Egypt Widens Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist’*

Egypt Widens Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist’*

The cracking down on all dissenters began with the crack down on Muslim Brotherhood, but tarred with the same brush for the 9/11 rallying cry as Islamists or terrorists. Here is an extract from a New York Times coverage which reflects on why the January 25, 2011 youth took to the streets in the first place. Not all the protests have been pro-Morsi, and more so since the release of formerly deposed Hosni Mubarak, the protests have been against the current interim government.

By David D. Kirkpatrick

Having crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on other dissenters, sometimes labeling even liberal activists or labor organizers as dangerous Islamists.

Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians — one of them a filmmaker specializing in highly un-Islamic movies about sexual politics — and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group backing the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. In Suez this month, police and military forces breaking up a steelworkers strike charged that its organizers were part of a Brotherhood plot to destabilize Egypt.

On Saturday, the chief prosecutor ordered an investigation into charges of spying against two prominent activists associated with the progressive April 6 group [set up by Mohamed el-Baradei who recently resigned as vice-president].

When a journalist with a state newspaper spoke publicly about watching a colleague’s wrongful killing by a soldier, prosecutors appeared to fabricate a crime to punish the journalist. And the police arrested five employees of the religious Web site Islam Today for the crime of describing the military takeover as a coup, security officials said.

Police abuses and politicized prosecutions are hardly new in Egypt, and they did not stop under Mr. Morsi. But since the military takeover last month, some rights activists say, the authorities are acting with a sense of impunity exceeding even the period before the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak.

The government installed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has renewed the Mubarak-era state of emergency removing all rights to due process or protections against police abuse. And police officials have pronounced themselves “vindicated.” They say the new government’s claim that it is battling Islamist violence corroborates what they have been saying all along: that it was Islamists, not the police, who killed protesters before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

“What is different is that the police feel for the first time in two and a half years, for the first time since January 2011, that they have the upper hand, and they do not need to fear public accountability or questioning,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In the more than seven weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster, security forces have carried out at least three mass shootings at pro-Morsi street protests, killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and arrested at least as many, actions Ms. Morayef characterized as

“massive police abuse on an unprecedented scale.”

But even beyond the Islamists, she said,

“anyone who questions the police right now is a traitor, and that is a protection that they did not have even in 2010,” when public criticism was tolerated and at least a few complaints were investigated.

Prosecutors had already begun investigating Mohamed El-Baradei, the liberal former United Nations diplomat, for “betraying the public trust” [meaning betraying their trust]

But some of the recent charges, like those against the two Canadians, strain credibility. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician with Palestinian roots and a history as a liberal and pro-Palestinian activist, was in Egypt on his way to the Gaza Strip to provide training to Palestinian doctors. John Greyson, a liberal Toronto filmmaker whose work often focuses on cosmopolitan sexual themes, was with him, documenting the trip for a possible movie. A lawyer for the two said they were stopped at a checkpoint near a street battle, trying to walk back to their hotel after the 7 p.m. curfew.

“They were just in the wrong place at very much the wrong time,” the lawyer, Khaled El-Shalakany, said Saturday.

The exact circumstances of their arrest were unclear. In a public statement, Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an armed assault on a police station and “taking part in bloody crimes of violence.” Prosecutors told reporters at the time that the police had detained 240 Brotherhood “members,” including two Canadians. (Mr. Shalakany said they remained in jail as “overwhelmed” prosecutors tried to deal with a backlog of hundreds of arrests in the crackdown.)

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