Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued in a recent report that Egyptian security forces intentionally killed at least 817 protesters during what they dubbed the "Rabaa massacre" last August. In fact, they described the attack as equal to, or worse, than China's Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.
The report recommends that several senior individuals within Egypt's security apparatus be investigated and, where appropriate, held to account for their role in planning the incident.
This HRW report is defective on several levels.
First, it relied primarily on a pool of biased witnesses. Those who were protesting in Rabba were more than likely supporters of the Islamists and thus predisposed to provide false — or at least jaundiced –information that would hurt the Egyptian military. HRW should have given equal voice to the opponents of Morsi, particularly those who live near Rabba. As it happens, there were witnesses who were against both the Islamists and the military — in other words, who were unbiased. And some of them actually videotaped the heinous crimes committed by the Islamists in Rabba prior to the intervention of the military.
The HRW report opted to ignore these important eyewitness accounts.
Ignoring the crimes of the Islamists seems to fit quite nicely with the HRW modus operandi. Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator in February 2013, castigated Human Rights Watch for "looking with horror on those who speak out about murder, mutilation and oppression if the murderers, mutilators and oppressors do not fit into their script."
One of the most shocking examples of the tendentiousness of the HRW report was the fact that they happily accepted the reporting of Mr. Maged Atef (a Newsweek journalist) when his reflections suited their purposes (i.e., criticism of the Egyptian military), but they flatly ignored his testimony when he blamed the violent protesters for killing police officers (which, according to Mr. Atef, sparked the violence that followed in Rabaa). That little tidbit, which Mr. Atef himself witnessed, completely changes the story. Rather than a planned attack by the military as conveyed in the HRW report, it seems it was instead a reaction to lethal violence initiated by the Islamist protesters.
Of course, the cherry picking of information by HRW is neither surprising nor unexpected. Their own founder has accused HRW of bias in research methods and evidence gathering. Robert Bernstein, founder of HRW, accused the organization of poor research for relying on "witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage." Furthermore, according to The Times, HRW "does not always practice the transparency, tolerance and accountability it urges on others." In fact, in 2012, New Europe wrote that HRW "allegedly erased references in its reports to its previous cooperation with the Gaddafi regime, including the role of the organization's MENA Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, in marketing Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as a reformer."
The HRW report on Egypt did mention that the demonstrators were armed, but with only a limited number of weapons. It remains unclear how just a few HRW reporters managed to count the number of weapons in such big crowd and in such a chaotic environment. Did they simply ask every Islamist whether or not they were carrying a weapon? Or perhaps they patted down each demonstrator in order to get an accurate count of the number of weapons in the crowd. The report also failed to mention the huge number of weapons that were discovered in storage areas in Rabba. Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Times, accused HRW of a lack of sufficient expertise to report on fighting or war situations.
And by the way, HRW's admission that the demonstrators in Rabaa were armed suggests that perhaps the Egyptian security forces in fact behaved prudently. And it utterly undermines any comparison to China's Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, where the demonstrators were most certainly not armed.
The claim that the protesters were not given enough time to leave the place is challenged by what millions have already seen on the Arab media: Thousands of protesters left Rabba peacefully after the police had informed them that they could leave safely and would not be persecuted. Indeed, the videos clearly show that the police were protecting the protesters who chose to leave peacefully. Those who remained in Rabba after being given fair warning and the opportunity to leave peacefully were the radical Islamist fighters who are by definition quite prepared to fight unto death.
In short, the recent report of HRW regarding the Rabaa incident in Egypt seems to be at best biased, unprofessional and misleading.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.