A year ago, thousands of Egyptians were killed by security forces while they were having their peaceful sit-ins, to protest the unlawful ouster of Egypt's first elected president, Dr. Muhammad Morsi. Official and NGO reports on the victims were conflicting, but the Human Rights Watch, or HRW, reported last week that 1,150 citizens were killed during their sit-ins in Cairo's Raba'a Square by the Egyptian coup government on 3 July 2013.
The New Human Rights Watch report held Sisi personally responsible for the Rabaa massacre and other gross human rights violations. As well as Sisi, the comprehensive report titled 'The Raba'a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt' details the involvement of the Egyptian Interior Minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, and the police's special forces head Medhat Menshawy, among others.
Exactly at the time the report was revealed, a group of 50 Egyptian exiles, calling themselves the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, appointed in Istanbul on Friday people to run the organization which will campaign against the Egyptian military rule. Political researcher Dr. Maha Azzam was elected president. Dr. Azzam explained the revolution and the democracy victims of Egypt to Yeni Safak's English Editor, Sinem Köseoglu.
SINEM KÖSEOGLU | ISTANBUL
You and your colleagues established the 'Egyptian Revolutionary Council' on August 8. How is this council going to function?
The name, Egyptian Revolutionary Council, was chosen by the participants during the gathering held in Istanbul. We declared it on the 8th of August. The idea of the council is to provide a good council and opens it arms to all political ideas, or individuals or groups, whatever their political background is. It doesn't represent one ideology. The idea behind it is to form or to bring together what have been described by the council as patriotic forces that are willing to work against the regime. So its focus is to counter, oppose and expose the military regime and to work to bring it down.
As an example, the political wing of Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) was dissolved. The regime doesn't have an opposition. Will there be a political party as well?
This council will not engage with a regime that kills its own people. The position of this council is that it will not negotiate; it will not have any initiatives that will enter into any kind of negotiations with the regime. The resistance inside wants to see the complete collapse of this military regime and we stand this behind them. The ERC calls for the realization of the January 25 revolution principles.
General Abdelfattah Sisi became the president, despite all the rejections, and gained so-called legitimacy. Do you think it is still possible to bring down Sisi?
I and the majority members of the council believe that the coup regime is very fragile. It survives through repression and it has no legitimacy. The very fact that they need, on the part of the coup regime, to continue repressing Egyptian citizens on the scale either by killing protestors, imprisoning man, women or even children, the use of torture, the lack of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, the fact that the judiciary passes death sentences to hundreds in the matter of hours indicates a regime that feels very insecure, ultimately.
EGYPTIANS ARE DETERMINED TO SEE A CIVIL SOCIETY
I think also why we believe the regime will fail is that the Egyptian people came out on Jan 25, were determined to see a civil society, a democratic society and they tried to build the new society on the basis of the Jan 25 principles which were freedom, social justice and dignity. None of these have been afforded to them. They having now seen that these have been completely reversed, and there is substantial resistance to it, especially when going back in time in a very harsh dictatorship unknown even over the past 60 years,. Even that resistance is not apparent across all of society. It is happening from an important sentiment of society made up of youth, and women, and that resistance was not stopped over the last one year. Despite all the repressive measures by the regime, it continues to increase.
ECONOMY AND SINAI: REGIME'S WEAK POINTS
There is also the economic situation and the security situation that make the coup regime very fragile. So you have a host of problems for the coup regime: one is security, a country where there is an on and off low-level insurgency against it, it has got problems in the Sinai. It even has problems on the Libyan border, which is of its own creation, but it is not in that sense a serious security problem. The economic situation is very dire. It relies on hand-outs from Saudi Arabia and UAE. A country of 90 million like Egypt cannot survive just on hand-outs. It needs real investment, real stability, real growth.
BUSINESS ELITES EXPLOITED THE COUNTRY
It is a country where a business elite lives exploiting the majority. It is truly lacking any sense of social justice. The gap between the rich and poor keeps on growing. So, you also have the makings of a revolution of the hungry. The regime has insured that there is a narrative that divides society rather than bring together. Immediately following the coup, the military focused on through its media, pointing to one group, particularly Muslim Brotherhood, as being one it was justified to use, to kill to assault or imprison and started to define this group as a terrorist threat and organization. It created a division in society. It justified the killing of others such as Muslims in Rabaa Square.
EGYPT'S FASCIST MILITARY REGIME
It continues to espouse a kind of McCarthyism. The military regime in Egypt has all the ambiance of a fascist regime, which is known to us truly. If you look at similar fascist regimes, military and fascist regimes historically in Europe or elsewhere often had some support. Franco Spain; you don't need to look very far, just look to recent history, to know fascism has its supporters. But that is not a justification for it, not as ideologically nor is it good of society as a whole. Egypt today is no different.
'WE ARE THE NEW MASTERS IN NEW EGYPT'
When you compare Sisi's to Husnu Mubarak's term, what is the difference?
I think there is a continuity and change. You have a continuity of a dictatorial type of regime, since the Naser era right to what we see today. It is a military dictatorship of one form or another, from Naser to Sadat, to Mubarak to Sisi. However, the level or repression today in order to maintain this regime is probably higher than ever. It is more pinned to the Naser era, in some cases maybe worse. In addition, the repression is so high because it needs to control and contain the opposition. We had so many decades of military dictatorship that people are rejecting since January 25; you have the reaction of security and military services in order to hold on. And you have the support for them; support from an elite that benefit from this type of regime.
'SISI'S VISION OF EGYPT IS ONE OF A DEMAGOGUERY AND FASCISM'
A business elite that has made an enormous amount of money during Mubarak period where you have around 30 families who have accumulated enormous scale of wealth, at the expense of others and where they have important ties and connections with the outside world. They don't want to see Egypt changed so that their own fortunes don't change as well. It is a situation in which the military is coming to also regain its stake and balance against these elites. The military needs them, doesn't want to lose them, but it also wants to say, 'We are masters in the new Egypt.' I think this is pretty much Sisi's message. I think he is a demagogue, the speeches and the way he presents his vision of Egypt is one of a demagoguery and fascism. It isn't a vision of a modern Egypt that focuses on political, economic development or transparency. Basically, this is a regime that doesn't want accountability or transparency.
Do you think the aides Gulf countries lent reaches out Egyptian citizens?
I think the money coming from the Gulf is allowing the regime to survive by just providing enough for the country to keep its head above and perhaps certain handouts in the right place in order to keep the elites… As I said earlier, Egypt needs much more than this to develop. It needs real investments and real stability. And it needs the type of investments that will reach ordinary people. It's not about cosmetic changes building, or making some changes to infrastructure etc., but more than that. It needs deep-seated economic goals and social programs that will reach the ordinary citizens. So, it needs long term planning and a sincere government and ministry.
THE COUP STATE IS CORRUPT
Both suffer from a very serious corruption in every level of the state. Its ministries are corrupt. Security services and the judiciary are corrupt. You can't have a business or investment without respect for the rule of law, transparency and a legal system people can trust. That doesn't mean that it is only for big companies and it is for their protection. You need that protection for small businesses, ordinary citizens, but we don't have this.
EGYPT NEEDS SERIOUS REFORMS
Egypt needs some really serious reforms. Some people say revolution. There was the promise of reforms, I believe, under the presidency of Mohammad Morsi. I think we had the opportunity under the first civilian president of Egypt to pursue a reformist agenda. It would have taken time but it would have happened. But, the military remained as an institution that blocked the process as well as all corrupt security, judiciary and the media. They all played a part to ensure that past one year was a failure.
Is there any point that you would criticize Morsi in his actions?
I think the legacy that was left before President Morsi was too heavy. A legacy of corruption, tyranny, mismanagement, theft. I don't think that any elected president of Egypt could have done any better. I say that because when he came to power he has been fought in every step of his way. Therefore, he had the legacy, and he had all those responsible of that legacy continuing to fight. So, the only other root that was to be taken was not a reformist one but a revolutionary one. But Dr. Morsi was a democrat. Those who supported him believed in democracy and continue to believe in.
MORSI WAS A DEMOCRAT, NOT A REVOLUTIONIST
It would have been a come in revolution with all the blood that sometimes entails cleansing of the old political order. Egypt was not at that moment because if it were it would have happened. It may reach that point but although we glorify sometimes revolution, revolutions come with a lot of blood. If Egyptians gave more support for democracy during the year of Morsi, they would have just about managed Egypt to push increasingly more towards democracy and perhaps avoid future bloodshed. But things happen when they happen… And that was Egypt's moment in history. Its future moment may be very different. It may be a revolution; it may involve far more violence because maybe the change that is going to come may not happen peacefully. Particularly because you have a military regime, this is why the military regimes are so dangerous, that wants to hold on to power. But you have people as well that want freedom. The two don't go together well.
REGIME TERRORIZES ITS PEOPLE
So far, what we have seen is people that want to resist peacefully. That is an extraordinary because after a year of repressive measures, the resistance continues to be peacefully. And they say that is the form of our resistance. On the other hand, you have a military regime that says it will continue to be violent and continue to terrorize you. Therefore, you have a very different two approaches dealing with the situation: Continue to containment, repression, violence and killing, and resistance to peaceful means. It depends how long they can hold out. But the regime is pushing them. It knows that it has the upper hand in terms of its terror tactics and it has the monopoly on violence.
What does the regime aim by these harsh measure on its own people? Is there a message?
I think it wants to terrorize the whole population. It wants to tell the society 'if you dare to speak out, protest you are liable to be shot in prison and tortured. The regime is sending a clear message to society that we are in control; we don't want you to speak out or to protest. These are terror tactics of a regime that wants full control. I think that what it wants to do is break the resistance; it is their aim. It is trying to give a clear message to the society of don't even think of joining to the resistance because the consequences of this will be too high. Where you have a population that suffered where families, daughters, sons and fathers, a lot of them will say no, the price is high. You know we have chosen to see a change in our country. This is not necessarily the case in the whole of Egypt. But, the resistance doesn't start as the whole country. Historically resistance start as a sole group and then it increases and in Egypt that is also no different.
What about those 'cumulative death sentences'… Would they really execute so many people? What is the aim of these decisions?
They may not hang all of those people but if they hang one person unjustly, as it said in the Quran 'the killing of one soul unjustly is killing the all humanity'. Therefore, they can kill one unjustly and they deliver the message. However, they won't kill just one; they might hang several. It depends on what kind of pressure they are under. And they send a strong message in order to ensure that that they frighten those thinking of joining the resistance.
'IT IS EASER FOR WESTERN MEDIA TO CALL ALL PROTESTORS AS PRO-MORSI SUPPORTERS'
The media has often misinterpreted what has happened in Egypt, especially the western media. It is easy for them to say these are pro-Morsi supporters or the people who come out are Muslim Brotherhood. Of course, they are made up of Muslim Brotherhood; they are made up of people who believe Dr. Morsi was unjustly removed from power. But it is also made up of others who believe their votes are stolen from them and who reject the military. I think it is truly a resistance. If the resistance is made up of a large chunk of one group, that doesn't make it less of a resistance. Today, the world justifies in essence its lack of support for the resistance in Egypt because elements of it were Islamist or pro-Morsi, which is no justification. It is judgmental based on ideology.
HRW recently revealed a report saying what happened in Rabaa was a massacre and Sisi was involved in it. Do you find this report, coming up after one year, a cordial one?
I think it is a very important report. I thing HRW has produced something that is a real contribution. I personally welcome it. It shows on their part a willingness to say not only there was a massacre but over the last year to do research a serious work in order to link the massacre to the highest level of the Egyptian state. In terms of what they have done what is the breakthrough is they are saying that there is a clear line of command from Sisi, Ibrahim and others and that chain of command must be investigated by the Human Rights Council in the UN. So they are urging for an investigation. It is a breakthrough for the victims of Rabaa.
SISI ORCHESTRATED THE MASSACRE
It is what the people on the ground, opposed to the regime and who are there in Rabaa have been saying for a year. They have been saying there was a clear premeditated attack on us. There was a shoot to kill policy, they were shooting at us from the helicopters, from the rooftops, they burnt the bodies, and they said to us 'those crazy Muslims had arms, maybe under the platforms'. That lie was perpetuated by the regime and it may have given outside doubt. But what the HRW report does is very important: it is saying that a line of command from Sisi is clear.
RABAA MASSACRE WAS A PREMEDIATED ATTACK
It said there were hardly any arms there. Even the Egyptians found 15 pieces of guns or arms and people didn't even use them. And you see the pictures or the footage that people are not defending themselves with arms. If they had them there, they would use them. The reports also say something very important: Killing was premeditated. This was a carefully planned and orchestrated massacre.
Do you think it can be a hope that HRW reveals a similar report for Syrians who have been suffering from a civil war for more than three years?
I think we do need to create a linkage. The HRW report on Egypt points to crimes against humanity in Egypt. That's a big charge. If crimes against humanity have been happening in Egypt under Sisi, then that is a hundred times fold in Syria. If that's a case against Sisi, then you can try Assad in Syria for the crimes against humanity a thousand times and it wouldn't be enough. So the linkage is clear. And you have Israel, the attack of Gaza, the killing of children, and war crimes basically. So you have figures on Bashar al-Assad, Netenyahu and Abdulfattah Sisi. All, in the span of two years or so committing unspeakable crimes against innocents that are killing hundreds of thousands of children. And the world is sort of responding on Gaza. It is much better than it was. Syria is put behind it. And Egypt was ignored.
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY NEEDS TO WAKE UP
International community needs to wake up because you have democratic governments in the west, in EU and US, not in the case of Syria but supporting the Israeli government and supporting Sisi in Egypt, sending arms, trading with them, meeting with them diplomatically as if these massacres haven't taken place. They will say to you we condemn them and make the right sound but that is not enough. When regimes, governments are killing their own people, that's not enough. They need to be censored diplomatically and politically by the international community in all international forms, and arms trading has to be stopped with them. Serious measure must be taken against perpetrators of such crimes at international courts.
Is there any direct link with Sisi's coup d'état and Israel's security?
I think the connectivity between Israel and the Sisi regime is very explicit. The idea is that Israel wants to be in control of the agenda for Sinai. It knew that under the Morsi government its control of that agenda would be non-existent eventually. Morsi had torches to develop Sinai, to create new housing, to really turn away from the old system of doing things and ignoring Sinai. Those were feeling that Sinai deserved Egyptian government's attention. It had to think about the tribes of Sinai, to develop Sinai, provide housing and better infrastructure. So, Sinai really became part of Egypt. Of course, there is no chance to get any of this underway.
ISRAEL FEARS ANY DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENTS
The issue here is that there is fear of a democratically elected government by Israeli. I don't think it is only that they fear and Islamist leaning government. Certainly, that was the case but I think Israel would fear any democratically elected government. Therefore, I think it supported and openly welcomed the coup and general Sisi and still continues to embrace and support him, in the same way he has supported Israel through its attack on Gaza.
SIS IS A DOUBLE CRIMINAL FOR RABAA AND GAZA
Egypt under Sisi has been responsible for closing the Rafah border and helping block the tunnels, for allowing Israel kill its neighbors and ultimately families in Gaza. I would argue that General Sisi is a double criminal: He is a criminal for giving the order for the massacre in Rabaa and he is a war criminal because he is the strongest ally of Israel that is responsible for killing thousands of children in Gaza.
When we take of all these, why did the Gulf countries supported the coup in Egypt?
Gulf countries have miscalculated enormously in what their interests are laying. They have let fiend, a narrow vision dominate their understanding of regional politics. Rather than accept that Egypt made a choice towards democracy and chose its president, they did everything possible to undermine that and support the coup. Because they feared the accession to a democratically elected leader in Egypt would also cause their own people ask for greater participation and accountability.
ELECTION OF MORSI WAS ATTRACTIVE FOR GULF RESIDENTS
The fact that Dr. Morsi was elected would seem something attractive for the public in the Gulf. Because here you had a democrat and Islamist leader; a combination of democracy and Islam. Gulf countries feared it and continue to fear. In that as well they were shortsighted. Because if they accepted it and continued to engage, there is a room even in their own societies, for greater accountability, participation and gradually a process of reform. They would set a much more popular position for themselves.
GULF COUNTRIES POLARIZED THE REGION
But their shock created dispute in the region; they polarized the region, and in the medium to long term, they have created a very dangerous situation for themselves internally. We know that the Saudi people are very upset by the position of their own regime. I don't think that the Saudi people want to see the massacre of Egyptians in Rabaa. They don't want to see its Gulf supporting a military coup in Egypt, and don't want to see its own regime paying a regime that is killing off protestors. The public in the Gulf is like public everywhere else. It has a conscience; it has a degree of humanity. The difference with the Gulf is that they cannot speak out. We don't really know when they object because they cannot object publicly.