Israel Briefing Book
Fact Sheet: Revolutionary Upheaval in Egypt
On January 25, 2011, thousands of Egyptian protestors
rushed Tahrir square in Cairo, as well as numerous other locations around Egypt, and demanded the resignation
of President Hosni Mubarak and the implementation of a new, democratically-oriented government.
On the morning of February 12, after more than two weeks of brutal government resistance, Vice President Omar
Suleiman announced Mubarak’s
resignation from the presidential post.
Following Mubarak's step down, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Commander-in-Chief
Mohamed Tantawi, took temporary control of governing Egypt's transition to democracy. In the months after its rise to power, the Council released numerous official statements in which it assured the country
of its intention to suspend the four decades old emergency laws, provide
a safe transition to democracy through open elections, honor all regional
and international obligations and ensure that peace and security be
maintained for all citizens of Egypt.
It has now been more than a year since the revolution began and, as expected, Egypt has undergone dramatic changes – both for better and worse.
Given Egypt’s importance in maintaining stability, power balance, and peace in the Middle East, as well as its close alliance with the United States, it is important to keep track of the
nation's progress as it continues down the path of reformation and change.
with Israel top
Since signing a peace
deal with Israel in 1979, Egypt and the Jewish state have remained
diplomatically friendly and maintained at worst a cold peace. Though
many in the Egyptian public opposed the deal with Israel,
Mubarak fully honored the terms of the agreement signed by his predecessor Anwar Sadat. The peace deal
led to a softening of tensions between the two countries and even helped
facilitate the signing of a 15 year contract for Israel to buy natural
gas from Egypt at a slightly below-market price.
The new temporary government in Egypt, more responsive
to the wishes of the people, may be aiming to renege on both treaties
with Israel citing solid support for such a change. A recent poll suggested
that more than 50% of Egyptians are in favor of tearing up the decades
old peace agreement and 36% would support overhauling it with major
Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said that “any
issue is negotiable” and referred specifically to the stipulation
in the peace treaty that Sinai remain a demilitarized zone.
Presidential candidate Amr
Moussa has said that, if elected, he would not seek to scrap the
treaty or the peace that it entails. He maintains, however, that the
direction of peace between the countries is very much dependent on future
Israeli policy. “We want to be a friend of Israel,” Moussa
said, “but it has to have two parties, it is not on Egypt to be
a friend. Israel has to be a friend, too.”
On the other hand, Mohammed
ElBaradei, another potential presidential candidate, has made it
clear that he would not necessarily honor the peace treaty with Israel.
“If Israel attacked Gaza,
we would declare war against the Zionist regime,” ElBaradei was
quoted as saying by the Tehran Times. In February 2011, however, ElBaradei
had suggested that the peace deal with Israel was “rock solid”
and that “Egypt will continue to respect it.
Another presidential candidate, Muhammad Salim al-Awa,
made a public address on Egyptian television in which he explicitly
called for "affirmation of the enmity" with Israel, namely
to officially recognize that "Israel is an enemy ... the enemy
of all the Arab and Muslim countries, with Egypt first and foremost."
He said that the Egypt-Israel accord is not a peace deal but rather
a truce, meaning that it is temporary and does not mean that Egypt must
treat Israel as an ally or a friend.
On July 23, 2011, though, the head of Egypt's ruling
military council Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi announced publicly
that the Egyptian goverment intends to obey all previously signed international
agreements - including the Egypt-Israel peace accord - and that Egypt
will continue to work towards achieving peace in the Middle East.
On September 17, 2011, Moussa reiterated his position
that the 1979 peace treaty is untouchable. Moussa, quoted by the Kuwaiti
paper Al-Jurida, said that "the treaty has become a historical
record." Though he had originally noted that he would not seek
to scrap the treaty if elected president, Moussa had later noted that
the treaty could definitely be amended since it is “neither a
Quran nor a Bible.
On September 27, 2011, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed
Amr told the Associated Press that Egypt will always respect the 1979
landmark U.S.-brokered peace treaty with Israel.
In January 2012, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which
now has a plurality in the parliament, announced that it will not change
the industrial zones jointly managed by Egypt and Israel to promote
trade between the two peace partners. However, on January 26, a Brotherhood
spokesman told a London-based Arabic-language newspaper that the Muslim
Brotherhood's position of "reject[ing] any request from the [Israeli]
Embassy to meet with leaders of the Brotherhood [is] clear and not up
for discussion." Israel insists that it is open to the new Cairo
government and is happy to conduct dialogue with anyone willing to talk
with them, but the Brotherhood's spokesman said further that "our
group is not prepared to conduct dialogue with Israel - that is our
Natural Gas Treaty top
The gas treaty that supplies Israel with around 40%
of its natural gas supply has also come under considerable heat in the
new government. Since the revolution began in January, the pipeline
has been attacked five times by terrorists, causing major blockages
in shipments to Israel that in turn have forced considerable price hikes
and shortages. Israel's Minister of National Infrastructures Uzi
Landau estimates that electricity prices will rise by some 20% and
the Israel Electric Company has stated that the cost of these attacks
to the Israeli economy is liable to reach some 3-3.5 billion shekels.
No organizations have taken responsibility for the
attacks, though many Egyptians point an accusing finger towards groups
operating out of the Gaza Strip,
namely al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and Jaish al-Islam. The success that these
groups have had in attacking the pipeline and subsequently escaping
law enforcement underscores how they are considerably exploiting the
increasingly lawlessness that is taking over the Sinai Peninsula.
Many Egyptians are weary of the gas deal with Israel,
believing that Israel is paying below-market prices, and have called
on the government to halt the flow and keep the gas in Egypt. In fact,
the former government oil minister who was in charge of maintaining
the deal with Israel, is rumored to soon be tried in court on charges
that he "wasted public money" to the tune of almost $800 million.
On May 5th, the Arabic newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Egyptian government officials would seek to raise the
sale price to almost double what Israel pays currently. Specific details
on the future of the deal have yet to be revealed. In early July, the
Egyptian finance minister announced his intention to raise the price
of gas to Israel by some 2.5 billion shekels, and another senior Egyptian
official even offered an assessment that the attacks on the gas pipeline
“is expected to continue unless implementation of the [gas] agreement
in its present format is not halted.”
After the fifth attack against the pipeline in late
July, Amit Mor, CEO and energy specialist at the Eco Energy Consulting
Firm in Israel, spoke about the Egyptian-Israeli gas deal. “It
is crucial to Israel that the Egyptian government establishes security
control, especially in northern Sinai to secure the natural gas pipeline
to Israel,” Mor said. “I think the major consumers and government
all have given up on the supply of Egyptian gas to Israel.” He
added, “The resumption of the full contractual obligation of gas
supply to Israel can be used as a test-case of the Egyptian government
to maintain its international obligations visa- vis foreign direct investments
in Egypt on the one hand, and its future relations with Israel on the
On September 27, 2011, unknown assailants blew up the
pipeline for the sixth time since President
Mubarak was ousted in February, causing a large explosion and huge
flames of up to 15 meters into the sky.
On November 25 and 27, 2011, respectively, saboteurs
blew up Egypt's gas pipeline to Jordan and Israel, west of al-Arish
in Sinai. The November 27 attacks included two consecutive explosions.
These mark the seventh and eighth times the pipeline has been attacked
since Mubarak's stepped down in February 2011.
Public Discourse top
On May 15, 2011, thousands of Egyptians marked Palestinian
in Cairo by demonstrating in front of the Israeli embassy in the city.
Despite the awkward relations, Egyptian security cracked down on the
demonstration. The Egyptian Health Ministry estimated the number of
protestors injured at over 350.
Conspiracy theories about Israeli influence in Egyptian
politics also continue to spread both in the media and through government
sources despite the beginning of an era of accountability and more open
democracy. In June, Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal told the Lebanese
news site Al-Nashra that Israel was inciting sectarian strife between
Muslims and Christians in the country. On July 20, minister Ayman Abu-Hadid
responded to calls that an Egyptian export had been the cause of an
E.Coli epidemic that killed almost 50 Germans by blaming Israel. "Israel
is waging a commercial war against Egyptian exports," he explained,
and with that the case was closed.
Such conspiracy theories, touted often under the Mubarak
regime, lie close to the heart of Egyptian society and it may take more
than a popular uprising to change this discourse. "Conspiracy theories
are part of the texture of our culture," Hani Henry, a psychology
professor at the American University in Cairo, told The Media Line.
"Even if we have a democratic government, the problem will not
go away." He says blaming Israel for Egypt’s problems could
be both a cynical attempt by politicians to distract the public or an
honest belief that Israel is constantly conniving against Egypt. In
either case however, conspiratorial thinking is deeply ingrained in
the Egyptian mindset.
In the wake of the IDF mistakenly killing 5 Egyptian
soldiers during an assualt on terrorists that had committed the August
15 terror attacks that killed 8 Israelis just inside ths Sinai border,
protests and demonstrations broke out in Cairo. Some of the demonstrations
were centered near the Israeli embassy in the city with protesters calling
for the ouster of the Israeli ambassador and many were holding Palestinian
flags and chanting pro-Palestinian slogans.
On August 23, protesters outside of the residence of
Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Yitzhak Levanon, forced the Egyptian police
guarding the compound to remove the Israeli flag from the top of the
residence. This follows a similar event from August 21 when protesters
outside the Israeli embassy scaled the 15 story building and replaced
the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one, in full view of Egyptian soldiers
and policeofficers. The two flags were both thrown into the large crowds
who proceeded to tear it up and chant anti-Israel slogans. On August
26, the Israeli Foreign Ministry demanded that the government in Egypt
replace the two flags saying that the incident borders on a violation
of international law. On August 30, Cairo's Israeli Embassy replaced
the Israeli flag.
At the begining of September 2011, the Egyptian government
built a concrete wall to surround the compound housing Israel's embassy
in order to protect it from violent demonstrations. It did little to
help. On September 9, a horde of around 4,000 protesters gathered at
the newly erected wall and used hammers and other tools to destroy the
conrete barrier. After knocking down the wall, the protesters entered
the compound, climbed the outside of the building and again tore down
the Israeli flag flying overhead. Witnesses relate that cheers of happiness
and calls to destory Israel were heard amongst the crowd as the flag
was thrown to the ground and eventually burned.
Then, on the evening of Friday, September 10, thousands
of Egyptian activists who had come to Tahrir Square to protest domestic
Egyptian issues walked two miles to the Israeli Embassy and began demolishing
a security wall surrounding the embassy. By 12:30 a.m., the protesters
had completely destroyed the wall and were setting police cars on fire.
A handful of protesters reached the entrance hall and threw pamphlets
from the foyer out of windows. At 2 a.m., Defense Minister Ehud Barack
reported that Israel appealed to the United States to help guard its
Cairo embassy, and thirty minutes later, U.S. President Barack Obama
told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “I will do all that
I can.” According to reports from many reputable newspapers, it
was indeed the U.S. intervention that enabled the rescue of the six
Israeli security guards who were trapped inside the embassy.
As of September 19, Israeli embassy staff have reoccupied
the building and resumed their work. According to former Israeli ambassador
to Egypt Zvi Mazel, “Hatred towards Israel is the only common
ground for the deeply divided forces battling for control in Egypt”
right now. On November 20, Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon returned
to Cairo through Istanbul.
Border and Sinai top
Israel continued to dwindle on May 25, 2011, when the temporary
government announced that it would officially open the border crossing
between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Israeli diplomatic officials had urged Egypt to continue blockading
the Hamas government
in Gaza, but to no avail. “Israel has no problem with civilian
goods getting into the Gaza Strip,” said an Israeli government
official, who would discuss Israel’s position only on the condition
of anonymity. “Our focus is on preventing Hamas from building
up its very deadly terrorist military machine.”
Former Israeli Shin
Bet chief and current Parliament member Avi Dichter (Kadima)
said that Egypt opening it Gaza border is less important than its continued
policy regarding illegal smuggling. “What’s important is
not whether the crossing is open or not,” said Dichter, “but
whether the Egyptian policy has changed” with regards to their
attempts to halt the smuggling business.
Unfortunately, Egyptian security forces have moslty
been unattentive to the smuggling problem from Sinai into Gaza as the
large bedouin tribes in the peninsula have taken advantage of the lack
of responsible and coordinated security measures to move large amounts
of weapons into Gaza. "They've all gone home," laughs Mosaad,
a powerful bedouin leader from a small village near the Gaza border.
As of July, according to highly credibly intelligence sources, terrorist
groups in Gaza have amassed more than 10,000 rockets of all types and
thousands of anti-tank missiles and even possibly hundreds of anti-aircraft
missiles. The continued buildup in Gaza means that Hamas and Islamic
Jihad will be even more capable of disrupting life in southern Israel
and of posing a greater danger to IDF forces operating in the area.
But smuggling is not only going in the direction of
Gaza; the bedouins also help to smuggle Palestinians out of the strip
and into Sinai - many of whom are innocent people looking for a better
life, though some also come to join radical organizations who are attempting
to sabotage Egypt's transition to democracy. One of these groups, Takfir-wal
Higra, has already shown its growing strength after it attacked a protest
in the northern Sinai city of El-Arish,
killing a number of proteters and handing out flyers that called for
Jihad, said they were linked to Al-Qaeda and told Egyptians that Islam
is the only true faith and they need to dismantle the Camp
David treaty with Israel. Egyptian security forces noted that there
were a good number of Palestinians that joined Takfir-wal Higra on the
raid, and at least one of them was killed in the melee. "The terrorists
were joined by members of Palestinian factions and they are currently
being questioned by military intelligence. We arrested 12 assailants
including three Palestinians," the head of security in northern
Sinai, General Saleh al Masry said.
After the deadly terrorist attack in Israel on August
18 that killed eight people, the lawlessness and pourous nature of the
Sinai border is becoming ever more evident. Israel has said that a group
of no fewer than 15 terrorists left Gaza, entered the Sinai and then
crossed into Israel to execute their attack. They attempted to retreat
and escape along the same corridor but were tracked by the IDF and at
least 7 of the terrorists were killed in the ensuing battles. Regrettably,
in the melee of the battle, the IDF mistakenly killed five Egyptian
border guards when attack helicopters fired on their positions just
inside the Sinai-Israel border.
Diplomatic tensions rose quickly in the wake of these
deaths, with wire reports that Egypt had withdrawn their ambassador
from Tel Aviv floating around, but in the end PM Netanyahu and FM Barak
were able to ease tensions at least slightly by having an apology hand
delivered to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in Cairo.
Ilan Grapel top
In early June 2011, American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel
was arrested along with hundreds of other foreigners in Cairo under
suspicion of spying and inciting violence. Though all the other prisoners
were quickly released, the Egyptian police kept Grapel in custody.
Egypt then charged Grapel with being an agent of the Mossad,
the secretive Israeli spy organization with agents all over the world, and accused the 27 year old
student of "inciting sedition, spreading rumors, and urging protesters
toward friction with the armed forces and to commit acts of violence."
Grapel, an Israeli citizen by birth who grew up in
the United States, earned a bachelors degree in international studies
from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and is currently in law school at Emory University in Atlanta.
After his studies in Baltimore, Grapel moved back to Israel where he
was drafted into the paratroopers division of the Israeli infantry corps.
He served in the Second Lebanon
War in 2006 during which he was wounded in battle. He is described
by friends as "very liberal, very open-minded" and "pro-conciliation"
and was supposedly unaffiliated with all political groups.
A picture of Grapel in uniform from his service in the Israeli paratroopers unit was uncovered by the Egyptian authorities and was quickly spread
by the media in Egypt with the attached headline, "Mossad officer
who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution." More pictures of Grapel in the IDF and during his visit to Egypt before the arrest were also found and distributed through the Egyptian media networks.
Grapel's family, who say that Ilan was in Egypt for
a legal aid project, deny any allegations that their son is a Mossad
spy. "He's a good boy, he was over there doing good work,"
Irene Grapel, Ilan's mother said. "I hope that he'll be free based
on who he is. He's not a Mossad spy by any means." The Israeli
government, as well, denied the charges that Ilan is a spy working
for their interests.
On June 19, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported
that Israel offered to exchange three Egyptian prisoners for the release
of Grapel but were turned down by Egyptian authorities. Since Grapel
was visiting Egypt on his American passport, Israeli officials have
not been allowed to meet with him.
On July 9, the Egyptian attorney general announced
that Grapel's detention in jail would be extended at least 15 more days
to allow the authorities more time to continue their investigation into
his alleged spying. The American embassy in Egypt continued, at the time, to work
for his release before an indictment could be handed down.
In mid-October, Egyptian officials confirmed that Israel and Egypt had reached a prisoner-exchange agreement that would see free Grapel and have all charges against him dropped. Coming in the wake of the Egyptian-brokered exchange between Israel and Hamas that swapped more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the Grapel deal took place on October 27 and included the release of 25 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Grapel finally returned to Israel after spending more than 5 months in jail, first charged with espionage which was then dropped to incitment. The prisoners released for Grapel, whom Israel says are not security prisoners but rather smugglers or illegal immigrants, crossed back into their home country via the Taba crossing in the Sinai.
with Iran top
Under Mubarak’s regime, ties between Egypt and
the Islamic Republic of Iran had been cut for more than 30 years. With the ascent of a government
that is more in tune with public sentiment, relations between the two
influential Middle East nations is beginning to thaw quite rapidly.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar-Salehi and his Egyptian
counterpart, Nabil al-Arabi, have already initiated discussions to reestablish
their diplomatic ties. In March 2011, after the Iranian leadership called
on Egypt to take a “courageous step” to reunite the two
countries, Minister al-Arabi noted that Cairo was ready “to open
a new page with Iran” and noted that “the Egyptian and Iranian
people deserve to have mutual relations.” Al-Arabi added
that, “Iran is not an enemy [of Egypt]. We have no enemies.”
Egyptian presidential hopeful and former secretary-general of the Arab
League, also reiterated Egypt’s desire to open bilateral relations
with Iran. In an interview with the Washington Post, Moussa said
that “Iran is not the natural enemy of the Arabs … [Egypt]
has a lot to gain by peaceful relations with Iran.”
with Hamas top
Despite Israeli objections, the new government in Cairo
has decided to reopen the Egyptian border with Gaza at Rafah, in essence making a statement that Egyptian relations with Hamas will be restored.
The border has been closed since 2007 when Mubarak decided to blockade
the Strip and fight against smugglers who were funneling weapons and
ammunition into Gaza through elaborate tunnels from Sinai. The
government even built a subterranean steel wall to prevent smuggling.
In April, Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi called “shameful”
Egypt's 2007 decision to close and blockade the Gaza border. Presidential
hopeful Amr Moussa added that “blocking Gaza and enforcing the
siege along Gaza — people didn’t like that,” and that
he is hopeful Egypt will normalize relations with the Palestinians.
On May 4th, the military government hosted Hamas and Fatah leaders in
Cairo and brokered the unity agreement between the leading Palestinian
political parties. Bringing Hamas leaders into Cairo was viewed
in Egypt and Gaza as an historic development coming after years of government
antagonism towards the Islamic party and support for their rivals, Fatah.
However, Mustafa Labbad, head of the Al-Sharq center for Regional and
Strategic Studies, said that “Egypt's role in this reconciliation
is a matter of national security rather than a change in its political
ideology.” Amr Moussa indicated that Hamas should not be viewed as a terrorist organization.
On May 9th it was reported that Egypt is now using its leverage with
Hamas to push for a renewed effort to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Though
Egypt has been involved with formulating past efforts at reconciliation
in this matter, Hamas usually viewed their assistance with suspicion
and talks rarely moved past initial stages. Hamas security personnel
are believed to have met with their counterparts in Egypt in the beginning
of May to discuss potential deals for Shalit.
On May 25th the government announced that it would
officially reopen the border between Egypt and Gaza. “Egypt has
been under significant domestic and regional pressure to open the crossing
and change the policy on Gaza,” said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based
analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank. “I think
there’s been recognition for a while that the crisis in Gaza had
been a ticking bomb on Egypt’s doorstep.” “The decision
is a correction of an immoral and ineffective policy of the past,”
said Nabil Fahmy, a former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. “It
reflects a posture that Egypt will pursue policies in line with those
of everyone else in the Middle East.”
Muslim Brotherhood top
Under toppled President Mubarak, the Muslim
Brotherhood was officially banned, though it was tolerated within
limits - notably being allowed to operate in mosques and within religious
capacities. For years, Mubarak’s government used military
trials and security sweeps to repress the group in an effort to dispel
its power and weaken its ranks. Despite these efforts, the Brotherhood
kept a relatively broad support network across Egypt which they continued
to build through their religious, social and charity endeavors.
In a 2005 parliamentary election, the Brotherhood won 20% of the seats,
despite the election being purposefully rigged by Mubarak.
Though the Brotherhood kept a surprisingly low profile during the January
25th revolution, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that
about 75% of Egyptians said they had either a favorable or a very favorable
opinion of the Brotherhood. Seizing on this support, the group
has since built a legitimate political party, the Freedom and Justice
Party, and is gaining confidence that it can take more parliamentary
seats in the November elections. “They have substituted the dictatorship
of Mubarak with the dictatorship of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said
Naguib Sawiris, the second wealthiest man in Egypt and founder of the
Free Egyptians Party. “That’s where Egypt is going now …
It’s not a fair fight.”
The Muslim Brotherhood remains one of the more organized, experienced and powerful organizations
in Egypt. Mustafa Kamal Al
Sayyid, a political-science professor at the American University in
Cairo, said that there is no serious competitors to the Brotherhood
right now and “there are no other political parties that could
claim to get the support of as large a number of people.” Nabil
Famy, dean of the School of Public Affairs at the American University
in Cairo and a former ambassador to the United
States, echoed this sentiment when he said that all other parties
“have not had enough time to mature” as has the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood initially said it would not field a candidate in the
presidential elections, yet on May 12th a senior member of the organization,
Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, announced his intention to run for president-
though he will run as an independent. Many observers fear that
Abul Futuh’s candidacy will draw votes from the large Islamist
population and help the Brotherhood gain more power, though another
group leader, Sobhi Saleh, said that “Abul Futuh's decision counters
the Brotherhood's official decision.” On their official
webpage, the Brotherhood says it had no intention of honoring Abul Futuh’s
decision and made clear that he would not be officially representing
A poll published on April 22 in the state-run Ahram newspaper
showed Abul Futuh - even before his campaign started - and outgoing Arab League chief Amr Moussa,
with the highest voter support at 20 percent, while Mohamed
ElBaradei, a retired UN diplomat,
had 12 percent support.
The Brotherhood then announced its formation of a new political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, that would run under their platform in the upcoming elections.
On June 22, the Brotherhood announced its decision
to join with the Pakistani Muslim political party of Jamaat e Islami
to solve global issues that Muslims face and to promote Islam's true
image. On July 5, the party expelled five of its more outspoken youth
leaders in a sign that its established leadership wants to buttress
the brotherhood's organizational and ideological rigidity against those
party members who yearn for wider political and religious freedoms.
The ejected members were the founders of their own political party after
they decided not to join the brotherhoods newly created Freedom and
Justice Party. One of the expelled members, lawyer Islam Lotfy, spoke
out. "The Muslim Brotherhood is out of step," Lotfy said.
"It is against the concept of revolution. Its literature never
called for a revolution to change the government. That was too radical.
They wanted to gradually change society from within. I used to think
like that," he added, "but it got us nowhere. We were like
the man pushing the stone up the hill and having it roll back over him."
In mid-July, the former spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood,
Kamal al-Halbawi called on Egypt and Iran to "take the necessary
steps" to get rid of Israeli, American and even Saudi Arabian influences
on Egyptian society. "Both nations [Egypt and Iran] underline the
necessity for Muslim nations to maintain solidarity and unity to annihilate
this cancerous tumor (Israel)," he reiterated.
In a troubling sign to those in the West that see the
Brotherhood as a radical organization, many Egyptians in the ruling
Supreme Council have begun to cultivate ties with the Brotherhood as
that organization distances itself from the original January 25th protestors.
On July 25, Major General Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the Supreme
Council, praised the Brotherhood and noted that they are playing a constructive
role in the development of a "new" Egypt. "Day by day,
the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track,"
he said in a speech in Washington at the United States Institute of
Peace. "They have the willingness to share in the political life
... they are sharing in good ways."
On January 23, 2012, the first democratically elected
Egyptian Parliament saw the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party take a plurality of 47% of the vote, a huge win for the group that was technically banned under Mubarak and was still supposedly on the fence in terms of public opinion.
In the wake of their resounding victory, the Brotherhood announced that it still categorically rejects dialogue with Israel and that this position is “clear and not up for discussion.” Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghazlan said it would “reject any request from the Israeli embassy to meet with leaders of the Brotherhood." He added, “It is illogical to open dialogue, any dialogue, given the current Israeli policies against the Arab peoples,” he said. “We will reject any request from the Israeli embassy to meet with leaders of the group.”
On March 19, 2011, with nearly an 80% approval vote
from a record turnout, the Supreme Council passed a number of amendments
to the Egyptian constitution that established, among other things, presidential
term limits, nomination procedures, judicial oversight for elections
and rules governing the implementation of a state of emergency. While
the passing of these amendments is an optimistic sign, the transition
to a democratic government will not be easy and will necessitate a patient
Nadya Khalife, a Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher,
noted how the amendments to the constitution did not explicitly allow
for females to be elected into power. “It is unacceptable for
a constitution that is supposed to allow for a transition toward democracy
and a new Egypt to even give the possibility of excluding women from
public office,” Khalife said. “After women fully participated
in the movement to oust President Hosni
Mubarak, it is offensive to suggest that a woman cannot be president.”
On July 12, the ruling military Supreme Council announced
that it was drafting new ground rules for a new constitution and that
it planned to adopt "a declaration of basic principles" to
the govern the drafting of said constitution. This move was initially
welcomed in Egypt and was seen as a concession to the demand for a "bill
of rights" style guarantee, but legal experts see this merely as
a ploy by the military to strengthen, protect and potentially expand
its own power.
Some are already criticizing the military’s plans
as a usurpation of the democratic process. Ibrahim Dawrish, an Egyptian
legal scholar involved in devising a new Turkish constitution to reduce
the political role of its armed forces, said the Egyptian military appeared
to be emulating its Turkish counterpart. After a 1980 coup, the Turkish
military assigned itself a broad role in politics as guarantor of the
secular state, and in the process, contributed to years of political
turbulence. “The constitution can’t be monopolized by one
institution,” he said. “It is Parliament that makes the
constitution, not the other way around.”
Military Tribunals top
Another step that the new government needs to take to ensure more democratic
advances is to end the practice of trying arrested civilians before
military courts, courts widely believed by Egyptians to be corrupt and
unjust towards the actual severity of the crimes. “Egypt's military
leadership has not explained why young protesters are being tried before
unfair military courts while former Mubarak officials are being tried
for corruption and killing protesters before regular criminal courts,”
said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The
reliance on military trials threatens the rule of law by creating a
parallel system that undermines Egypt's judiciary.”
Basic Liberties top
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the lack of freedoms with
regard to open speech and expression, bulwarks of a good democracy.
For example, on April 11th, blogger Maikel Nabil was sentenced by a
military court to three years imprisonment for using “inappropriate
language” and defaming the military. HRW Director Stork
commented that the “three-year sentence may be the worst strike
against free expression in Egypt” and was imposed after an unfair
military style trial. Stork added, “State institutions,
including the military, should never consider themselves above criticism.
It is only through a public airing of abuses and full accountability
measures that Egypt can hope
to transition away from past human rights violations.”
A few days after the sentence, the Supreme Council announced it would
review cases “of all young people who were tried during the last
Finally, on January 24, 2012, Egypt's ruling military court
In mid-July, the host of a popular TV political commentary
show, Dina Abdel-Rahman, was fired from her station after repeated criticism
of the actions of the ruling military council. Gamal Eid, a human rights
lawyer, said her firing was a warning to others. "Fear of the military
is still great," he said. "I expect a clash between the two
sides," said analyst Hala Mustafa. "There exists a huge gap
in their vision and tempo. Unlike the revolutionaries, the generals
want to reform the system from within while they want to bring it down
and build a new one in its place."
Though national parliamentary elections were originally
scheduled to be held in September 2011 to determine the next leaders,
the ruling military council announced on July 20 that elections be pushed
back to November. In addition, Major General Mamdouh Shahin, the military
council's legislative adviser, said that international election monitors
will not be allowed to observe the elections on the grounds of national
“This is a very terrible development,”
says Bahey El Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human
Rights Studies. “It was usual to hear this from the Mubarak regime
because the elections were always fraudulent.”
On January 23, 2012, the first democratically elected
Egyptian Parliament in more than 60 years began with thousands of Egyptian
people demonstrating outside in celebration and protest. 47 percent
of the 498 legislators belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, including the
elected parliament speaker, Saad el Katatni, a prominent Brotherhood
member. Another 25 percent of the parliament is represented by Salafis,
a more radical Islamic group who last year said democracy was a violation
of God's law but now claim they see government as the way to bring about
Mubarak Trial top
On August 3, 2011, a bedridden Hosni Mubarak was wheeled
into an Egyptian courtroom to face charges stemming from allegedly ordering
the killing of protesters during the January 25th revolution. Along
with his sons, Gamal and Alaa, and former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly,
Mubarak denied culpability and entered a plea of not guilty. “I
deny all these charges and accusations categorically,” Mubarak
said. Mubarak faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted.
After the proceedings, Judge Ahmed Refaat adjourned the trial until
August 15, saying that he needed time to review the plethora of motions
raised by attorneys on both sides.
Developments in Human Rights top
Despite assurances that peace and security would be kept for all citizens
of Egypt in the aftermath
of a revolution that sought to end years of abuses and unite the various
religious sects, the human rights situation in Egypt has yet to improve.
There have yet to be advances made for women’s rights, freedom
of speech and religious protection for Christian
Copts and other minorities.
From the middle of February until early March 2011, the ruling military
council was charged with abusing demonstrators and even torturing detainees.
“The Supreme Military Council has been ignoring credible reports
of arbitrary arrest and torture,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle
East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There can
be no break from the abuses of the past while security forces - including
military personnel - abuse people with impunity.” In addition,
the Egyptian army continued its practice of arresting civilians and
holding them in military prisons, even subjecting them to harsh interrogations
and tribunals without lawyers. Egypt’s authorities even
refuse to release lists of those they have imprisoned and hold numerous
men without solid charges. While there are no totally reliable statistics
of the number of people being held in detention, human rights groups
estimate that at least 5,000 people have been imprisoned since the military
council took over.
On March 8, 2011, the harassment and victimization of women in public
continued unchanged as gangs of men attacked women marching for International
Women’s Day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the same site where
earlier demonstrations that included hundreds of women helped lead to
the demise of the Mubarak regime. Soldiers intervened to disperse
the mobs only before telling the women it was wrong from them to demonstrate
in public. “If the International Women's Day attacks are
any sign of what is to come, women's ability to participate in political
life may be at risk,” said Nadya Khalife, Human Rights Watch Middle
East and North Africa women’s rights researcher. “As Egypt
moves toward elections, officials need to provide protection for women
who wish to demonstrate publicly, and ensure that anyone attacking peaceful
protesters is held to account.”
On March 24, 2011, the Egyptian cabinet passed legislation that outlawed
public demonstrations and strikes despite the fact that it was these
exact things that helped spark revolution. “This virtually blanket
ban on strikes and demonstrations is a betrayal of the demands of Tahrir
protesters for a free Egypt,
and a slap in the face of the families whose loved ones died protesting
for freedom,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa
director at Human Rights Watch. “Any genuine transition toward
democracy must be based on respect for the basic rights of the people,
including their right to demonstrate.”
On May 7 and 8, 2011, the Christian
Copt community, a very small religious sect that suffered greatly
at the hands of Muslim extremists during the Mubarak era, was attacked
by Muslim Salafi’s who fired guns and threw Molotov cocktails
at churches and homes. Twelve Copts were killed in the riots and
no fewer than 230 sustained injuries; in addition, three churches, an
apartment complex, two houses and a Coptic-owned building were torched.
Despite being alarmed to the riots and fires, the Egyptian fire brigade
and military were incredibly slow to respond and, once they did, were
held back from assisting by throngs of Salafi extremists. Renowned Muslim
liberal writer Nabil Sharaf el Din said, “The army is either incapable
or is an accomplice to the Salafi’s … If the army does
not takes a stern position with the Salafi’s they will look real
On May 11, Parliament voted to extend for two years the Emergency Law
for which most Egyptians protested to have repealed once and for all
after Mubarak’s fall. The law, in place since the 1981 assassination
of Sadat, gives the government unlimited power in arresting and detaining
prisoners without cause, denying freedoms of speech and assembly and
maintaining a special security court to rule in most criminal cases.
Mubarak used the law primarily to keep a lid on the Muslim
Brotherhood and other opponents of his regime.
The emergency law represents one of the toughest laws against basic
civil liberties and human rights. Though officials say the provisions
will be used only in cases of terrorism and drug trafficking, and not
on a widespread scale as was the case under Mubarak, many do not believe
their words. “Even the claim that emergency powers will now be
limited to terrorism and drug trafficking cases only is false,”
said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for
Personal Rights. “More dangerously, the culture of exceptionalism
stays, and with it the message that security agencies are still above
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa for
Human Rights Watch, added “they use this law to prosecute any
political activist who criticizes the government.” Martin
Scheinin, the UN special representative
on terrorism and human rights, noted, “Basically there is no legal
certainty as long as there is an emergency law in place.”
On May 31, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information released
a statement saying that the questioning of journalists or bloggers was
an attempt to silence critics and create “an atmosphere of fear.”
It warned: “The military council is committing a grave mistake
if it continues to shut the mouths of those criticizing it. The council
is not made up of angels.”
On June 1, Egypt’s Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy in a rare
move ordered an investigation into reports that a detainee was tortured
to death while in police custody.
On July 13, the Supreme Council announced that it would
be retiring more than 600 senior police officers in an attempt to mollify
concerns of protestors over the continued employment of police officers
loyal to Mubarak who have been heavily involved with wrongdoing and
brutality. At least 18 generals and 9 other senior officers were forced
into retirement after accusations arose that they were all involved
in killing protestors during the January uprising. Hundreds of other
policemen were shifted to clerical work and many will also be forced
Ahmed Ragheb, a human rights advocate who runs the
Hisham Mubarak Law Center and helps lead a police reform project, called
on the government to continue such practices of suspending police officers
accused of violent behavior. “We want them to suspend all of the
officers who were accused of any human rights violations,” he
said, and he faulted the ministry for failing to identify the officers
removed from their posts.
On July 23, despite the announcement of the retirings,
thousands of protestors led a non-violent march on the Defense Ministry
in Cairo to push demands that more police officers responsible for the
killing of some 800 protestors be brought to justice. The protestors,
though, were attacked by bands of armed men weilding clubs and firebombs
while the anti-riot police and military stood by without intervening.
More than 300 protestors were injured during the confrontation, many
According to an Egypt-based NGO report, approximately
93,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt since March 19, 2011, and the
Egyptian Federation of Human Rights chair predicts the number may increase
to as high as 250,000 by the end of this year. Of the thousands who
left, about 42,000 went to the United States while others have settled
in Canada (17,000), Australia (14,000), the Netherlands, Italy, England,
Austria, Germany and France (20,000 went to Europe).
On October 9, a Christian demonstration spurred by
anger at a recent attack on a church led to a violent night of clashes
between Coptic Christians and Egyptian police. 24 people died and over
200 were wounded in the outburst of violence.
On January 24, 2012, Egypt's ruling military court
released a pro-Israel Egyptian blogger, Maikel Nabil, after about 10
months in prison for denouncing the military, which has held power since
former president Mubarak's ouster in February 2011.
On January 26, Egyptian officials barred six Americans
working for large well-known, publicly funded U.S. organizations promoting
democracy in Egypt from leaving the country, prompting outrage from
American officials and the public. "These organizations have been
operating for years. They meet with the government. Their funding is
known. There can be no motivation except a desire to control and silence
the human rights community," a Human Rights Watch in Cairo employee
Associated Press (September
27, 2011), (November
20, 2011), (January
Al-Masry Al-Youm (September
17, 2011), (September
Assyrian International News Agency (May
Carnegie Endowment (March
Christian Science Monitor (July
FARS News Agency (July
5, 2011), (May
9, 2011), (May
10, 2011), (June
19, 2011), (July
9, 2011), (July
23, 2011), (October
11, 2011), (November
Human Rights Watch (March
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25, 2011), (March
28, 2011), (April
11, 2011), (April
Huffington Post (June
13, 2011), (June
Institute for National Security Studies (July
Israel Hayom (August
Jerusalem Post (July
20, 2011), (September
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27, 2011), (January
24, 2012), (January
Los Angeles Times (May
8, 2011), (June
27, 2011), (July
Middle East Monitor (May
31, 2011), (July
New York Times (May
12, 2010), (July
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16, 2011), (October
12, 2011), (January
Wall Street Journal (May
2, 2011), (August
Washington Post (April
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25, 2011), (August
3, 2011), (January
Washington Times (July
28, 2011), (July
5, 2011), (July
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