On Monday, Yasser Ali announced that Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi will visit the United States in 2013, in what would be his first visit to Washington since he was elected last June. Ever since, Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies have made numerous moves to reimpose a dictatorship on an Egyptian opposition that grows more impassioned against this power grab with every passing day. Yet like every would-be dictator, Morsi has his methods of dealing with such resistance.
According to anti-Morsi activists, such methods include paying gangs of thugs to sexually assault women protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against Morsi’s decrees that would grant him unprecedented powers. The latest assaults began just over ten days ago, when more than 200,000 Egyptians massed in the Square to protest the new draft constitution that essentially imposes Sharia Law, turning women and non-Islamic minorities into de facto second-class citizens. “This is still happening now,” said Magda Adly, the director of the Nadeem Centre for Human Rights. “I believe thugs are being paid money to do this … the Muslim Brotherhood have the same political approaches as Mubarak.”
A protestor named Yasmine confirmed that assessment to the Daily Mail, saying she had been filming the demonstrations when the crowd suddenly turned on her, and approximately 50 men sexually assaulted her for more than an hour. Other men who tried to rescue her were beaten. Her ordeal ended when residents witnessing the mayhem came out of their houses to help her, and an elderly couple pulled her into their home. Nevertheless, she sustained internal injuries and was unable to walk for a week.
Journalist/activist Afaf el-Sayed said the same thing happened to her during a protest a month earlier, and that she was positive the men were “thugs from the Muslim Brotherhood.” Other activists contend more than 20 such attacks have occurred in the last ten days, and that the assaults follow a familiar pattern: they all take place in one corner of the square, at the same time every evening, and they usually begin with men forming a human chain around the women as if to protect them. The Mail spoke to two men who admitted they were part of a group of about 65 thugs who were paid for their efforts. “We’re told to go out and sexually harass girls so they leave the demonstration,” said one of them.
Such sexual assaults are nothing new. CBS News reporter Lara Logan, British journalist Natasha Smith, and left-wing journalist Mona Eltahawy were all subjected to similarly brutal assaults since the advent of the so-called Arab Spring. The only difference now is that, according to anti-Morsi activists, they are occurring far more frequently.
It gets worse. Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm is reporting that the Brotherhood has set up “torture chambers” inside the presidential palace in Cairo. Protesters have allegedly been taken there and beaten to force confessions. The newspaper claimed it was granted access for three hours Wednesday night to a central chamber located at the gate of the palace in front of Omar bin Abdel Aziz Mosque on Merghany Street. Access was granted to the paper’s reporter, Mohamed El-Garhi, after a colleague who worked for Misr 25 satellite channel, owned by the Brotherhood, intervened.
Inside, there were reportedly Egyptian police, both in uniform and plain clothes, as well as 15 Muslim Brotherhood members. All of them were supervised by three bearded men who were apparently in control of the proceedings. Protesters were brought in after having been beaten and stripped of their clothes by Brotherhood members. ID, mobiles phones and money were then confiscated. Detainees were alternately questioned and beaten in order to force confessions of “thuggery.” If detainees denied affiliation with the opposition, the beatings allegedly intensified.
El-Garhi says he heard detainees screaming inside the chamber. He further described the level of brutality. “Some of the detainees were not able to respond to the questions the Brotherhood interrogators screamed at them because of their physical state,” he writes. “Some were bleeding profusely and severely fatigued, but were not given medical assistance, only offered bottles of water to drink…Once a group of detainees was taken away, another was brought in.”
Once again, such incidents are allegedly nothing new. In October, an Egyptian rights group published a report, documenting 247 cases of police brutality, and 88 cases of torture, during Morsi’s first 100 days in office. Journalist Fathi Khattab, who writes for Egyptian newspaper al-Arab al-Yahm, also contends that Brotherhood militias were behind recent attacks on prominent Egyptians, including former presidential candidate Abu al-Ezz al-Hariri, who was subjected to a beating.
On Sunday night, Morsi expanded his tentacles even further, issuing a decree giving the Egyptian military “temporary” power to arrest civilians in the run up to the constitutional referendum, scheduled for December 15. Despite having ringed the presidential palace with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades, due to last week’s violence that left seven people dead and hundreds wounded, the military has yet to confront the thousands of protesters who have gathered in front of the palace, night after night. It has sought to maintain neutrality, even as it has warned it will “not allow” the country to descend into chaos. ”The latest law giving the armed forces the right to arrest anyone involved in illegal actions such as burning buildings or damaging public sites is to ensure security during the referendum only,” a military source said. Spokesman Yasser Ali also contended the new powers were granted due to a request by Egypt’s Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) and will expire once results of the referendum are announced.
Yet the military’s cooperation may have been bought. Christian Science Monitor writer Dan Murphy speculates that Morsi has granted military officers similar concessions to those offered by Mubarak, allowing them to continue expanding “a sprawling business empire that ranges from refrigerator factories to water-bottling plants to high-end condominium development,” he writes. “Mubarak provided that platform until he fell. Now, if the Muslim Brotherhood is offering a similar deal, who are Egypt’s officers to complain?”
Anti-Morsi forces have yet another threat to contend with as well. Yesterday, Salafist preacher Saeed Abdel-Azim, whose hard-line Islamic members have aligned themselves with the Brotherhood, accused opposition leaders of following U.S. diktats that made them “enemies of Islam.” He warned that any attempt to remove Morsi would precipitate an “Islamic revolution.” ”If secularists try to topple President Morsi or storm the presidential palace, we will not stand still,” he warned at a conference in Alexandria. “We will organize a massive Islamic revolution in Egypt involving unprecedented numbers,” he added.
Egyptian opposition to Morsi might pose a problem, but the Obama administration is another story altogether. In a remarkable demonstration of political tone-deafness, a source at the naval air base in Fort Worth told Fox News that 20 F-16 fighter jets–paid for by U.S. taxpayers as part of a foreign aid deal made in 2010 when Mubarak ruled–will still be delivered to Egypt. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, offered the proper perspective. “The Obama administration wants to simply throw money at an Egyptian government that the president cannot even clearly state is an ally of the United States,” she said.
It’s far worse than that. Such a move represents an overt slap-down of opposition leaders desperate to prevent Egypt’s steady march towards Sharia statehood. Moreover, it reveals that Obama’s call to Morsi last Thursday, expressing ”deep concern” about the deaths and injuries of protesters, was nothing more than the kind of empty rhetoric this president often uses to obscure his true intentions. Morsi’s dictatorial ambitions are clear. Tragically, it appears that Barack Obama has no problem whatsoever with them.
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