Egypt: Death sentences and elections – more bricks in the wall (AWTWNS 5 May 2014)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 5 May 2014 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Egypt: Death sentences and elections – more bricks in the wall

5 May 2014. A World to Win News Service. The U.S., along with the UK and the European Union, is moving to more fully and openly support the military regime in Egypt, which is now wielding the hangman and the ballot box in its attempts to stabilise its rule.

This is a regime that killed as many as 1,400 protesters between when it took power last July and the end of the year, and now bans unauthorized demonstrations completely. About 16,000 people are being held for political offences. Most are accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and its elected president Mohammed Morsi, overthrown by the generals. A group of pro-Islamic university students were recently given 17 year terms for a sit-in, and another was shot and killed by police. Four journalists working for the Al Jazeera television channel have been held in prison for many months. They are accused of “spreading false news” – which, if that were really a crime, would mean shutting down all of state television and many other broadcasters – and “supporting terrorism” by interviewing Muslim Brotherhood members after the military crackdown, when only pro-military views were allowed.

Some of those jailed for violating the anti-protest law are prominent members of the youth movement that spearheaded the overthrow of U.S.-supported president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, stood up to the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces that governed for more than a year after Mubarak and then opposed the Brotherhood when it was riding high and Islamist goons were murdering demonstrators. On 28 April a Cairo court reaffirmed the three-month jail sentences previously handed down against Ahmed Maher, a founder of the 6 April Youth Movement, along with two other young men, for taking part in a defiant but non-violent demonstration by hundreds of people that mocked the protest ban. Once again they chanted “Down, down with military rule”, a slogan forgotten by most people during the anti-Brotherhood demonstrations of July 2013 that amounted to an invitation for a military takeover.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a well-known young blogger jailed under Mubarak and by the generals after Mubarak’s downfall, is being held pending trial on similar charges after being arrested and beaten in his home. The 6 April Youth Movement has been outlawed for collaborating with unspecified foreign powers and “committing acts that distort the image of the Egyptian state” – in other words, organizing actions that expose the profoundly reactionary character of the regime that claims to be rescuing Egyptians from reactionary Islamic rule.

In the best-known cases abroad, a judge in the Upper Nile city of Minya sentenced 529 people to death last March in a trial that lasted only a few minutes. A month later the judge reversed all but 37 of the death sentences, ruling that the rest must serve 15-25 years in prison. At the same hearing, in another instantaneous mass trial with no legal defence, he sentenced another 683 accused Muslim Brotherhood members to death, including the MB’s leader Mohammed Badie.

In both cases the condemned were charged with responsibility for the killing of a policeman in separate events last August, even though none were accused of direct involvement and most were provably not present. It is notable that their alleged crime is against a representative of the state, since in Minya, in addition to attacking a police station, Brotherhood supporters attacked Coptic Christian homes and businesses and burned churches, some with people inside. That these deaths and prison sentences have nothing to do with opposing religious obscurantism or defending freedom of thought is also brought out by the fact that prosecutors have also been busy jailing Christians, Shia Muslims and atheists for “blasphemy”.

The continuing tyranny of Islamic law, even if not under the Brotherhood, is also evident in the banning of Hollywood film Noah for the forbidden depiction of a prophet, and the April sentencing of four men to 3-7 years in prison for homosexuality. At the same time rape, another manifestation of male domination sanctified by religion, is going unpunished, as the fear of rampant sexual violence has become a form of terrorism to keep women in the confines of the patriarchal family home.

A human rights report on violence against women in Egypt says, “according to numerous accounts, the 18-day period leading to the fall of Mubarak represented a parenthesis in the violence and harassment that women experience on a daily basis. During the protests in Tahrir Square preceding Mubarak’s resignation, not a single case of harassment was reported publicly, despite the massive presence of women, including amongst those spending day and night in the square.” This almost “magical” atmosphere, as the report calls it, reflected the broad and deep desire for a different kind of society that made itself felt in many ways during those days, until a mass sexual assault on an American television journalist on the day the military deposed Mubarak signalled a deliberate counter-attack by the forces and morals of the past.

Early during the military’s first post-Mubarak government, general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, head of the current ruling junta, was the armed forces spokesman who defended the vicious “virginity tests” they imposed on women demonstrators. Large-scale, systematic sexual assaults in Tahir continued under Morsi, and the security forces never intervened. In fact, in January 2012, the Interior Ministry (held by the military, under the Brotherhood government) announced that not protecting women demonstrators was official policy. Now, the report states, under the new regime which promised an end to the petty crime and chaos that weighed heavily on many people’s lives and minds, as of March 2014 “not a single [rape] perpetrator had yet been brought to justice.” ( Such is the nature of General Sisi’s “law and order”.

This is the regime the U.S. has resumed sending military equipment and money. After the junta took over, the Obama government distanced itself slightly, while pointedly never calling it a coup, which would mean an end to funding under an American law meant to prettify U.S. policies. This apparent distance has not only been beneficial to the U.S., it has also helped the generals wrap themselves in a fake patriotism, pretending that they saved Egypt from Western domination. The charges of collaborating with a foreign power levelled against the 6 April Movement are typical of the way the generals and much of Egypt’s establishment portray any opposition as complicit with Western efforts to humiliate Egypt and denigrate its culture (by which they mean Islam). While the U.S. called the ban “troubling”, neither this nor any other “foreign power” the Movement is accused of serving has intervened to help them.

The generals, like the Egyptian ruling class as a whole and the economy for which they are the local managers, are dependent on the U.S. and its allies. The military, especially, which dominates the economy as well as the country, is directly financed by the U.S. in return for its cooperation with Israel. No sooner had the generals ousted the Brotherhood than Egypt closed the tunnels that are Gaza’s only link to the world.

Further, with Egypt’s economy shackled by its subservience to foreign capital and the world market, reactionary rule depends on U.S. wheat imports to prevent widespread poverty from turning into starvation, with resulting upheaval that could endanger the whole reactionary set-up. After the coup, when the U.S. temporarily put its poisonous “aid” on hold, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, pillars of the status quo in the Middle East, provided 20 billion dollars, but indicated they could not keep financing the generals indefinitely.

In the vanguard of the U.S. move to openly support the generals against the Egyptian people, as so often in similar cases before, was Tony Blair, the former UK Prime Minister who provided phony documentation for Washington’s lies about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” and helped organise the invasion of Iraq that proved disastrous for the Iraqi people, and the war against Libya that brought horrendous result for that country as well. Blair had labelled Mubarak “a force for good” just before his ouster. In a 30 January 2014 TV interview, Blair hailed the coup in Egypt as “the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation” and called for “my colleagues in the West” to support the military regime. Blair’s replacement, the Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, launched an investigation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, adding legitimacy to the Egyptian junta, as did EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s subsequent trip to Cairo.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went to Cairo in November 2013. This past April he met with the head of Egyptian military intelligence, resuming a long traditional conduit, and then warmly welcomed Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy to Washington at the end of the month. In an important symbolic move on the eve of the minister’s visit, the State Department disclosed that it would send Egypt ten Apache attack helicopters whose shipment was delayed after the coup, presenting this as in Israel’s interest, since they were needed to fight Islamists in the Sinai. Fahmy’s visit was the occasion for Kerry’s office to announce it had decided to to give Egypt another 650 million dollars immediately for 2014, and consider restoring the rest of the 1.5 billion it had been providing annually for decades.

For the Egyptian ambassador, this visit was a homecoming. Kerry pointed out that he was born in New York, spoke English before Arabic and served as Mubarak’s ambassador to Washington for nine years. The joyful occasion came well after the first round of death sentences; the second round and the banning of the 6 April Movement occurred while Fahmy was in Washington, the day before Kerry hosted him at a joint press conference. True, a State Department spokeswoman said that the U.S. “is deeply concerned” by the mass capital punishment verdict, and the White House issued a statement saying that it “defies the most basic standards of international justice.” U.S. senator Patrick Leahy called the restoration of military aid to Egypt “unconscionable” under the circumstances. But the Obama government did not change course.

In general the U.S. has embraced ambassador Fahmy’s defence of this outrage. These decisions were taken by a local court independently of the executive branch, he said. “Don’t jump to conclusions. Let the legal process follow through.” The death sentences must now be ratified by the religious authorities and the higher court.

But under present circumstances on Egypt, the only logical conclusion is that these death sentences cannot be taken lightly. The judicial system may be formally independent of the military, but the legal system, the armed forces and the whole state apparatus were designed and organized to enforce the status quo that so many people were revolting against when they brought down Mubarak. He crafted the state for decades, including by appointing judges and most other authorities from the top to the bottom of society. Even if all the men sentenced to death are not executed, some may be, and life prison terms for demonstrating against the junta is criminal enough. Even if it were true, as some people who consider themselves revolutionaries argue, that the death sentences are meant to scare everyone into submission and may not be carried out, they would still be a part of imposing and reinforcing the order that people in Tahrir Square rose up against in 2011.

Obama’s government has argued that the current extremely harsh repression has to be seen in the supposedly more pleasant light of the presidential elections scheduled for 26-27 May, or in other words, the restoration of “democracy”. But elections are not new in Egypt. The repression and the elections are two sides of the same coin: the re-consolidation of a state badly shaken by ruling class divisions and mass outrage in the streets, in a general sense, and, more specifically, the continuation of the military domination of Egypt by “democratic” means. “The state needs to regain its might and status, which has suffered much in recent times,” Sisi explained in 28 March speech.

General Sisi has presented himself as the only viable alternative to Muslim Brotherhood rule, but at the same time he is thoroughly connected with both religious obscurantism and the U.S. (and therefore allowed to act only insofar as Israeli interests are respected). He seems to style himself on Anwar Sadat, “the believer president” whose putting an end to the Nasserist nationalist project involved a dangerous combination of unleashing Islamist forces and capitulating to Israel – until Islamists among the military put an end to this contradiction by assassinating him. While the U.S. has not followed Egypt in declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” organisation (leading to complaints from Cairo in this regard), and the junta even engaged in mutual flirtation with Russian president Vladimir Putin during the period when U.S. funding was suspended, there can be no doubt that the U.S. currently considers the military best suited to rule in its interests in Egypt. Under these circumstances, Islamic fundamentalism is sure to flourish and despite Sisi’s declarations to the contrary, the Brotherhood is not likely to cease to exist.

Along with liberal political parties, much of the traditional left, such as the Tagammu Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance and some Nasserists have lined up behind Sisi. So has the Salafist Nour Party and the Tamarod organization that, in the name of opposing Islamist rule, called for the demonstrations that ushered in the military last July. The only candidate running against him is Hamdeen Sabahi, whose claims to be an heir to Gamal Nasser’s 1952 anti-British revolution are belied by his pledge to respect the Camp David peace accords with Israel, not nationalize foreign and other “successful’ business, and not redistribute land. Instead, he proposes to jump start the country’s economy with projects for designing and manufacturing solar power panels and using now wasted Nile water to grow trees for wood, both mainly for export.

While the technologies he advocates could be positive in the context of a revolutionary reorganization of the Egyptian economy, in his programme they are simply a way of promising jobs and social improvement without even raising his voice against the country’s big capitalists and landowners or any of its current economic and social structures. He has also pledged to repeal the anti-demonstration ban, which may help win him support. But more than a few people see his candidacy not as an alternative but as a cynical act of complicity with the generals to make the electoral process seem like something more than another reactionary manoeuvre.

Wisely, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to leave negotiations for Egypt’s economic future until after the elections. Right now, neither candidate would want to endorse an IMF austerity plan – just as the Brotherhood also avoided it. The IMF is counting on the electoral process itself to make Egypt’s further enslavement possible.

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