Dec 10, 2012 No Comments ›› Dinah Tellya
Excerpted from The New York Times: Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi captured, detained and beat dozens of his political opponents last week, holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him.
“It was torment for us,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat with a badly bruised face and rope marks on his wrists. He said he was among a group of about 50, including four minors, who were held on the pavement overnight. In front of cameras, “they accused me of being a traitor, or conspiring against the country, of being paid to carry weapons and set fires,” he said in an interview. “I thought I would die.”
The abuses, during a night of street fighting between Islamists and their opponents, have become clear through an accumulation of video and victim testimonies that are now hurting the credibility of Mr. Morsi and his allies as they push forward to this weekend’s referendum on an Islamist-backed draft constitution.
To critics of Islamists, the episode on Wednesday recalled the tactics of the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, who often saw a conspiracy of “hidden hands” behind his domestic opposition and deployed plainclothes thugs acting outside the law to punish those who challenged him. The difference is that the current enforcers are driven by the self-righteousness of their religious ideology, rather than money.
It is impossible to know how much Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, knew about the Islamists’ vigilante justice. But human rights advocates say the detentions raised troubling questions about statements made by the president during his nationally televised address on Thursday. In it, Mr. Morsi appears to have cited confessions obtained by his Islamist supporters, the advocates said, when he promised that confessions under interrogation would show that protesters outside his palace acknowledged ties to his political opposition and had taken money to commit violence.
Khaled el-Qazzaz, a spokesman for Mr. Morsi, said Monday that he had ordered an investigation into the reported abuses and asked the prosecutor to bring charges against any involved. He said that Mr. Morsi was referring only to confessions obtained by the police, not by his supporters.
But human rights lawyers involved in the cases of the roughly 130 people who ended up in police custody Wednesday night, all or most of them delivered by the Islamists, say the police obtained no confessions. “His statement was completely bogus,” said Karim Medhat Ennarah, a researcher on policing at Egyptian Initiative on Personal Rights, whose lawyers were on hand about an hour after the speech when prosecutors released all the detainees without charges. “There were no confessions; they were all just simply beaten up,” he said. “There was no case at all, and they were released the next day.”
Officials of the Muslim Brotherhood said the group opposed such vigilante justice and did not organize the detentions. And in at least one case one victim said a senior figure of the group rescued her from captivity. But the officials also acknowledged that some of their senior leadership was on the scene at the time. They said some of their members took part in the detentions, along with more hard-line Islamists.
Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, defended the group’s decision to call on its members and other Islamist supporters of the president to defend the palace from a potential attack by the protesters. He said Mr. Morsi could not rely on the police force left over from Mr. Mubarak’s government. By keeping the protesters from trying to storm the palace walls, Mr. Haddad contended, the Brotherhood and the president’s supporters had prevented a bloodier conflict with the armed presidential guard. “We will protect the sovereignty of the state at any cost.”
Both sides that night were violent, and the use of force by the Brotherhood’s opponents appears to have been deadlier, though that is hard to corroborate given the fog of the moment. Brotherhood leaders have named eight members of their organization who died that night. Mr. Haddad said one friend who was next to him was shot in the neck and died in the street. Although one journalist is in a coma from wounds received during the battle, human rights advocates say they do not yet know of any deaths on the opposition side.