Facing universal criticism by Western countries for its violent actions against the Muslim Brotherhood this past week, the Egyptian government is expressing itself selectively following a botched prisoner escape in which 36 Islamist captives died, Arab media reports.
The pro-government Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm leads off Monday’s news with an official Interior Ministry report that refrains from stating that the Egyptian government actually “killed” any of the deceased Islamist prisoners. The dead prisoners, all low- to medium-level activists in the Muslim Brotherhood, supposedly died from asphyxiation due to over-exposure to tear gas.
The deceased, detained for “terrorism-related” activities and for conspiring against the government, were traveling in a convoy along with nearly 600 other prisoners when armed gunmen ambushed their van in an attempt to free them. A police officer was taken hostage and a deadly shootout erupted between the attackers and other police officers.
The Doha-based media channel Al-Jazeera argues that the only way so many prisoners could have died so quickly was if they were shot at point-blank range. The Muslim Brotherhood, which canceled a number of marches and protests Sunday in an effort to reduce confrontation with the nascent Egyptian government, cried out that its men had been illegally arrested and were being slaughtered “execution-style” as part of a government effort to destroy the organization.
Al-Jazeera’s reporting on the events in Egypt since the removal of former president Mohammed Morsi from power has drawn the ire of Egypt’s new strongman leader, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and is at risk of having its operations in the country suspended indefinitely over its “pro-Brotherhood” reporting.
“The Egyptian people have a strong dissatisfaction with the channel’s coverage of the events,” a statement by the Egyptian government on the issue read. The statement went on to question Al-Jazeera’s legitimacy and legality. Three Al-Jazeera journalists have been detained by Egyptian authorities since Morsi’s overthrow. Egypt has threatened to revoke the citizenship of Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian journalists who fail to cease their “illegal coverage.”
Just in case anyone thinks Egypt’s new leadership is acting in too authoritarian a manner, El-Sissi assured the Egyptian people in a televised address on Sunday night that “this government gains its legitimacy from the people and it is the people’s will that the government is carrying out.”
According to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, El-Sissi pointed out that without the army’s intervention, the political conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood would have led the country into an ever deeper tunnel. Fighting and conflict would have erupted on the basis of religion, which would have been tragic because “Islam is the path for the Egyptian state.”
“The army is keen on the survival of Islam in its truest sense, which has never been a tool of intimidation and terror before,” El-Sissi said. “We all stand before God. The task assigned to me and the military is to ensure the security of the homeland and its citizens.”
As Western countries debate the Egyptian army’s actions over the past month and agonize over whether to sever relations or cut off military aid, the nations of the Arabian Peninsula are offering their full backing, particularly Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Saudi King Abdullah declared his unwavering support for the Egyptian government during its time of political crisis. El-Sissi called the king’s statement “the strongest demonstration of Saudi support for Egypt since 1973.”
The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait have issued similar messages of support for the Egypt in recent days and have pledged billions of dollars in aid over the past month to prevent a total Egyptian financial collapse. Some Western diplomats say that the support Arab Gulf nations, along with Israel, have given Egypt in recent weeks has been a major factor in Washington’s decision to hold off on cutting aid.
The leading editorial in A-Sharq Al-Awsat, entitled “The custodian and the stability of Egypt” explains this rationale.
“The Egyptian military moved against the Muslim Brotherhood only after the failure of multiple rounds of discussions and negotiations to get the latter to cooperate,” the editorial reads. “After the government enforced the will of the people, a relentless campaign of hostility broke out against it in the Western media.”
“The United States, European Union, and Turkey choose to ignore the truth about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is responsible for violence, armed gatherings, the burning of churches, the murder of police officers, shooting in the streets, and terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. So the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, came to his decision to support stability in Egypt, along with law and order.”