed Zaree, Egypt program manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) told Mada Masr previously that the law broadens the definition of a terrorist act to such an extent that it could encompass “crimes and even legal activities that do not relate to terrorism, including terms which are difficult to define legally, such as ‘severely undermining public order,’ ‘subjecting the safety, interest, or security of society to danger,’ ‘disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities,’ ‘subjecting the lives, rights, or freedoms of citizens to danger,’ ‘preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work,’ and ‘[carrying out] acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law’.”
Given this broad definition, political groups, activists and civil society organizations could potentially be targeted under the law, he warned.
“It is clear that the principle aim of this bill in its current form is not to counter terrorism, but rather to restrict such groups, movements, and organizations from existing. This provision could easily be interpreted to punish individuals or organizations which call for constitutional or legal reforms, even if done peacefully,” Zaree claimed.
The Cairo Criminal Court overturned prison sentences which had been issued against the Mubarak-era Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy and other petroleum officials on Saturday, clearing them of any criminal charges pertaining to the massive losses incurred in the course of Egypt’s natural gas exports to Israel.
Fahmy had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2012 on charges of misappropriation and squandering public funds. The court had also ruled that he should be dismissed from all his professional duties. Mubarak’s associate, the fugitive business tycoon Hussein Salem, had also been sentenced to 15 years in absentia on the same charges. Three of their co-defendants had also been issued prison sentences ranging from three years to 15 years imprisonment.
According to state-owned media outlets and news agencies, Saturday’s court-ordered acquittals did not include Hussein Salem.
Fahmy had served as Mubarak’s petroleum minister from 1999 to 2011. He was also a member of Mubarak’s then-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as a member of the NDP’s policy secretariat.
During his tenure as petroleum minister, Fahmy had overseen the sale and export of natural gas to Israel since 2005. The sale of its natural gas to Israel for well below its market value meant that Egypt was incurring hefty losses, along with dwindling national supplies, in the course of this gas export deal.
While the exact extent of losses through this deal are not known, it is estimated that Egypt accumulated several hundred million dollars worth of losses in the six years that it exported its gas to Israel, and perhaps several billions more in light of other sub-market priced deals with Spain and Jordan.
Following dwindling national supplies, and repeated attacks on its natural gas pipeline to Israel, Egypt halted its gas exports to Israel in 2012.
With its subsequent chronic shortage of natural gas supplies, Egypt has recently been considering and discussing the import of natural gas from Algeria, Russia, Cyprus, and potentially even Israel.
Voices censored by the Israeli army for nearly 50 years can finally be heard in a powerful documentary that recently premiered in the Sundance Film Festival.
After an initial introduction “Censored Voices” leads into grainy footage showing the triumphant return of Israeli soldiers from the 1967 war. The streets are lined with people celebrating- Israel had just won the war. Fighting against the forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the odds had seemed stacked against the young nation however, after just 6 days, Israel proclaimed victory tripling the area under their control. The soldiers were returning as heroes.
Weeks after the war ended, Avraham Shapira and Amos Oz travelled from kibbutz to kibbutz with a borrowed reel-to-reel tape recorder. They asked the returned soldiers to recount their emotions. They wanted to, in the words of Oz, “try to explain the fact that we’ve all encountered, that people did not come back happy from this war. There is a sense of sadness that the newspapers don’t address.” But when they moved to publish what they had gathered, the Israeli government censored 70 percent of the material. Shapira published the remaining 30 percent in his book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.”
Years on, filmmaker Mor Loushy convinced Shapira to give her access to the tapes. She traced some of the voices they recorded and asked the men behind them to take part in the documentary. We listen as these men, now almost 50 years older, hear the recordings for the first time and the past erupts into the present.
“Several times we captured guys, positioned them and just killed them,” one veteran recalls. Another says: “I was amazed at the calmness with which I was shooting… it was like at an amusement park.” One returning soldier tells of a time he killed an Egyptian soldier, and when gathering up the man’s papers finds a picture of his children- only then does it seem he registers this man as a human being.
After the war ends, the brutality does not stop. They recount orders to shoot Egyptian soldiers even after the ceasefire had begun, the callous killing of Syrian men, now refugees, yards away from their wives and children and a 70 year old Palestinian man forced to carry his lifetime’s belongings on his back- scenes that echo those of the Holocaust. Watching the elderly man take one last look at his house and weep, one of the soldiers says: “I had an abysmal feeling I was evil, a despicable person and nothing can make that feeling go away.”
The documentary takes an unflinching look at Israeli atrocities during a point in history that has been enshrined as a moment of victory within the Israeli psyche. The men today are mostly disillusioned with the Israeli state and the brand of Zionism it represents. Some say they have given up on peace or humanity, but they do not seem to be anti-Zionism or anti-Israel. It is much more of an anti-war documentary. As one of the few honest accounts of what happened in 1967 through the eyes of those who were part of it, it has great value. As Israel continues to conscript its youth into war, the tales they tell will mirror that of their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Towards the end of the documentary one soldier ponders on the future of Israel; “Are we destined to bomb villages every decade for defence purposes?” In 1967, he was tragically close to the truth.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri
Palestinian faction Hamas on Saturday denied reports of militants crossing into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from the Gaza Strip.
“There haven’t been any militants crossing [into Egypt from Gaza], especially after the destruction of all underground tunnels and the deployment of [Egyptian and Palestinian] security forces on border,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.
Abu Zuhri called on Arab parties to shoulder their responsibility in standing against any form of “slander and incitement” against the Palestinian people.
He also went on to appeal to scholars and intellectuals to organize a major media campaign to expose what he described as “pro-Israel media”.
On Friday, the United Arab Emirates-based Sky News Arabia reported that the Egyptian army raised the alert level in the country’s eastern Sinai Peninsula following reports that militants from self-styled “Army of Islam” group crossed into Egypt from Gaza.
The Egyptian army has not commented on the report.
Last month, an Egyptian court declared the military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a “terrorist organisation.”
Abu Zuhri had described the court verdict as “politically-motivated”, and reiterated that his movement does not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.
The Egyptian authorities have confiscated the assets of 30 members of the revolutionary council; an opposition coalition founded by members living in exile.
Mohammed Yasser Abu El-Fotouh, the secretary-general of the government panel tasked with managing the Muslim Brotherhood’s seized funds, said yesterday that the committee headed by first assistant justice minister, Ezzat Khamis, decided to confiscate all the funds and property belonging to the 30 members of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council.
Reuters quoted a source in the committee as saying that “the revolutionary council’s members met in Turkey three months ago mainly with members of the Muslim Brotherhood international organisation with the aim of supporting the group”.
The same source added that the list of members whose assets will be confiscated include, advisor, Walid Sharabi, a spokesman for the judges for Egypt movement, Amr Darraj, and journalist Ayat Orabi, advisor Imad Abuhashim, as well as Osama Rushdie, Ali Khalifa, Maha Azzam and others.
The committee announced on January 22 that it had confiscated the assets of more than 1,000 charities and 532 companies, and dozens of schools owned by members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, only one day after the issuance of a court ruling invalidating the decisions to withhold the money.
In August last year, Egyptian politicians, academics and intellectuals representing different spectrums of the political forces which oppose the current authorities in Egypt launched the Egyptian Revolutionary Council in Istanbul, to be “an entity that represents Egyptians abroad who maintain the principles of the January 25 2011 Revolution”.
The council expressed concern two days ago over the sale of French Rafale fighter jets to Egypt, saying the country does not need the fighter jets at this time and does not have the financial capacity to pay for them.
The council said in a statement that it had sent a message to the French president and the French Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs stressing it rejection of the deal specially “since the current regime does not represent the Egyptian people” and explaining that “this agreement will not be financially or politically binding for the Egyptian people after the coup falls”.
The committee chairman, Ezzat Khamis said in previous statements that the committee has confiscated the assets of 901 members and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood while lifted the confiscation orders for five members” adding that “the committee considers the confiscation of assets for 166 new people.
Khamis declined to disclose the confiscated assets total value citing “confidentiality”.
Mahmoud Abou Zaid, a freelance photojournalist who was arbitrarily detained during the dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya protest last August, released an open letter via Facebook condemning his arrest and continued detainment, on Saturday.
In the letter published by the official campaigners for his freedom, Abou Zaid known professionally as Shawkwan, condemned his long detainment stating, “I have reached day 550 of “temporary” imprisonment. It is an imprisonment that has no color, taste, shape or even a scent. It is senseless!”
He also pointed to hypocrisy of the Egyptian government’s treatment of Egyptian journalists as opposed to foreign ones. “I will send my condolences to myself and to all my fellow Egyptian journalists who don’t own another passport or have a big organization to stand with them,” he wrote referencing the recent release of Australian journalist Peter Greste,“I am an Egyptian. My quarrel with my country is simply that I am an Egyptian, an Egyptian journalist.”
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree in November allowing for the deportation of foreign nationals currently detained in Egyptian prisons. The decree led to Greste’s release in early February and his Egyptian-Canadian colleague Mohamed Fahmy renounced his Egyptian citizenship in anticipation of his release. However, fellow Al-Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed, who has been jailed for more than 400 days, is solely an Egyptian citizen and his fate remains uncertain.
Shawkan and Mohamed are only two of the many journalists currently detained, however their exact number is debated by researchers and rights organizations.
In December Ahmad Atwan, a journalist at the Brotherhood-affiliated Misr Alan news channel, released a list of the names of 74 journalists that, according to Atwan, are currently detained on charges relating to their profession. However the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asserts there are only 11 journalists currently in prison, while the Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI) states that 60 journalists are in custody.
The Journalists Syndicate legal consultant Sayed Abou Zeid stated to Mada Masr that they also will soon be releasing a report documenting the number of detained journalist, but did not give any further details.
Shaimaa Aboul Khier, a former researcher at CJP and current coordinator of Shawkan’s campaign, told Mada Masr that the numbers dispute revolves around the conditions under which journalists were arrested.
“We are listening to contradictory numbers, and here we have to differentiate between journalists who were arrested while covering events, and those who were participating in these political events. This line is not clear with most of these calculations,” she explained.
For Khier, there is a difference between investigating crackdown on the right of free speech and association, and specific targeting of journalists. “Were those arrested reporting at the time of arrest, or chanting in the march, for example. It is very difficult to determine that,” she explained. “Some people are said to be journalists just because they were holding a camera. Not everyone who holds a camera is a journalist, it is a very important distinction that no one is paying attention to.”
Mada Masr did a random check of the names included on Atwan’s list and found out that many of those listed were journalists, but their arrests were not due to journalism. For example Emad Abo Zeid, who works for al-Ahram Gate in Beni Suef, was arrested from his home while he was sitting with three al-Azhar sheikhs and faces terrorism and violence charges.
Gamal Eid, a rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI,) explained to Mada Masr that the network gathered a list of 60 imprisoned journalists who were arrested either while reporting or due to reasons related to their profession.
“For example, our list includes chief editor of al-Shaab newspaper Magdy Hussien who was jailed for his journalistic position not due to his affiliation with the Brotherhood’s legitimacy alliance,” he explained. However, Eid said the list does not include journalists who were arrested due to their political activity; for example Magdy Qorqor, the former spokesperson of the outlawed legitimacy alliance.
Eid added that most journalists are detained pending investigations, although there are a few currently serving prison sentences.
The disclosure that convicted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui has identified leading members of the Saudi government as financers of the terrorist network potentially reshapes how Americans will perceive events in the Middle East and creates a risk for Israel’s Likud government which has forged an unlikely alliance with some of these same Saudis.
According to a story in the New York Times on Wednesday, Moussaoui said in a prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of the group’s donors and that the list included Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar bin Sultan, longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many leading clerics.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the United States, meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas. (White House photo)
“Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money,” Moussaoui said in imperfect English — “who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad.”
Although Moussaoui’s credibility came under immediate attack from the Saudi kingdom, his assertions mesh with accounts from members of the U.S. Congress who have seen a secret portion of the 9/11 report that addresses alleged Saudi support for al-Qaeda.
Further complicating the predicament for Saudi Arabia is that, more recently, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms have been identified as backers of Sunni militants fighting in Syria to overthrow the largely secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The major rebel force benefiting from this support is al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
In other words, the Saudis appear to have continued a covert relationship with al-Qaeda-connected jihadists to the present day.
The Israeli Exposure
And, like the Saudis, the Israelis have sided with the Sunni militants in Syria because the Israelis share the Saudi view that Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” – reaching from Tehran and Baghdad to Damascus and Beirut – is the greatest threat to their interests in the Middle East.
That shared concern has pushed Israel and Saudi Arabia into a de facto alliance, though the collaboration between Jerusalem and Riyadh has been mostly kept out of the public eye. Still, it has occasionally peeked out from under the covers as the two governments deploy their complementary assets – Saudi oil and money and Israeli political and media clout – in areas where they have mutual interests.
In recent years, these historic enemies have cooperated in their joint disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (which was overthrown in 2013), in seeking the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria, and in pressing for a more hostile U.S. posture toward Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia also have collaborated in efforts to put the squeeze on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is deemed a key supporter of both Iran and Syria. The Saudis have used their power over oil production to drive down prices and hurt Russia’s economy, while U.S. neoconservatives – who share Israel’s geopolitical world view – were at the forefront of the coup that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
The behind-the-scenes Israeli-Saudi alliance has put the two governments – uncomfortably at times – on the side of Sunni jihadists battling Shiite influence in Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq. On Jan. 18, 2015, for instance, Israel attacked Lebanese-Iranian advisers assisting Assad’s government in Syria, killing several members of Hezbollah and an Iranian general. These military advisors were engaged in operations against al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Meanwhile, Israel has refrained from attacking Nusra Front militants who have seized Syrian territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. One source familiar with U.S. intelligence information on Syria told me that Israel has a “non-aggression pact” with these Nusra forces.
An Odd Alliance
Israel’s odd-couple alliances with Sunni interests have evolved over the past several years, as Israel and Saudi Arabia emerged as strange bedfellows in the geopolitical struggle against Shiite-ruled Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. In Syria, for instance, senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail in the civil war rather than Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam.
In September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
And, in June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
Skepticism and Doubt
In August 2013, when I first reported on the growing relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia in an article entitled “The Saudi-Israeli Superpower,” the story was met with much skepticism. But, increasingly, this secret alliance has gone public.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted at it in his United Nations General Assembly speech, which was largely devoted to excoriating Iran over its nuclear program and threatening a unilateral Israeli military strike.
Amid the bellicosity, Netanyahu dropped in a largely missed clue about the evolving power relationships in the Middle East, saying: “The dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”
The next day, Israel’s Channel 2 TV news reported that senior Israeli security officials had met with a high-level Gulf state counterpart in Jerusalem, believed to be Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States who was then head of Saudi intelligence.
The reality of this unlikely alliance has now even reached the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Time magazine correspondent Joe Klein described the new coziness in an article in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue.
He wrote: “On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia – Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal – sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.
“They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and ‘don’t want to fight Israel anymore.’”
Though Klein detected only the bright side of this détente, there was a dark side as well, as referenced in Moussaoui’s deposition, which identified Prince Turki as one of al-Qaeda’s backers. Perhaps even more unsettling was his listing of Prince Bandar, who had long presented himself as a U.S. friend, so close to the Bush Family that he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.”
Moussaoui claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, at a time when Bandar was the ambassador to the United States.
According to the New York Times article by Scott Shane, Moussaoui said he was assigned to “find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” but that he was arrested on Aug. 16, 2001, before he could carry out the reconnaissance mission.
The thought of anyone in the Saudi embassy, then under the control of “Bandar Bush,” scheming with al-Qaeda to shoot down George W. Bush’s Air Force One is shocking, if true. The notion would have been considered unthinkable even after the 9/11 attacks, which involved 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers.
After those terror attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans, Bandar went to the White House and persuaded Bush to arrange for the rapid extraction of bin Laden’s family members and other Saudis in the United States. Bush agreed to help get those Saudi nationals out on the first flights allowed back into the air.
Bandar’s intervention undercut the FBI’s chance to learn more about the ties between Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 perpetrators by giving FBI agents only time for cursory interviews with the departing Saudis.
Bandar himself was close to the bin Laden family and acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the jihad project in Afghanistan during the 1980s. “I was not impressed, to be honest with you,” Bandar told CNN’s Larry King about bin Laden. “I thought he was simple and very quiet guy.”
The Saudi government claimed to have broken ties with bin Laden in the early 1990s when he began targeting the United States because President George H.W. Bush had stationed U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, but – if Moussaoui is telling the truth – al-Qaeda would have still counted Bandar among its supporters in the late 1990s.
Bandar and Putin
Bandar’s possible links to Sunni terrorism also emerged in 2013 during a confrontation between Bandar and Putin over what Putin viewed as Bandar’s crude threat to unleash Chechen terrorists against the Sochi Winter Olympics if Putin did not reduce his support for the Syrian government.
According to a leaked diplomatic account of a July 31, 2013 meeting in Moscow, Bandar informed Putin that Saudi Arabia had strong influence over Chechen extremists who had carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Russian targets and who had since deployed to join the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.
As Bandar called for a Russian shift toward the Saudi position on Syria, he reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on the Olympics. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”
Putin responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.”
Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games – a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” – failed to intimidate Putin, who continued to support Assad.
Less than a month later, an incident in Syria almost forced President Barack Obama’s hand in launching U.S. air strikes against Assad’s military, which would have possibly opened the path for the Nusra Front or the Islamic State to capture Damascus and take control of Syria. On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious sarin attack outside Damascus killed hundreds and, in the U.S. media, the incident was immediately blamed on the Assad regime.
American neocons and their allied “liberal interventionists” demanded that Obama launch retaliatory air strikes even though some U.S. intelligence analysts doubted that Assad’s forces were responsible and suspected that the attack was carried out by extremist rebels trying to pull the U.S. military into the civil war on their side.
Yet, pushed by the neocons and liberal war hawks, Obama nearly ordered a bombing campaign designed to “degrade” the Syrian military but called it off at the last minute. He then accepted Putin’s help in reaching a diplomatic solution in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while still denying any role in the sarin attack.
Later, the Assad-did-it case crumbled amid new evidence that Sunni extremists, supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were the more likely perpetrators of the attack, a scenario that became increasingly persuasive as Americans learned more about the cruelty and ruthlessness of many Sunni jihadists fighting in Syria. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]
Putin’s cooperation with Obama to head off a U.S. military strike in Syria made the Russian president more of a target for the American neocons who thought they finally had reached the cusp of their long-desired “regime change” in Syria only to be blocked by Putin. By late September 2013, a leading neocon, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, announced the goal of challenging Putin and recognizing his sore point in Ukraine.
Taking to the Washington Post’s op-ed page on Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important step toward ultimately ousting Putin. Gershman wrote, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.“]
However, in early 2014, Putin was obsessed with Bandar’s implicit threat of terrorism striking the Sochi Olympics, thus distracting him from the “regime change” – being pushed by NED and neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland – next door in Ukraine.
On Feb. 22, 2014, putschists, spearheaded by well-organized neo-Nazi militias, drove elected President Viktor Yanukovych and his government from power. Putin was caught off-guard and, in the resulting political chaos, agreed to requests from Crimean officials and voters to accept Crimea back into Russia, thus exploding his cooperative relationship with Obama.
With Putin the new pariah in Official Washington, the neocon hand also was strengthened in the Middle East where renewed pressure could be put on the “Shiite crescent” in Syria and Iran. However, in summer 2014, the Islamic State, which had splintered off from al-Qaeda and its Nusra Front, went on a rampage, invading Iraq where captured soldiers were beheaded. The Islamic State then engaged in gruesome videotaped decapitations of Western hostages inside Syria.
The Islamic State’s brutality and the threat it posed to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-dominated government of Iraq changed the political calculus. Obama felt compelled to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in both Iraq and Syria. American neocons tried to convince Obama to expand the Syrian strikes to hit Assad’s forces, too, but Obama realized such a plan would only benefit the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
In effect, the neocons were showing their hand – much as Israeli Ambassador Oren had done – favoring the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda over Assad’s secular regime because it was allied with Iran. Now, with Moussaoui’s deposition identifying senior Saudi officials as patrons of al-Qaeda, another veil seems to have dropped.
Complicating matters further, Moussaoui also claimed that he passed letters between Osama bin Laden and then Crown Prince Salman, who recently became king upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.
But Moussaoui’s disclosure perhaps cast the most unflattering light on Bandar, the erstwhile confidant of the Bush Family who — if Moussaoui is right — may have been playing a sinister double game.
Also facing potentially embarrassing questions is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially if he goes through with his planned speech before a joint session of Congress next month, attacking Obama for being soft on Iran.
And, America’s neocons might have some explaining to do about why they have carried water not just for the Israelis but for Israel’s de facto allies in Saudi Arabia.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Leading Egyptian opposition campaigner Ahmed Douma
An Egyptian court sentenced prominent activist Ahmed Douma along with 229 other anti-Mubarak activists to life in prison on Wednesday after the court held hearings for 269 people connected to “the cabinet headquarters events” of December 2011, judicial sources said.
Douma and 268 others were accused of staging “riots” outside central Cairo’s cabinet headquarters and assaulting policemen during a sit-in back in December 2011 against a decision by Egypt’s then-ruling military council to appoint as prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, who had served in this position under ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In addition to “rioting,” the activists were accused of possessing white arms like knives, attacking police officers and armed forces, burning the al-Majmaa al-Alami and attacking other government buildings including the cabinet headquarters.
Thirty-nine other defendants, all minors, were sentenced to 10 years in prison. All 269 defendants were found guilty of taking part in clashes with security forces near Cairo’s Tahrir Square in December 2011, the sources said.
In April, Douma along with two other prominent activists, were sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a 10,000 Egyptian pound (around $1,300) fine. The fine was raised on Wednesday to 17 million Egyptian pounds (around $2 million).
In December an Egyptian court dismissed charges against Mubarak for ordering security forces to kill protesters during the 2011 uprising.
That verdict, and others handed down to Mubarak-era figures, has led some to conclude that the old regime that existed before the uprising has been reestablished under a different name.
Wednesday’s ruling, which can be appealed, is the harshest court order delivered so far against non-Islamist activists, amid a government crackdown on dissent overseen by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Authorities banned the Muslim Brotherhood following Mursi’s ouster and launched a heavy crackdown on its members, leaving at least 1,400 dead and 15,000 jailed, including hundreds sentenced to death for allegedly taking part in deadly riots in August 2013.
Egypt was brought in November in front of the UN’s top human rights body for a litany of rights abuses, including its crackdown, mass arrests and unfair trials targeting Mursi supporters, journalists and activists, described as “unprecedented in recent history.”
Besides the heavy crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following the recent ban on unlicensed protests.
Critics accuse Sisi of taking Egypt back to authoritarian rule. Sisi says he is committed to democracy in Egypt, a strategic US ally with influence across the Arab world.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)
An Egyptian court on Saturday banned the armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and listed it as a terrorist organization.
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood which the Egyptian authorities have also declared a terrorist group and have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohammed Mursi, from the presidency in 2013.
“The court ruled to ban the Qassam Brigades and to list it as a terrorist group,” said the judge of the special Cairo court which deals with urgent cases.
Egypt had previously banned Hamas from operating in Egypt.
Egyptian officials claim weapons are smuggled from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into Egypt, where they end up with militant groups fighting to topple the Western-backed Cairo government.
Islamist militants based in Egypt’s Sinai region, which has a border with Gaza, have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since Mursi’s political demise. The insurgency has spread to other parts of Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
Hamas on Saturday dismissed Egyptian media accusations for the group of standing behind deadly attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Neither Hamas nor the Gaza Strip have anything to do with what happened in Sinai or any other place in Egypt,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.
Barhoum termed claims by Egyptian media that Hamas was behind the attacks as “an attempt to demonize” the Palestinian group.
“Hamas does not interfere in the affairs of any Arab country, particularly Egypt,” he said.
The Palestinian faction has repeatedly denied accusations that it has carried out attacks in the North African state, saying it cannot act against Egypt’s national security.
Since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rose to power in Egypt in 2013 and was elected president, the country’s relationship with the besieged Gaza Strip has worsened.
In November, Egypt decided to create a one kilometer-deep buffer zone in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with Gaza by clearing more than 800 houses, displacing more than 1,100 families, and destroying and neutralizing hundreds of subterranean tunnels.
Gaza, which has been under a brutal illegal Israeli blockade for almost eight years, relied heavily on smuggling tunnels across the Egyptian border to obtain vital supplies. The only border crossing between Egypt and Gaza has also been routinely closed, leaving many Palestinians stranded or without access to important medical treatment.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has also repeatedly condemned the militant attacks in Egypt and denied any involvement.
However, the Sisi regime has clamped down severely on Mursi supporters. The crackdown has left at least 1,400 people dead and more than 15,000 imprisoned, with hundreds sentenced to death in trials the United Nations described as “unprecedented in recent history.”
(Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)