An Egyptian government commission investigating the crackdown on pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators last year has come to a bold conclusion: Egypt must ban political parties subscribing to Political Islam.
“We highly recommend that political Islam parties be dissolved in accordance with Article 74 of Egypt's 2014 Constitution and also in order to safeguard society against the reactionary ideology of these factions which like to mix religion with politics,” the study concludes.
It says, “The lesson we must learn from this experience is that political Islam forces must not be allowed to exercise politics in this country” and the “Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islam factions usually favors armed confrontation at the expense of peaceful dialogue.”
How the Brotherhood Came to Power
The report states that the military’s removal of former President Hosni Mubarak was necessary to avoid civil war but former Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who ran the country afterwards, erred in not taking action against the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood was the most organized political force, enabling it to win the parliamentary and presidential elections and achieve a monopoly on power within the government. Tantawi was subsequently dismissed by Morsi.
Evaluation of the Overthrow of Morsi
The official presentation of the report opened with a video designed to expose the Brotherhood’s deception and hijacking of the democratic process and how it threatens every segment of society. It began with footage of President Morsi promising to abide by the constitution.
The film then chronicles Morsi’s dictatorial actions. It features how the Brotherhood preached against virtually every part of society — Coptic Christians, secular Muslims, the ruling government, the military, the judiciary, the media and Al-Azhar University, the top school of Sunni jurisprudence.
The commission determined that the military’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood at the request of millions of Egyptian protestors was necessary because the group “adopted the strategy of scorched earth and were about to plunge Egypt into a civil war.”
Conclusions About the Rabaa “Massacre”
The most controversial conclusion is that the Brotherhood was responsible for the government's bloody crackdown on the Brotherhood's anti-government protests last year. It counted 607 deaths in Rabaa Square and 86 Al-Nahda Square in Giza. Ten police officers were also killed. Another 1,492 civilians and 156 policemen were injured.
The report charged that the Brotherhood consistently inflated casualty reports and did not provide evidence to substantiate its numbers when asked.
“The evidence detailed by the report show that the group’s leaders, espousing the extremist ideology of Islamist ideologue Sayed Qutb, turned the sit-in into armed confrontation against state authorities,” the commission chairman explained.
The security forces were criticized for allowing the sit-ins to grow in number, increasing the casualties in the inevitable confrontation. Forces were not deployed to make sure weapons weren’t smuggled into the protest site. The former prime minister said the decision was to wait until after Ramadan and the follow-up feast had passed.
The security personnel gave both protest sites an opportunity to leave on their own. Most of the pro-Brotherhood demonstrators at Al-Nahda Square in Giza departed but armed militants stayed put in Rabaa. A total of 51 guns were found at the site.
The dispersal lasted for two hours on August 13, 2013 and initially used non-lethal force like tear gas and water cannons. Lethal force only started after a Brotherhood member shot and fatally wounded a police officer. This account is substantiated by a separate study done by the National Council for Human Rights.
The commission determined that the police did not limit their retaliation only to identified attackers, causing casualties among the non-violent but insubordinate protestors. The report does not attribute to this malice. It says that the gunfire from multiple angles caused the police to “lose their focus.”
Rabaa Square was surrounded during the clashes in order to help control the situation. Demonstrators that remained until the end and did not resist were permitted to leave even though they disobeyed orders to leave.
Christians were heavily victimized by violent Islamists in the aftermath. The commission counted 52 churches in 23 provinces as having been destroyed or damaged by Brotherhood supporters. It did not accuse the Brotherhood of directly orchestrating all these acts, but blamed the group’s incitement.
Other Violent Incidents
The commission also investigated violence at universities after Morsi was overthrown. The death toll was 14 students and four security personnel, consisting of three soldiers and a police officer.
It determined that the pro-Brotherhood students and collaborating professors triggered violent incidents by illegally obstructing education by disrupting classes and blocking hallways. The intervening security forces escalated their means as required by the resistance.
The study reviewed an attack on the Republican Guard military barracks in Cairo on July 8, 2013 by Brotherhood supporters who believed Morsi was detained there. A total of 59 civilians and two security personnel were killed. Notably, most of the attackers previously attended the supposedly peaceful Rabaa Square sit-in.
On July 26-27, Brotherhood backers violently clashed with anti-Brotherhood civilians near Rabaa Square. When police intervened, they were fired upon; one died and one was injured. A total of 95 civilians died.
Accusations of Puppetry to be Expected
The objectivity of the commission will inevitably be challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who will call it a propaganda organ of President El-Sisi and the military. Some human rights groups in the West will also call it into question.
However, the commission was led by Dr. Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad, who was appointed by the United Nations as a judge for the International Criminal Tribunal investigating war criminals in Yugoslavia. He was also a law professor at Cairo University.
Riad says the Muslim Brotherhood rescinded earlier pledges to cooperate and he made sure that “our work remained completely independent and unbiased.”
Human Rights Watch published a study in August that concluded that some pro-Brotherhood demonstrators were armed and fired shots, but condemned “grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.”
Human Rights Watch's report was sharply criticized by Tawfik Hamid, a Muslim reformer and former Islamist from Egypt. He showed that Human Rights Watch cherry-picked information from other reports, and its interviews were disproportionate in favor of protestors most likely to support the Brotherhood.
The Egyptian government issued an official statement complaining that Western media outlets were not reporting on Brotherhood violence and provocations. One Muslim Brotherhood official quit the group after he saw it “trading with the blood of its youth and innocent demonstrators.” He wants the leadership put on trial and executed.
The Clarion Project closely followed the crackdown and saw very strong evidence that the Brotherhood and its supporters deserved most of the blame for the bloodshed. Photos and videos showed the Brotherhood organizing children to go to the protest and declaring their intention to be killed.
We also posted 10 eye-opening videos showing Brotherhood calling for violence, shooting at Egyptian security personnel, attacking government buildings and churches, hiding weapons inside coffins at the protest sites and framing government forces.
The videos feature Egyptian civilians on the scene describing the crimes of the Brotherhood before and during the crackdown. One can see in the videos Egyptians cheering as a Brotherhood operative is arrested and hear Egyptians comparing the crackdown to the American raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
The study came up with about 60 recommendations. Here are some of the more important ones:
Chairman Riad said a campaign must begin towards “reforming religious discourse, promoting tolerance, and helping Coptic Christians restore their churches.”
It calls for a “complete vision” to address radical ideologies. Components should include :
The commission defended a law passed last year that outlawed protests without police permission, determining that it was necessary because of the instability. Amendments are necessary now to more clearly define broad terminology and curb the interior minister’s ability to relocate or stop protests.
The report recommends that security cameras be installed in all police stations and a requirement that the recordings be saved for a period of time yet to be determined. The police academy’s curriculums must emphasize human rights. It also recommends a review of the use of birdshot ammunition.
Riad said the biggest reason that terrorism is increasing in Egypt is because of “the presence of extreme religious rhetoric in our school curriculums.” The panel made numerous recommendations for combating extremism and ensuring safety in universities.
It suggests scheduling meetings with students to discuss extremism and giving greater power to the university leadership. The school officials could approve demonstrations on campus and school security would have the authority to arrest students. A police presence should be required at the entryways into each university, but they could only intervene on campus with permission from the university director.
The commission urges the Egyptian government to financially compensate the families of peaceful protestors who were killed in the fighting, even though these protestors supported the Brotherhood. Chairman Riad says a national fund should do the same for Christians.
Secular Parties Mobilize Against Islamists for Upcoming Elections
The commission’s study was released as Egypt’s secular parties unite against Islamists with the Salafist-oriented Al-Nour Party being the top target ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled to happen by April.
The banning of the Brotherhood means the group's supporters will vote for another party, and the secularists fear that this will swell the support of Al-Nour or another Islamist party. If all the Islamists unite together, divisions amongst secularists could propel them to victory if the election is legitimate.
The secularists are asking the Egyptian judiciary to ban the Al-Nour Party as well based on Article 74 of the constitution that forbids parties based on religion. A lawsuit has been filed by independent lawyer Gamal Sala. The Supreme Administrative Court will hear the case on January 15.
Similar legal action is also being threatened by Ali El-Moslehi, the general coordinator of the Egyptian Front. This is a secular bloc populated with figures from the Mubarak regime. He says the Front will petition the administrative courts to have the Al-Nour Party dissolved.
Constitutional law expert Nour Farahat says the constitution agrees with the secularists.
“This shouldn't be viewed as a kind of imposing political disenfranchisement on Nour and other Islamist forces, but making sure that Islamists with religious grounds keep away from politics,” he said.
This move is also endorsed by Mahmoud Badr, leader of the Tamarod Movement that organized the anti-Morsi protests; Tawfik Okasha, independent television station owner; Al-Ahram political analyst Osama El-Ghazali Harb and the chairman of the Judges Club, Ahmed El-Zind.
“All of these [secularists] see Nour as another Muslim Brotherhood proxy, and they agree that this party or any force that mixes religion with politics should not be allowed any window for having a foothold in the new parliament,” says Harb.
He adds, “They, like the Muslim Brotherhood, believe that all secular politicians are infidels that must be wiped out.”
Mahmoud Badr sees Al-Nour as even worse than a Brotherhood proxy. He said, “Nour's Islamist ideology is much more extremist than the one espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, and this makes it a necessity that this faction must be eradicated from political life.”
Al-Azhar University recently banned Al-Nour’s preachers from giving Friday sermons at mosques because they did not graduate from the school. This regulation was implemented to better control Islamic messaging and filter out extremists.
For its part, the Al-Nour Party endorsed the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. It says its support for the Egyptian government is “clear-cut” and it condemns new anti-government protests put on by other Salafists and Brotherhood supporters.
Nonetheless, Al-Nour’s stock is falling as its fellow Salafists use incendiary rhetoric, organize anti-government protests, support the Muslim Brotherhood and engage in violence.
Its public relations strategy is very similar to that of the Brotherhood.
The party makes the illogical claim that its basis is not religious, and it is only implementing the sharia (Islamic) law as discussed in the constitution. Al-Nour says the legal definition of “religion” refers to sectarianism or division. The Brotherhood likewise claimed to be secular.
Al-Nour says it is only a political party and that its religious wing, the “Salafist Call,” is separate. The Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party to make the same argument.
Al-Nour says it will respond to a ban by registering a new party and/or running candidates as independents. The Brotherhood also won seats in parliament under Mubarak by running them as independents.
Finally, Al-Nour says it won’t compete in districts where major secular candidates are running. The party says this would be done to address concerns that it is seeking dominance.
Likewise, the Brotherhood repeatedly claimed it would only compete for a certain portion of the parliament to ensure its minority status. It also claimed it would not seek the presidency.
It seems very likely that the President El-Sisi will respond favorably to the secularists’ requests. If he is genuine about being the overseer of a democratic transition, he’ll want the parliament to be controlled by secularists.
Banning the Brotherhood and Al-Nour won’t address the greater Islamist problem, though. However, if Egypt can implement a successful strategy against Islamism, it will create a model for the entire Muslim world.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.