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An Egyptian man walked through Tahrir Square, where a few protesters have built their camp protesting against Mubarak’s release.

Manu Brabo • Associated Press,

Egypt widens meaning of 'Islamist' in crackdown

  • Article by: DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK New York Times
  • August 24, 2013 - 11:25 PM

– Having crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on other dissenters, sometimes labeling even liberal activists or labor organizers dangerous Islamists.

Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group backing the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi. In Suez this month, police and military forces breaking up a steelworkers strike charged that its organizers were part of a Brotherhood plot to destabilize Egypt.

On Saturday, the chief prosecutor ordered an investigation into charges of spying against two prominent activists associated with the progressive April 6 group. When a journalist with a state newspaper spoke publicly about watching a colleague’s wrongful killing by a soldier, prosecutors appeared to fabricate a crime to punish the journalist. And the police arrested five employees of the religious website Islam Today for the crime of describing the military takeover as a “coup,” security officials said.

Last week, a prosecutor even opened an investigation into some of the young organizers behind the protests calling for the ouster of Morsi. The prosecutor was weighing a complaint of “disturbing the public order” because they criticized the release from prison of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Renewed Mubarak measures

The government installed by Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi has renewed the Mubarak-era state of emergency removing all rights to due process or protections against police abuse. And police officials have pronounced themselves “vindicated,” claiming that the current talk of a battle against Islamist violence corroborates the police claim that it was Islamists, not the police, who killed protesters before Mubarak’s ouster.

“What is different is that the police feel for the first time in 2 1/2 years … that they have the upper hand, and they do not need to fear public accountability or questioning,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In the more than seven weeks since Morsi’s ouster, security forces have carried out at least three mass shootings at pro-Morsi street protests, killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and arrested at least as many.

But beyond the Islamists, Morayef said, “anyone who questions the police right now is a traitor, and that is a protection that they did not have even in 2010,” when public criticism was tolerated and at least a few complaints were investigated.

‘A dangerous path’

Even Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. diplomat and former vice president in the military-backed interim government, is facing charges of betraying the public trust.

President Obama has said the new government is on a “dangerous path” marked by “arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown” and “violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.” Warning that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” he canceled a joint military exercise. He pledged a review of the $1.3 billion a year in military aid to Egypt, and the state department took steps to hold back some of the roughly $200 million in nonmilitary aid.

Officials of the new government insist they are committed to establishing the rule of law. The police appear to be rounding up Brotherhood members on the basis of their affiliation, without other publicly known evidence of crimes. But government spokesmen insist that every individual, including Morsi, will be tried by a court and released if acquitted.

© 2014 Star Tribune