Archive for June, 2015

Why was Egypt’s prosecutor-general assassinated?

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2015/06/30/Why-was-Egypt-s-prosecutor-general-assassinated-.html

On June 29, Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat was killed in a bomb attack that targeted his motorcade. Being the first terrorist attack to target a top Egyptian official since the failed attempt on the life on the interior minister in 2013, the assassination brought back concerns about the growing strength of the attackers and the corresponding weaknesses of the security system.

The attack also brought back to the forefront earlier threats by extremist groups to target the judiciary. Such threats did not prove hollow with the assassination in May of three judges in the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, the Wilayet Sinai (Province of Sinai) militant group, which pledges allegiance to ISIS, posted a video of the assassination of the judges a few hours before Barakat was killed under the title “The liquidation of judges.” The timing of the assassination is also quite revealing since it took place one day before the second anniversary of the June 30 protests that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood that was regarded by the group and its supporters as a military coup. All those links are expected to provide definitive answers to the reasons behind the assassination, but do they?

Pointing the finger of blame

In his article “From al-Khazendar to Hisham Barakat,” political commentator Khaled Ammar holds the Muslim Brotherhood accountable for the assassination and argues that it has been common for the group to target members of the judiciary in retaliation for sentences they issue against them. “It started in 1948 with the assassination of Judge Ahmed al-Khazendar who was at the time in charge of a case about the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the bombing of a movie theatre,” he wrote.

“When arrested, the attackers were found to possess documents that proved their affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood and the first suspect turned out to have been the secretary of the group’s supreme leader Hassan al-Banna.” Ammar added, noting that at the time, Banna denied having known about the assassination plot. Ammar also referred to the failed attempt on the life of Judge Moataz Khafagi who was in charge of the case known as “the guidance bureau incidents,” in which Muslim Brotherhood members were accused of murder and attempted murder as well as to the killing of the three judges in Sinai. While stressing that it is not possible to determine the culprits at the moment, historian and manuscripts professors Emad Abu Ghazi said that the Muslim Brotherhood has had the biggest share of political assassinations in Egypt, especially senior officials. “In addition to Khazendar, they killed Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nokrashi when he decided to disband the group and tried to kill president Gamal Abdel Nasser when he disagreed with them,” Ammar said.

Reports of ousted President Mohammad Mursi allegedly making a slaughtering gesture in the dock at the courtroom right after the attack on Barakat aroused suspicions as to his personal involvement in the assassination. “According to security sources, Mursi will be interrogated about this gesture in order to determine whether it is related to Barakat or not and whether he planned or at least blessed the assassination,” wrote journalist Mahmoud Abdel Radi.

Targeting Barakat

Nagi Shehata, known as the “judge of executions” for the death sentences he issued against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that like other members of the judiciary, Barakat was targeted because of his determination to fight terrorism. “I know that I for one am at the top of this hit list,” he said in a press interview. For Shehata, eliminating terrorist attacks against judges would only be possible through the modification of the Criminal Procedures Law. “Sentences should be implemented immediately following their ratification by the president instead of allowing them to be appealed,” he explained. “Slow justice is a form of injustice and the possibility of getting away with crimes encourages more crimes.” For Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend, the assassination of the prosecutor-general is bound to intensify the state’s efforts to eliminate terrorism. “And judges will now be more determined to make sure terrorists do not escape punishment,” he said. “We are going to avenge not only judges, but all the victims of terrorism, ” he said.

Hossam al-Kholy, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, argued that the security apparatus in Egypt cannot be absolved of blame. “It is true that anyone can be a victim of terrorism, but as we approach June 30, precautionary measures should be much stricter and certain public figures have to be placed under high protection,” he said. “What happened to the surveillance cameras that are supposed to allow security officials to monitor the roads?” Judge Wael Makram, who is also governor of the province of Fayoum, argued that since he assumed his position as prosecutor general, Barakat had never changed his route. “This made it easier for terrorists to target him on his way to work,” he said, adding that he still cannot confirm the laxity of security measures until the investigations are completed.

Journalist and former MP Moustafa Bakri accused political activists of playing a role as major as that of the Muslim Brotherhood as far as incitement of violence in concerned. “Activists who condemned the assassination of the prosecutor general did previously support terrorists involved in similar attacks. Those same activists were at the morgue supporting the families of executed terrorists in the Arab Sharkas case,” he wrote in reference to the controversial execution of six suspects found guilty of terrorism in what was seen as a retaliation to the killing of the Sinai judges. Bakri, however, did not mention names of the activists he referred to.

Egyptian novelist and journalist Alaa al-Aswani called Barakat’s assassination “a serious turning point” since it highlights the drawbacks of the state’s iron grip as far as countering violence is concerned. “Only justice can eliminate terrorism,” he wrote. “Repression, on the other hand, only gives it reason to survive.” Other analysts agreed that the security solution has proved its failure and that a political and intellectual approach has become inevitable. “The assassination of the prosecutor-general confirms that responding to violence with more violence only makes things worse,” said Abdel Galil Moustafa, activist and coordinator of the Egyptian Awakening electoral coalition. “Rehabilitation of criminals might take a longer time, but it is the only way out of this blood cycle,” he added.

Is the Muslim-Coptic honeymoon in Egypt over?

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2015/06/28/Is-the-Muslim-Coptic-honeymoon-in-Egypt-over-.html

Copts breathed a sigh of relief following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Morsi, and the visit of his successor Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the Coptic Orthodox Church on the eve of Coptic Christmas on Jan. 6, 2014 seemed to usher in a whole new era. Yet concerns about latent hostilities that threaten to boil over were revived with the forced evacuation of five Christian families, a total of 18 people, from their hometown.

It began when 28-year-old Copt Ayman Morcos, who lives and works in Jordan, was said to have posted on Facebook cartoons that were considered derogatory to Islam and the Prophet Mohamed by residents of his village Kafr Darwish in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Sweif. As news of the Facebook posts spread in the village, angry Muslims attacked Morcos’s house and the houses of several Coptic families with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The clashes, which reportedly lasted for days, were followed by customary reconciliation meetings attended by village elders and religious leaders from both parties. The decision was made to evacuate Morcos’s extended family.

The outcry that followed the evacuation, and reports of the family moving from one village to another looking for a place to live, drove the governor of Beni Sweif, Mohamed Selim, to revoke the decision and oversee the return of the family, while promising an investigation into the incident and compensation for the damages.

“This is not a happy ending,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Coptic newspaper Al-Watani. “This is not a healthy situation, and the law has not been enforced.” Sidhom said the problem goes beyond harming Christians. “The greater harm was done to the sovereignty of the state.”

Accountability

Ishak Ibrahim, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said the state should be held accountable for allowing customary reconciliation meetings to make decisions in such serious disputes in the first place, especially that those decisions are treated locally as court rulings.

“Accepting those rulings means that the aggressors escape the consequences of their actions. We put responsibility on the government because it is the one tasked with protecting citizens and their rights,” he said, adding that no one was arrested following the attacks on Christian houses.

Amr Abdel Rahman, head of the Civil Liberties Unit at EIPR, said those reconciliation sessions do not offer solutions as they claim to. They “are said to stop sectarian tension, but our analysis shows that they only serve to ignore it,” he said. The sessions are conducted with the knowledge of security forces, which implies their support not only for the process but also the conclusions, he added.

While admitting that the state sees reconciliation sessions as the easier way out, and that is why it prefers to leave such matters to locals, Yousri al-Azabawi, researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, notes the role of the church in perpetuating this process.

“The church bases its reaction to attacks on Christians on its relationship with the state,” he said. “When the church is on good terms with the state, it approves such fast solutions in order to avoid further tension.”

Repercussions

Journalist Salma Omar anticipates a deterioration in relations between the state and Copts if this situation persists, especially with all the expectations that followed Sisi’s coming to power. “Copts supported Sisi and played a major role in toppling the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they had high hopes in this regime,” she wrote, adding that Copts have always disliked the tradition of customary reconciliations.

Coptic activist Kamal Zakher links the Kafr Darwish incident to Coptic support for Sisi. “Extremist Islamists are retaliating at Copts for their support of Sisi,” he said. “That is why I believe the president should personally interfere to change the way such clashes are handled, and to make sure that the police don’t stand watching while Copts are attacked, like they did this time.”

William Wissa, head of the MCN news organization, which focuses on issues related to Christians in the Middle East, said the clashes had nothing to do with Morcos posting anti-Islam cartoons, but rather with the general persecution of Christians. “Deriding Islam is only an excuse to persecute Christians,” he said. “There is no proof that this young man actually posted these cartoons. In fact, he turned out to be illiterate and he does not have a Facebook account.”

Refaat Abdel Hamid, an expert in criminal sciences and security affairs, objected to the use of the term “forced evacuation,” saying the family left the village until tension eased. “It was necessary at the time for the family to leave,” he said. “It is not true that this means the failure of the state, since it is the state’s intervention which brought them back.”

Security analyst General Gamal Abu Zikri said the incident in Kafr Darwish was only a dispute like many that happen in villages across Egypt, and the parties involved in the dispute had to be separated for a while. “It was the Muslim Brotherhood that blew it out of proportion in order to attack the regime.”

Former Brotherhood member Kamal al-Helbawi agreed with Abu Zikri as far as Brotherhood involvement was concerned. “After being excluded from the political scene, there is nothing they can do except spreading chaos,” Helbawi said, adding that the 2013 constitution, drafted after the fall of the Brotherhood, is the first to treat Muslims and Christians equally in all rights and duties.

Egypt president’s ‘entourage’ of movie stars raises debate

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2015/06/20/Egypt-president-s-entourage-of-movie-stars-raises-debate-.html

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s trip to Germany was the subject a debate that was unequalled in any of his official visits during his first year in power, even if for quite peculiar reasons. Concerns about protests organized in Berlin by Europe-based Islamists, and speculation over the impact of recent death sentences handed to Muslim Brotherhood members, were not given as much attention as the movie stars who accompanied him.

Photos of actors and actresses on board the plane heading for Berlin, and videos of them rallying there in support of Sisi and cheering as his motorcade passed by, were received with resentment by some and admiration by others.

Journalist Mohamed Abdel Rahman said he could not see how the 19 actors and actresses who went to Berlin are expected to support Sisi. “Those are stars in Egypt and the Arab world, but they have no leverage whatsoever in Germany,” he wrote. “They are not even among those who acted in foreign films.”

For Abdel Rahman, their presence would maybe aim to deliver a message of Sisi’s support for the arts, as opposed to his conservative predecessor Mohammed Mursi. “If so, then it still didn’t work because he should have instead invited painters, photographers, folklore dancers, or even football players who played for German teams,” he added.

Mosaad al-Masry, spokesman of the Tamarod movement that initiated the campaign to topple Mursi, shared the same view regarding the choice of delegation. “The president was expected to invite a delegation of investors who can hold talks there about projects of economic benefit for Egypt,” he said, adding that he intends to file a complaint with the prosecutor general against all bodies that facilitated and funded the trip, including the Ministry of Culture.

Mursi advisor Essam Heggi said the actors and actresses were in Berlin to “play the role of the Egyptian people” in front of Western cameras. “This turns patriotism into cheap propaganda. We have actually reached the level where we need professional actors and actresses to play the role of happy Egyptians.”

Heggi said unofficial delegations should be comprised of scientists and researchers who can play an actual role in joint projects between the two countries. Heggi said the “charade” was obvious in the photo of the actors and actresses carrying posters of Sisi as they chanted slogans in his support. “This is one photo history shall never forget.”

Supporters

Kuwaiti journalist Fajr al-Saeid accused critics of the delegation of trying to find fault with the government and inventing excuses to attack the president. “There is nothing abnormal about the delegation,” she said. “Look at the United States; presidents have taken actors like Tom Cruise and Robin Williams on trips.”

Delegation member Elham Shahine said actors and actresses are “ambassadors of Egypt’s soft power,” since they reflect the role art plays in combating extremism and terrorism. “Actors and actresses played a major part in the revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said, adding that it was important to show the world Sisi’s support for art and artists.

Yousra, another actress who participated in the delegation, said they showed the world that Sisi is loved by his people. “There is nothing wrong in supporting our president and demonstrating that we believe in him and in everything he is doing for the country,” she said.

Yousra accused the Brotherhood of organizing a campaign against the delegation. “Germany is home to a big Muslim Brotherhood lobby that spreads false news about Egypt, and we should always be there to counter their attempts.”

She added that she accompanied Sisi on his official trips whenever she could. “This is my third time. I went to the United States twice in delegations accompanying the president.” Yousra added that the actors’ delegation only constituted a small fraction of Sisi’s supporters who appeared in Berlin. “Members of Egyptian communities all over Europe came a long way to declare solidarity with their president.”

Details

Professor of international law Ayman Salama said the movie stars did not actually accompany Sisi in the formal sense of the word. “There are two delegations that ‘accompany’ the president on official trips,” he said. “One attends all official talks with the president and participates in all the activities organized by the host country, while the other takes care of administrative issues and always travels before the president in order to prepare for the visit.”

The stars, Salama said, were not part of either. “They are more of a popular delegation that goes voluntarily to make a statement or another.” When asked about the kind of statement they expected to make, he said most likely they wanted to counter any possible protests by Brotherhood members and refute claims that Sisi lacks support back home. “The president has the right to refuse allowing such delegations to go, so he just didn’t.”

Journalist Hani Labib said claims that the presidency invited actors and actresses to go to Berlin and paid for their flights and accommodation are “not true. Neither the president nor the presidency has anything to do with the delegation. It was the Chamber of the Audio-Visual Media Industry that invited actors and actresses to go, like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited politicians. This is popular diplomacy! What’s the big deal?” Labib said the campaign against the delegation aimed to distract public attention from the significance of the trip.

First deputy of the Egyptian Actors Syndicate, Sameh al-Seraiti, said there were no specific criteria for choosing delegation members. “Actors and actresses who had no commitments at that time just went, and that is all.”

A ‘parliament beauty,’ but can Egypt’s Shahinaz al-Najjar win?

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/profiles/2015/06/13/Does-Egypt-s-former-parliament-beauty-stand-another-chance-.html

Shahinaz al-Najjar became a familiar face in 2005 when billboards of her started spreading across Cairo as part of her campaign to run for Egypt’s male-dominated parliament. She became the talk of the town not only because she was a woman, but because she was only 36 years old at the time.

Her beauty was also a topic of discussion, as people joked about how MPs would be distracted by her presence. Her victory as Egypt’s youngest MP was a surprise for candidates as well as voters.

However, this was overshadowed by the controversy over her marriage to steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, himself a controversial figure for his leading position in the previously-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and his close ties to Gamal Mubarak, reportedly groomed to succeed his father Hosni as president of Egypt. Shortly after the marriage was announced, Najjar resigned from parliament amid rumors that it was Ezz’s wish.

As Najjar, originally a businesswoman, went back to managing her projects, news of her started fading. After the 2011 revolution and the subsequent incarceration of Ezz, Najjar was almost solely mentioned in relation to how her wealth would be affected by the possibility of confiscating Ezz’s assets. Shortly after Ezz’s acquittal in June 2013, she announced her intention to run for the next parliament.

Comeback

Journalist Hussein al-Zanati says Najjar’s announcement is a disguised comeback for her husband, who had intended to run for parliament following his release. “There was a lot of pressure on Ezz to retract his decision to run for parliament, so he withdrew and made his wife run instead,” Zanati wrote.

“They are one and the same person. Both represent the powerful return of Mubarak’s supporters.” For Zanati, Najjar’s return is bound to increase opposition against the current government, which is accused of encouraging the political participation of members of the Mubarak regime.

He said while Najjar stressed the NDP would never come back, she indirectly defended the party. “She claimed that younger leaders in the party, her husband being one, had already embarked on several reforms but were not allowed to complete them because of the revolution. She is portraying her husband and his clique as revolutionaries and reformers.”

Prospects

Journalist Ahmed Ismail highlighted the unpredictability of the constituency in which she will be running for the upcoming parliamentary elections, the same constituency she represented in 2005.

“Some residents in the area she is planning to represent accused her of disrespecting the sacrifices of revolutionary youths since she is a prominent symbol of the Mubarak regime, while others welcomed her decision to run as long as she was not involved in the killing of any of those youths,” he said.

Ismail added that the financial support Najjar has been offering residents of her constituency since she decided to run is seen by some as a gesture of goodwill and by others as a bribe. “She is also making grand promises about solving the problems of the constituency like unemployment, infrastructure, and education if she wins the elections.”

In addition to questioning Najjar’s awareness of the deplorable conditions in her constituency and her ability to address them, Ismail said it would be hard for a woman to be in charge of that area.

“The district of Manial and Masr al-Qadima is categorized as tribal, since a large number of its inhabitants descend from Upper Egyptian tribes who settled there and have religiously preserved their customs. According to these customs, women are not allowed to mediate… disputes.”

Najjar, who has been touring different neighborhoods in her constituency, launched an initiative to provide future brides with electrical appliances, which contributed to increasing her popularity especially among women. She is counting on female voters, with whom she holds frequent meetings that focus on women rights.

Najjar visited the main church in her constituency on Coptic Christmas, and posted her photos there on her Facebook page. She is also offering training courses in technical skills to youths in her constituency.

This, however, did not stop the 30 complaints filed against her by members of her constituency who demanded her exclusion from the parliamentary race due to her “bad reputation.” The complaints followed statements by Cairo-based Armenian belly-dancer Soufinar about a hotel owned by Najjar allegedly involved in prostitution, drug-dealing and gambling.

Female participation

Najjar is not the only woman to run for the 2015 parliamentary elections, and not the only controversial one for that matter. Singer and belly-dancer Sama al-Masry’s decision to enter the race was met with criticism, mainly because her songs and performances are seen as sexually explicit, and because lacks political experience.

Veteran NDP MP Amal Osman, who was minister of social affairs for 20 years, said members of her former constituency, which she had kept for 24 years, were urging her to run in the upcoming elections. Although she has not officially announced whether she will run, Osman’s statement was seen as another alarming sign of the return of Mubarak’s regime.

Internal conflict: Is the Muslim Brotherhood falling apart?

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2015/06/02/Internal-conflict-Is-the-Muslim-Brotherhood-falling-apart-.html

When Muslim Brotherhood Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein issues a statement, then party spokesman Mohamed Montasser issues another to refute it, it is obvious that there are internal conflicts. Hussein’s statement, which was overlooked by the Brotherhood’s media outlets, said he was still secretary general and that Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat is acting supreme guide.

However, Montasser’s statement, published on the Brotherhood’s official website, said a new secretary general was appointed in 2014 and that Mohamed Badei, who is currently in jail, is still the official supreme guide. The Brotherhood has no representatives except him and the group’s official website, Montasser’s statement added.

Journalist Ahmed Khair al-Deen said the two statements indicate the emergence of two camps inside the Brotherhood: the old guard represented by Hussein, and the new guard represented by Montasser.

Khair al-Deen said the new guard, which mainly consists of the leadership appointed in Feb. 2014, adopted a different form of violence against the state, initially “supported the ‘no-bullets’ strategy, which includes forms of violence that do not include killing, like blocking roads and targeting power stations for the purpose of draining the regime and containing the anger of young Muslim Brothers.”

However, that changed, Khair al-Deen said, with the death sentences against a number of Brotherhood members, including ousted President Mohamed Mursi, and the death in detention of two of the group’s senior leaders, Farid Ismail and Mohamed al-Falahgi. “These developments triggered the rise of a more violent discourse against the state, and drove the old guard to step in before further escalations take place,” Khair al-Deen wrote.

This, he added, led to the conflict between these two camps: the old guard that wants to renounce violence and oppose the regime peacefully, and the new guard that believes it has the right to choose its means of resistance. “The first group prioritizes the survival of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the second prioritizes the toppling of the current regime.”

The new guard adopted a statement issued by 159 preachers, which explicitly adopts violence as the ideal way to combat the government. The statement called the state “murderous,” and supported its undermining with all available means.

“Rulers, judges, police and army officers, preachers, politicians, and journalists who are proven to be accomplices in the state’s crimes, even if only through incitement, are considered murderers and have to be penalized as such. They have to be executed,” said the statement.

The website of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political wing, posted a statement supporting “the preachers who issued an edict condoning all forms of countering the crimes of the coup, last of which the death sentence against the legitimate president.”

Coup attempt?

Activist and political analyst Anas Hassan sees Hussein’s statement as “an obvious coup that was immediately aborted.” Hassan said Hussein and the old guard, which includes Deputy Supreme Guide Ezzat and Guidance Bureau member Mahmoud Ghozlan, still believe they have the upper hand by virtue of belonging to an older generation that had been in contact with the founding members.

“They assume they are the only ones who are capable of running the Muslim Brotherhood, and that any other leadership is bound to fail,” he wrote, adding that the old guard believes the new guard is not capable of facing current challenges, such as “an enemy much fiercer than [late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser,” a “more extremist Islamist ideology,” and a “war-torn region.”

Hassan scoffed at the old guard’s warnings of bloody scenarios if the Brotherhood follows the policies of the new guard, which it sees as immature and impulsive. “As if the old guard has not offered the Muslim Brotherhood to the military regime on a silver platter to be slaughtered in the Nahda and Rabaa sit-ins! What the Muslim Brotherhood suffers from now is all their doing.”

According to Hassan, this “coup” is only indicative of how insecure the old guard feels following the coming to power of a different generation with a different perspective.

Ahmed Ban, an expert in political Islam, said members of the old guard believe they are entitled to lead the Brotherhood because of their history. “They see themselves as the gatekeepers who have really suffered to guarantee the survival of the group and are still doing so,” he said.

Impasse

Ban said it was unlikely that the impasse would be resolved through new elections in the group. “This will be very difficult with so many Brotherhood leaders behind bars, including supporters of each camp.” Ban said he does not see a way out of the impasse.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has ignited a fire it cannot extinguish now. This started with the dispersal of the sit-ins and the revenge rhetoric that has prevailed ever since. It was easy for them then to turn the conflict from political to religious, but they won’t be able to turn it back to political now. It is also difficult for the old guard to ask the new guard to renounce the violence it has originally instilled in them.”

Ban said the current government is the real winner in this conflict, since it would benefit from further disintegration in the Brotherhood. “The regime thought it is facing a huge organized entity that needs excessive effort to be dismantled. Now the state can sit back and watch the Muslim Brotherhood self-destruct.”

Sameh Eid, a researcher in Islamist groups, downplayed the impact of the conflict on the structure of the Brotherhood. “The old guard is still in charge, and the majority in the Brotherhood, which was trained to obey the leadership, still supports it,” he said, adding that previous disputes did not have a serious impact on the Brotherhood’s structure.

“Nothing will be more radical than the quitting of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh,” he said, referring to the deputy supreme leader who left the Brotherhood to run for president in the first elections that followed the 2011 revolution. “The Brotherhood did not collapse at the time.”

Meanwhile, younger Brotherhood members have started expressing their indignation at the mystery shrouding the dispute, and have accused conflicting leaders of dragging the group toward its destruction.

“First, Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein issues statements in the name of the Muslim Brotherhood and says no one else represents the group, then official spokesman Mohamed Montasser says Hussein is no longer the secretary general,” wrote Ali Khafagi, secretary general of the Brotherhood youth committee in Giza. “Now we have become two teams playing a game they are both destined to lose.”

Khafagi criticized leaders who keep silent about the conflict under the pretext of saving the group from polarization while the exact opposite is happening. “They destroyed us before and now they are finishing us off completely, with each of them dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood as his own private estate,” he said. “This is obviously the hardest time ever for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

A Ruling to Deport Gay Foreigners: The View from Egypt

http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/egyptsource/a-ruling-to-deport-gay-foreigners-the-view-from-egypt

The Egyptian Ministry of Interior now has the right to deport homosexual foreigners and ban them from entering Egypt according to a ruling issued by the Administrative Court in April. This is the final ending to a story that began in 2008 when a Libyan graduate student was deported from Egypt and banned from re-entering the country. According to news reports, the student was deported from Egypt after his arrest on charges of “homosexual practices.” He filed a lawsuit against the ministry for its decision, stating that it was preventing him from completing Master’s Degree at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport. After seven years, the court upheld the decision to deport him, arguing in its ruling that the Ministry of Interior has the “authority of evaluation” that allows it to determine what is in the country’s best interest. “The Ministry of Interior is entitled to preserve social and religious values, and prevent the spreading of vice in society,” said the ruling.

In an interview with VetoGate, activist and member of the National Human Rights Council Manal al-Tibi condemned the verdict as “contrary to all logic” since it is not clear how homosexual foreigners pose any form of danger to Egypt. “This kind of action is only justified when taken against people who are proven to target Egypt’s national security,” she said. “This is also against the constitution because it discriminates against a specific group.” Tibi questioned how the verdict is going to impact Egyptian homosexuals. “Are Egyptian homosexuals going to be stripped of their rights as citizens in this case?” She also questioned the applicability of such verdict on foreign officials. “What will happen with foreign officials who are homosexuals? Will they be banned from attending conferences and meetings in Egypt?”

Dalia Abdel Hamid, Gender and Women’s Rights Officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Freedoms, argued that the verdict sets a very dangerous precedent. “The verdict places the Interior Ministry above the law,” she wrote, questioning a blanket right given to police to deport people without a fair trial. Abdel Hamid underlined several loopholes in the ministry’s decision and the subsequent verdict. While homosexuality is not prohibited by Egyptian law, defendants are often tried on charges of ‘debauchery.’ As Abdel Hamid explains, charges of debauchery have to “involve the presence of several sexual partners as well as a proof of engaging in the sexual act for money. Neither applies to this case.”

The verdict, Abdel Hamid adds, also overlooked recommendations made by the Supreme Constitutional Court’s advisory board, the Board of State Commissioners, which is responsible for giving the court legal advice. “The board recommended accepting the student’s complaint and revoking the ministry’s decision and warned of expanding the ministry’s authority in a way that oversteps the judiciary,” she explained. “The judge totally ignored this report.” According to Abdel Hamid, this ruling will allow the Ministry of Interior to deport foreigners on false pretexts. “The ministry will use this to deport foreigners that are unwelcome for their activism or political views. Previous cases on homosexuality have already demonstrated how the ministry can level unfounded accusations and act upon them.”

Tarek Zaghloul, executive director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, however, argued that the verdict is logical, since it conforms to Egyptian traditions, but underlined the difficulties facing its actual implementation. “There are many foreigners in Egypt, so how can we know who is homosexual?” Zaghloul was not the only ‘rights activist’ who supported the verdict. Naguib Gobrial, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, denied that the verdict violates human rights. “Preserving the values of a given society is among the most vital of human rights,” he said. Similarly, rights activist Mamdouh Ramzi did not perceive the verdict as an infringement upon personal freedoms. “You cannot spread vice and claim this is freedom,” he said. “What applies in the West cannot apply in the East. Offending other people and disrespecting other cultures is not freedom.”

Security experts, especially those formerly affiliated to the Ministry of Interior,welcomed the verdict. “I totally support this decision,” said former deputy interior minister General Gamal Abu Zikri. “I suggest that the state prepares a list of figures known for being homosexual and prevent them from entering Egypt.” Former deputy interior minister General Abdel Latif al-Badini saw the verdict as a positive step, but warned of its negative repercussions. “Fighting homosexuality is one thing and banning homosexuals from entering Egypt is another,” he said. “We will be severely criticized by the international community if we do this.” He argued, instead, for “clamping down on homosexuals and curbing their freedom.”

This ruling is, in fact, the latest in a long line of attempts to clamp down on Egypt’s LGBT community. In the past year, there have been at least three high profile cases presented before the courts, with almost forty men standing trial on charges of “debauchery.” Three men were sentenced to eight years in prison last April, while another eight were sentenced to three years in prison last November. The sentences of the latter eight were reduced to a year each. Twenty-six men were granted a surprise acquittal in another high profile case in January, after they were arrested in a public bathhouse, as a journalist for a private satellite channel filmed the incident. As Scott Long points out on his blog, Paper Bird, the ruling comes after several key stories in Egypt’s LGBT community went largely ignored, including an attempt by one of the twenty-six men acquitted trying to burn himself to death.

According to Sociology professor Saeid al-Saleh, homosexuality, however, was never the main issue in this controversy at all. He argues that the verdict and the case are purely political. “The state made a fuss out of nothing and fabricated a case to make a statement about its adherence to religious values in response to accusations of Westernization and secularism leveled at the current regime by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis,” he said.