x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Calls grow for Egytian military to free Islamists

Egyptian public prosecutor says complaints against detained Brotherhood members include spying, inciting violence and damaging the economy.

Supporters of the deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi confront soldiers on a highway to the airport in Cairo. Hussein Malla / AP Photo
Supporters of the deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi confront soldiers on a highway to the airport in Cairo. Hussein Malla / AP Photo

CAIRO // The sister of one of the men held alongside the former Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, described their detentions as a gross breach of human rights yesterday, as pressure mounted on the interim government to charge them with crimes or release them.

Mona AlQazzaz, whose brother Khaled was one of Mr Morsi's top foreign affairs aides, said her family had only sparse contact with him since he was detained on July 3, when the military removed the president after huge demonstrations against his government.

"He is only allowed a couple of minutes to speak every few days," said Ms AlQazzaz, who is based in London. "He called on Friday to wish his daughter happy birthday. But he isn't allowed to say anything."

Whenever family members ask about his condition or whereabouts, he quickly hushes the conversation, saying: "I'm not allowed to say anything about that".

The military said Mr Morsi and his aides were being held "for their own safety" and have given no timeline for their release, though there were signs yesterday that the public prosecutor was preparing to bring charges against many of those in detention.

The public prosecutor's office said it had received complaints against Mr Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he is a former deputy leader. The complaints include allegations of spying, inciting violence and damaging the economy.

The statement yesterday was all the more significant in the fraught political atmosphere because the public prosecutor rarely communicates about complaints before charges are filed.

The disclosure of the complaints came after the United States and Germany intensified calls on Friday for the men to be released to help heal the country's rifts and a transition back to a democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood supporters have rallied across Egypt in the past few days to protest against the detentions and military rule. The group has called for mass demonstrations tomorrow, which could shut down Cairo's main streets and widen the political rifts that have kept Egypt in turmoil for more than a week are preventing Egypt's return to stability after more than a week of tumult.

Ms AlQazzaz, who is in regular contact with Brotherhood members in Egypt, said the leadership appeared to be moving away from calls to reinstate Mr Morsi and fine-tuning their message to be against military interference in politics.

"The message is we are seeing a return of the Mubarak regime," she said. "The state police are back. People are detained without even an arrest warrant. Hundreds of people have disappeared and more than 200 have been killed since everything escalated on June 30th."

That message could resonate, particularly after more than 50 people were killed by the military and police last Monday in what the Brotherhood has described as a "massacre" of peaceful protesters.

Col Ahmed Ali, the military spokesman, has defended the use of deadly force, saying the security forces fired only after militants among the protesters attacked a military barracks with live ammunition.

The shooting has been the subject of competing narratives, with each side providing video footage of what they claim is proof that the other side was the cause of the violence.

Col Ali has questioned the number of fatalities, and accused the pro-Morsi protesters of killing each other to tarnish the reputation of the military.

Adly Mansour, the former head of the supreme constitutional court who was appointed interim president by the military, has ordered an independent investigation.

The possibility of continued, large-scale protests from supporters of the former president and his opponents, who have been holding a sit-in in Tahrir Square for nearly two weeks, would be a huge obstacle for the interim government.

Mr Mansour has already had trouble forming the government after a transitional council made up of groups that supported Mr Morsi's removal disagreed on the political road map and government appointments.

After negotiations, the groups agreed on Mr Mansour's choice of Hazem El Beblawi as interim prime minister. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomat, was originally picked for the job but the offer was rescinded after the ultraconservative Al Nour party threatened to pull out of the council. He was instead appointed vice president for international affairs.

Ziad Bahaa Eldin, a founding member of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party and former financial regulator of Egypt, was nominated as deputy prime minister.

Appointments aside, the true task for Mr Mansour's government will be amending a constitution that political parties disagree deeply about and convincing the Brotherhood to join upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. A Brotherhood boycott would be a blow to Egypt's democratic credibility.

"It will be very difficult for anyone opposed to military interference in politics to participate in the political scene," Ms AlQazzaz said.

"When we went to the streets in 2011, it wasn't about having Mr Morsi as president. We were fighting for equal representation and equality for all Egyptians … The military is bluntly biased against one group and for another."

bhope@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse