Egypt turns police state focus from Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on other dissenters, sometimes labeling even liberal activists or labor organizers as dangerous Islamists.   Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians — one of them a filmmaker specializing in highly un-Islamic movies about sexual politics — and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group backing the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. In Suez this month, police and military forces breaking up a steelworkers strike charged that its organizers were part of a Brotherhood plot to destabilize Egypt.

When a journalist with a state newspaper spoke publicly about watching a colleague’s wrongful killing by a soldier, prosecutors appeared to fabricate a crime to punish the journalist. And the police arrested five employees of the religious Web site Islam Today for the crime of describing the military takeover as a coup, security officials said.

Since the military takeover last month, some rights activists say, the authorities are acting with a sense of impunity exceeding even the period before the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak.

“What is different is that the police feel for the first time in two and a half years, for the first time since January 2011, that they have the upper hand, and they do not need to fear public accountability or questioning,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In the more than seven weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster, security forces have carried out at least three mass shootings at pro-Morsi street protests, killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and arrested at least as many, actions Ms. Morayef characterized as “massive police abuse on an unprecedented scale.” But even beyond the Islamists, she said, “anyone who questions the police right now is a traitor, and that is a protection that they did not have even in 2010,” when public criticism was tolerated and at least a few complaints were investigated.

Some of the recent charges, like those against the two Canadians, strain credibility. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician with Palestinian roots and a history as a liberal and pro-Palestinian activist, was in Egypt on his way to the Gaza Strip to provide training to Palestinian doctors. John Greyson, a liberal Toronto filmmaker whose work often focuses on cosmopolitan sexual themes, was with him, documenting the trip for a possible movie .

The exact circumstances of their arrest were unclear. In a public statement, Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an armed assault on a police station and “taking part in bloody crimes of violence.” Prosecutors told reporters at the time that the police had detained 240 Brotherhood “members,” including two Canadians.

Among some supporters of the new government, “Islamist” has become a popular indictment. After Mr. Obama criticized Egypt’s crackdown on the Islamists, Tahani el-Gebali, a former judge close to the military, publicly accused him of having ties to the Brotherhood, claiming his Kenyan half brother directed investments for the group.

The journalist who spoke out about his colleague’s killing had been driving with the colleague, Tamer Abdel Raouf, the head of the local office of the official newspaper, Al Ahram, in the delta province of Beheira. When their car was at a checkpoint, soldiers enforcing the 7 p.m. curfew shot and killed Mr. Abdel Raouf.
The authorities have granted journalists a curfew exemption, and Mr. Abdel Raouf was driving a car bearing an official press badge from a meeting with the governor. A military spokesman offered no apology, only condolences, and warned others not to try to speed through checkpoints.

The next day, the journalist who had been in the passenger seat, Hamed al-Barbari, began giving television interviews contradicting the spokesman. Rather than speeding, Mr. Barbari said, his colleague was shot in the head while slowly turning his car in response to a soldier’s instructions.
About two hours after he spoke, a prosecutor arrested Mr. Barbari in the hospital and placed him in custody for four days, for allegedly possessing an illegal shotgun in the car at the time of the episode.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Monday denied reports in the state news media over the weekend about an investigation into two prominent activists, Asmaa Mahfouz and Esraa Abdel Fattah, who are sometimes associated with the left-leaning April 6 group.
The reports indicated that the government was reviving old accusations against the activists about working on behalf of foreign powers to stir unrest in Egypt. Both activists are known in Western capitals for their work around the revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, so reports of the investigation complicated the new government’s efforts to win international recognition. But the reports of an investigation of Ms. Abdel Fattah was especially noteworthy because she has been an outspoken supporter of General Sisi’s ouster of Mr. Morsi.

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