The Death of Moderation in Egypt: one extrajudicial killing too far

Western media broadcast the statement yesterday from Egypt’s Interior Ministry that Mohamed Kamal and Yasser Shehata, said to be members of the Muslim Brothers ‘armed wing’, were killed in a firefight when police raided their hideout in the southeast of the capital late on Monday.

The problem with that statement was that the night before, the spokesperson for the Muslim Brothers announced on the group’s Facebook page, that Mohamed Kamal had been arrested and taken into custody by Egyptian National Security at the agency’s headquarters in Lazoughly. This agency has been at the centre of a massive programme of ‘disappearances’, highlighted recently in Amnesty’s July 2016 reportOfficially You Do Not Exist’.

In view of this high level of state terrorism currently in Egypt, the official announcement from Muslim Brothers was careful to charge the Egyptian State with responsibility for Mohamed Kamal’s safety. Mekameleen TV anchorman Mohamed Nasir broadcast the Facebook announcement from Turkey to the world, as soon as it appeared. The subsequent Interior Ministry statement consequently fell flat on its face.

But this was no ordinary arrest. Kamal was a member of the Muslim Brothers ‘Guidance Bureau’, a small group of elected leaders who direct the affairs of the organisation. Hence the urgency behind the Mekameleen TV broadcast.

The arrest itself would appear to have been a routine operation. It is well known that Egyptian Military Intelligence personnel operate alongside UAE operatives trained by Israel in the country’s cellphone network control rooms. Arrests are made of targeted figures in order to set off a flurry of related phone calls in reaction, allowing tracers to establish the locations of the arrested person’s contacts. Voice over IP has been disabled in Egypt in order to drive all phone traffic over the cellphone network. Meanwhile, terrestrial phone communication in Egypt has atrophied sharply due to a lack of investment, and the fact that it has always been spied on anyway.

Kamal would not have been legally charged when arrested. The purpose of the arrest was merely to establish his network of contacts.

However, when junta leader Sisi was informed by Military Intelligence (which he used to run and over which he keeps strict personal control) that Kamal was in custody, and that he was being returned to his home, the order came that he should be murdered.

The course of these events resemble those of June 30th 2015 when 13 Muslim Brothers going about their business doing charity work, mainly attending to the needs of families whose breadwinners were being held in jail, were killed. Once again these were described as an ‘armed gang’ who ‘died in a fire fight’: except that the evidence on the corpses, specifically on their fingers, showed that they had been processed through the country’s penitentiary system the night before, and had been brought to the empty apartment where they were found, merely to be set-up and then executed in cold blood.

The death Mohamed Kamal, however, signals a new phase in the escalating violence in the Middle East and in the increasing lack of capacity of European nations to prevent future chaos from invading their shores. I shall come to the reason for this shortly. First, it is instructive to ask why it is that European governments are intent on self-harming.

***

Given that Italy is in the front line of the refugee crisis, it is ironic that it was the very first European nation to formally recognise the blood-soaked Egyptian junta leader. It is even more ironic that the Egyptian National Security Agency committed what has become its internationally most talked-about extrajudicial killing against an Italian citizen: that of Giulio Regeni.

It was all a matter of money and greed. Italy’s ENI had discovered a massive gas find in Egyptian waters, which it was keeping quiet about in the period after the 2011 revolution and during the rule of the legitimately elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. After the coup, and the formal recognition of its leader, ENI announced the find.

It may seem strange that this couldn’t be done at the time of Mohamed Morsi. However, it is clear that ENI was merely following the hard-nosed approach of British Gas’s negotiating tactics over the West Mediterranean Deep Water concession. The British company was demanding direct ownership over the gas assets and accrual to it of 100% of the profits. It is hardly surprising that Hatem Azzam, secretary-general of the parliamentary industry and energy committee under President Morsi, found that handing over ownership and all the profits on a gas concession to be patently absurd.

The principal cheerleaders and enablers of the 3rd July coup would appear to have been Blair and Britain Inc. This represents the very same agglomeration of interests that perceive a distinct danger in the potential coming to power in Britain of someone like Jeremy Corbyn, with a balanced and pacific approach to the Middle East. These interests not only organised a (now failed) coup to oust him from his position as leader of the opposition, but also scripted the British media’s attacks on him.

The Italians merely followed in the wake of Britain’s rapacious onslaught.

***

More recently, however, British interests have begun to perceive Sisi as a serious risk. His lunatic rule has led to clear signs of a rough ending for the soldier-fantasist. However, if Sisi is proving his staying power, it is largely thanks to France’s intervention and that of François Hollande. Egypt’s recent unusual turn to the French for a series of spectacular arms deals, including the $5.2bn contract for 24 Rafales, the $1.1bn contract for two Mistral amphibious assault ships, and associated helicopters, Gowind corvettes and FREMM frigates, is strange. What is even stranger is that they have all been delivered to the Egyptian Navy. One wonders why.

While the Rafale deal in particular appears to be a reaction to the souring of US-Egyptian relations, from Sisi’s point of view, it has actually more to do with the consolidation of his power in the Egyptian armed forces. Navy leaders are important allies of Sisi. It is under their control, and that of Chief of Naval Forces Osama el-Gindy in particular, that the country’s legitimate President was being held hostage in a hangar close to the Military Academy in the port of Abu Qir. If the hapless politician is being shunted around for security reasons, then this will inevitably be taking place between the various properties (including ships) belonging to the Navy.

Early in 2014, elements of the army attempted to get rid of Sisi, but were overcome. Their eventual trial was covered by journalist Hosam Bahgat, who was to be detained for his trouble. Journalists have been disappeared for much less in Egypt, but Bahgat has long standing links with the US democracy-promotion bureaucracy since 2002, and is an official UN committee member. Ban Ki-moon and the US secured his release. It would seem that events in the Egyptian Armed Forces at the time were troubling the White House.

Sisi consolidated his power by appointing Mahmoud Hegazi, whose daughter Dalia is married to his son, and who had succeeded him as head of military intelligence, in the post of army chief of staff in March 2014. In the move, Sobhy Sedky, who is Minister of Defence which posted acquired a guaranteed eight-year term under ‘Constitution for Everyone Except the Opposition’, was stripped of all effective control over the army.

Mahmoud Hegazi, together with naval chief Osama el-Gindy, are two of the figures who were revealed in the Mekameleen TV leaks, agonizing about how to reorganise Morsi’s incarceration to render it legal under Egyptian law, given that all attempts at charging the country’s freely elected president with various trumped-up charges, had consistently fallen foul at the very first hurdle: namely, that he had technically been kidnapped and been held hostage illegally in a secret unofficial location.

***

But what was Hollande’s purpose in coming to Sisi’s aid?

Basically, Sisi was prepared to help Hollande achieve those projects set in train in 2011 by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who it was generated the “political momentum” behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya that authorized the defense of civilians in Benghazi with “all necessary measures” by NATO. (Note that it is this UNSC resolution in particular which left Russia feeling betrayed and which drove its officials to respond to Iranian pleas for help to defend Assad in Syria).

The words in quotation marks Above come from the 14 September 2016 UK foreign affairs committee report, which excoriated David Cameron’s slavish following of Sarkozy, who had sought to wage war in Libya in order for France to, again in the words of the report, “gain more influence in North Africa” for him to “improve his poll numbers”.

It is worth mentioning that the report laid “ultimate responsibility” for the air assault that led to Gaddafi’s fall and the civil war that followed at Cameron’s door. The ex-British PM having earlier refused entirely to cooperate with the report promptly left public life completely on its publication, to avoid being obliged to answer any questions.

Be that as it may, not only was Sisi prepared to help Hollande complete Sarkozy’s project, but he had the means to do so. Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, Muammar Gaddafi’s cousin and chief aide, had escaped Libyan justice and was living in Cairo under Sisi’s protection. Leaks from Sisi’s office from late 2013 disclosed the sordid details of negotiations with Gaddaf al-Dam, and involving the UAE, for a takeover of the oil ports in Libyan Gulf of Sirte. Not long after that, renegade general Khalifa Haftar’s first “television coup” took place on February 14, 2014 in Tobruk with Egypt’s backing, after considerable shuttling back and forth to Cairo, in a move which wasa surprise to the US’.

The pay-off for Hollande’s efforts, and those of his assorted allies, came as Haftar took control this September of all the oil ports and terminals and the first shipment of oil in two years set sail. Hollande’s pretence that his involvement in Libya is in order to fight DAESH/ISIL, is exactly that – pretence. It is the forces associated with the beleaguered UN-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj that is doing the fighting against DAESH/ISIL in the city of Sirte, while Haftar’s forces backed by Egypt and Egypt’s UAE handlers actually attacked armed groups in Benghazi that posed a potential threat to oil flows.

Hollande, meanwhile, in a contemporaneous display of astonishing hypocrisy (even for him), attacks the US for its post 9/11 ‘war of terror’, on his Facebook page.

***

If Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are not enough, Egypt, with twice as many people as those countries combined, promises a doom-laden future for Europe. Mohamed Kamal’s murder will lead to new levels of terrorism and violence on a scale not yet experienced. Perhaps for the brain-dead group-think addicts of US and European bureaucracies, complete unravelling and ultimately disaster are requirements of action.

There are two things about this murder which are different to previous extrajudicial killings: who the person was and the circumstances of his death.

First, this is the first time a member of the Muslim Brothers ‘Guidance Bureau’ has been gunned down in cold blood since Hassan al-Banna was killed in 1949 at the age of 42. The rage on the street is now palpable, but this is a result of a more complex series of events that took place in the ranks of Muslim Brothers this year.

Kamal was 61 and an ear-nose and throat specialist. Essentially a peaceable character, he went about his business without much fuss. However, Kamal became enraged at the policy of the Egyptian Interior Ministry and its thugs at the National Security Agency to abduct and gang rape women, often girls as young as 13, from districts whose populations were known to belong to the opposition. This was done while they were under arrest without charge in police precincts. The purpose was to goad relatives into violent responses that would then enable the police to kill them.

Kamal lobbied the various leaders of the Muslim Brothers for a less passive, more robust, form of resistance. Against the advice of his colleagues he developed a strategy of ‘targeted response’ to pursue acts of revenge directed at police officers involved in illegal and brutal attacks against the population. However, a serious backlash erupted from senior sections of the Muslim Brothers.

A war of words engulfed the movement at the beginning of 2016, with Kamal on the one side, Mahmoud Ezzat, acting head of the movement, and Talaat Fahmy, then spokesman for the movement, on the other, which shook the rank and file. In the face of the current unbelievable repression, the formal unity of the movement had, until then, been considered sacrosanct.

Kamal agreed to stall, and to defer to the judgement of éminences grises within the movement. Iraqi scholar Mohamed Ahmed al-Rashid, who resides in Turkey, was invited to judge between the conflicting parties. His decision, apparently after much soul searching, was that the Muslim Brothers should limit themselves to civil disobedience, and disavow retaliatory measures. Kamal – to the intense disappointment of many of the younger elements – agreed to obey the ruling.

His murder on Sisi’s orders has effectively driven the higher echelons of the Muslim Brothers hierarchy to irrelevance. The young have taken over. All they remember are the years since 2011. Moderation is now officially dead.

If anybody amongst brain-dead group-think addicted US and European apparatchiks have their fingers on the pulse, it is perhaps the British establishment. After considering a number of ways of finessing the incredibly complex task set them by the Brexit referendum, Teresa May’s Tory government, has suddenly decided on a ‘hard Brexit’, irrespective of cost.  The reason: controlling Britain’s borders and managing immigration.

Hungarian leader Victor ‘razor-wire’ Orban, seems to agree with the British, as do almost all other Eastern Europeans, and the German electorate. It is ironic that, irrespective of their Islamophobic bluster, these countries are unlikely, unlike Britain, whose past governments have been major drivers of these developments, to escape the worst ravages of what is to come.

Their discomfort, however, is as nothing compared to Egypt’s prospects of violence and despair, thanks to Europe’s greed and stupidity.