Egypt Military Crackdown Targets Friend And Foe Alike

CAIRO -- A week and a half before they put her under investigation for espionage, Egypt's military-backed government couldn't have asked for a better advocate than Esraa Abdel Fattah.

Since the revolution that swept the dictator Hosni Mubarak from power, Abdel Fattah distinguished herself as one of the most articulate and outspoken proponents of the democratic uprising. But after a year of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and the military coup that brought him down, Abdel Fattah put her abundant energies to a different use: endorsing the military's actions, and especially its handling of the Brotherhood.

"I don't agree that there is a risk of being too close to military," she told The Huffington Post the night before the government ordered the police to storm a pair of Brotherhood sit-ins, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The impending decision to storm the camps, she added at the time -- rather than to take a more staggered approach to shutting them down, as some had suggested -- was both wise and essential. "I hope they can do it gradually, but what's happened there makes it hard to imagine it can be possible anymore."

"We first need to make transitional justice, we need to make the rule of law first," she went on. "And then after that we can talk about a role for the Brotherhood in the future government."

On Saturday, the new regime's notion of transitional justice came for her. Together with a fellow activist, Asmaa Mahfouz, Abdel Fattah found herself being referred by the prosecutor's office for a state security investigation. The charge is that they had "received funds from abroad" -- evidence, supposedly, of spying, but a common and specious charge in the Mubarak era. On Sunday, Abdel Fattah could not be reached by phone or email.

Whatever the fate of Abdel Fattah and her colleague, it's a sign of the convoluted times in Egypt, where a spate of arrests and prosecutions by the newly empowered military-backed government has swept up a wide array of supposed threats, allies and antagonists alike.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been caught in the crackdown, the vast majority of them leaders or affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists.

But as The New York Times noted on Sunday, lately the net has been cast even more widely. A pair of Canadian journalists, in Cairo on their way to report on Gaza, were arrested and accused of being members of the Brotherhood involved in a terrorist plot. An attorney for the pair has characterized the case as simply a matter of being "in the wrong place at very much the wrong time."

And after a journalist for a state-run newspaper was killed while driving through a military checkpoint after curfew last week, a colleague of his who was with him in the car at the time was later arrested when he publicly contradicted the military's version of events.

Meanwhile, the Abdel Fattah case may demonstrate the furthest extent of the state's fear of former revolutionaries, regardless of their more recent viewpoints.

When Ahmed Maher, who co-founded with Abdel Fattah the revolutionary youth movement known as April 6, expressed early misgivings about the military's plan following the coup, Abdel Fattah was one of his most vicious and public critics.

"When terrorism is trying to take hold of Egypt and foreign interference is trying to dig into our domestic affairs, then it’s inevitable for the great Egyptian people to support its armed forces against the foreign danger," she wrote in a newspaper column at the time, according to the Times.

In her exchange with HuffPost, Abdel Fattah said she was no longer a member of April 6, and that she saw little downside in her newfound alignment with the military.

"The only risk we face is how we can stop the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have weapons inside their protests and use them to torture people," she said. "That is the only danger."



Protests In Egypt