Muslim Brotherhood Protesters in Egypt (Photo: © Reuters)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued in a recent report that Egyptian security forces intentionally killed at least 817 protesters during what they dubbed the "Rabaa massacre" last August. In fact, they described the attack as equal to, or worse, than China's Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.
The report recommends that several senior individuals within Egypt's security apparatus be investigated and, where appropriate, held to account for their role in planning the incident.
This HRW report is defective on several levels.
First, it relied primarily on a pool of biased witnesses. Those who were protesting in Rabba were more than likely supporters of the Islamists and thus predisposed to provide false -- or at least jaundiced --information that would hurt the Egyptian military. HRW should have given equal voice to the opponents of Morsi, particularly those who live near Rabba. As it happens, there were witnesses who were against both the Islamists and the military -- in other words, who were unbiased. And some of them actually videotaped the heinous crimes committed by the Islamists in Rabba prior to the intervention of the military.
The HRW report opted to ignore these important eyewitness accounts.
Ignoring the crimes of the Islamists seems to fit quite nicely with the HRW modus operandi. Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator in February 2013, castigated Human Rights Watch for "looking with horror on those who speak out about murder, mutilation and oppression if the murderers, mutilators and oppressors do not fit into their script."
One of the most shocking examples of the tendentiousness of the HRW report was the fact that they happily accepted the reporting of Mr. Maged Atef (a Newsweek journalist) when his reflections suited their purposes (i.e., criticism of the Egyptian military), but they flatly ignored his testimony when he blamed the violent protesters for killing police officers (which, according to Mr. Atef, sparked the violence that followed in Rabaa). That little tidbit, which Mr. Atef himself witnessed, completely changes the story. Rather than a planned attack by the military as conveyed in the HRW report, it seems it was instead a reaction to lethal violence initiated by the Islamist protesters.
Of course, the cherry picking of information by HRW is neither surprising nor unexpected. Their own founder has accused HRW of bias in research methods and evidence gathering. Robert Bernstein, founder of HRW, accused the organization of poor research for relying on "witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage." Furthermore, according to The Times, HRW "does not always practice the transparency, tolerance and accountability it urges on others." In fact, in 2012, New Europe wrote that HRW "allegedly erased references in its reports to its previous cooperation with the Gaddafi regime, including the role of the organization's MENA Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, in marketing Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as a reformer."
The HRW report on Egypt did mention that the demonstrators were armed, but with only a limited number of weapons. It remains unclear how just a few HRW reporters managed to count the number of weapons in such big crowd and in such a chaotic environment. Did they simply ask every Islamist whether or not they were carrying a weapon? Or perhaps they patted down each demonstrator in order to get an accurate count of the number of weapons in the crowd. The report also failed to mention the huge number of weapons that were discovered in storage areas in Rabba. Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Times, accused HRW of a lack of sufficient expertise to report on fighting or war situations.
And by the way, HRW's admission that the demonstrators in Rabaa were armed suggests that perhaps the Egyptian security forces in fact behaved prudently. And it utterly undermines any comparison to China's Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, where the demonstrators were most certainly not armed.
The claim that the protesters were not given enough time to leave the place is challenged by what millions have already seen on the Arab media: Thousands of protesters left Rabba peacefully after the police had informed them that they could leave safely and would not be persecuted. Indeed, the videos clearly show that the police were protecting the protesters who chose to leave peacefully. Those who remained in Rabba after being given fair warning and the opportunity to leave peacefully were the radical Islamist fighters who are by definition quite prepared to fight unto death.
In short, the recent report of HRW regarding the Rabaa incident in Egypt seems to be at best biased, unprofessional and misleading.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department
On March 14, in a meeting with foreign journalists in Washington, D.C., deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department Marie Harf confirmed, once again, that the United States is in “communication” with the Muslim Brotherhood but denied that this means it supports the Islamist organization. The exchange follows:
QUESTION: Okay. The second question is: The State Department has recently said that it is in constant contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, as with the other political groups, you see?MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, yes.
QUESTION: So do you think that these contacts have any effect on the United States relations with Egypt? And are these just mere contacts or support? Because this is very important for the Egyptian public opinion. Thanks.
MS. HARF: Well, they’re contacts, and let’s just – I’ll put it in a little context here. We think it’s important to have contacts with all the parties in Egypt, because all the parties in Egypt ultimately are going to need to be a part of Egypt’s future, and that we want to help them be a part of that future and move Egypt out of the situation it’s in today. So we think this is important to do. Do we always agree, do they always agree with what we’re saying? Of course not. But we believe it’s important to have the dialogue.
We don’t support one party or one group or one person. So when we’re talking about elections, when – I know there’s a lot of conspiracy theories about us supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or supporting the military or – there’s a lot. They can’t all be true, right? Because they’re mutually exclusive. But we don’t support one group. We support the process. We support the people of Egypt who make up these parties – right – as they are trying to determine how to get Egypt back on a better path.
One wonders: if the Obama administration does not “support one party or one group or one person,” why did it try to urge the Egyptian people in general, the Christian Copts in particular, not to protest against former president Muhammad Morsi (“one person”) and his increasingly oppressive Muslim Brotherhood (“one party”)?
Conversely, if the Obama administration is supportive of “the people of Egypt” in general, where was it when the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters were terrorizing Egypt, and continue to do so—including by burning and destroying over 80 Christian churches? But when millions of Egyptians protested against the increasingly oppressive Morsi/Brotherhood government, leading to their ousting, it was then that the Obama administration reacted by reducing aid to Egypt.
Indeed, in regards to Harf’s claims that “We support the people of Egypt,” the other day an Egyptian TV commentator summed up mainstream Egyptian opinion as follows:
Harf yesterday confirmed that her nation is in communication with the Muslim Brotherhood but denied that this means it supports them. They’re just in contact—you know, “checking up” on each other. She said that the United States is in contact with all political parties in Egypt. In reality, they [Brotherhood] are no longer “political parties.” They are “terrorist parties.”
She stressed that they do not support any particular person or political party, adding “we support the people of Egypt.” Apparently that explains why they stopped their aid and support? They “support the people of Egypt,” even as the Egyptian people cannot stand the Muslim Brotherhood, has rejected them, and is rejoicing because the government finally designated them as a terrorist organization.
So this is the sort of “support” Mary Harf offers to the Egyptian people—that the United States is in contact with a terrorist organization.
Regarding a “conspiracy” between the U.S. and the Brotherhood, she said this cannot be true, adding that they only “support the people of Egypt as they are trying to determine how to get Egypt back on a better path.”
What’s it to you? If we want a democracy, a dictatorship, or just to stay as we are—we’re free to do so. I really don’t understand this idea whereby they [the Obama administration] always show up saying “we support democracy” in the Arab world, and yet here is the result of their support: Every nation they have put their nose in, they destroyed it.
(The following is a video of the press conference. Skip to 13:05 for the question to Harf on Egypt:)
Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013). He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Mr. Ibrahim's dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by Egyptian parents —has provided him with unique advantages to understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets.