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8 Feb, 2013 18:09

Rape, death threats and fatwas: Egypt opposition in crosshairs

Rape, death threats and fatwas: Egypt opposition in crosshairs

Hard-line Egyptian clerics have called for the assassination of opposition leaders and claimed sexual assaults against women protesters were justified. Meanwhile, following days of calm, anti-government protesters again clashed with police.

On Friday, opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy said that death threats against him or other members of the opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front (NSF), would not deter him or his supporters from peaceful protests.“Our faith in the revolution kills any threats,” Sabahy said on his official Twitter account.Anti-government demonstrations have once again flooded the streets of Egyptian cities on Friday, following days of calm.At least 126 people were hurt in national unrest as protesters clashed with security forces across the country, state media reported.Demonstrators marched and chanted against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. In Cairo, police fired tear gas to ward hundreds of protesters off the presidential palace.Since January 25, at least 59 people have been killed in the violence that followed the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled then-president Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Last week, hard-line Salafi Muslim cleric Mahmoud Shaaban, issued a de facto fatwa saying leaders of the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, saying they would be condemned to death under Islamic law.The NSF leadership also includes Mohamed ElBaradei and former presidential contender Amr Mouss. Shaaban named both Sabahy and ElBaradei in the video, which was posted online.Another cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, mirrored Shaaban’s sentiments by calling on supporters to "kill the thugs, criminals, and thieves who burn the country.""Strike with an iron fist. Otherwise, the country will be lost at your hand and they'll say it is your fault,” he said. Ghoneim warned that if Morsi's government does not act, citizens will.Death, Crucifixion or the amputation of limbs, were all cited by the clerics as punishments under Sharia law for those who attempted to overthrow their ruler.Islamist President Mohamed Morsi condemned the religious edicts on Thursday, saying "Practicing religious violence or threatening to do so has become one of the gravest challenges facing the Arab Spring," Ahram Online cites a presidential statement as saying."Some are promoting and inciting political violence while others who claim to speak in the name of religion are permitting ‘killing’ based on political differences and this is terrorism," he continued.Morsi further called on all sides, religious and secular, to reject hate speech and language that incites people to violence.On Thursday, the country’s chief prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim ordered an investigation into Shaaban for his fatwa.Egypt’s interior ministry moved to provide extra security for Sabahy and ElBaradei following the threat, but Sabahy refused, saying he "lives and will continue to live as a private citizen."Their edicts took on considerably more weight following the assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid. Belaid, a secularist who was highly critical of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, was gunned down outside his home on Wednesday, sparking violent demonstrations across the country.Belaid's murder "sounds danger alarms from Tunisia to Cairo, and warns of the cancerous growth of terrorist groups cloaked by religion and carrying out a plot to liquidate the opposition morally and physically," The NSF said in a statement.

‘They are going to get raped’

Further adding fuel to the fire, a third cleric justified rampant, mob fueled sexual assaults against women protesters in Tahrir Square."They are going there to get raped," cleric Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah said, characterizing the woman as “devils” who “speak with no femininity, no morals, no fear…” He further cast aspersion on opposition calls to make sexual assault against women a "red line" that must not be crossed."Does that apply to these naked women?" he said. "Nine out of 10 of them are Crusaders (Christians) and the rest are … widows with no one to rein them in."He further implored them to “Learn from Muslim women, be Muslims."Violent mobs often consisting of hundreds of men have been responsible for a series of increasingly frequent and brutal sexual assaults against women. The highest-ever number of such assaults was reported on the January 25 protest to mark the two-year-anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.At least 19 women were attacked, with one having to undergo surgery after her genitals were sliced with a knife, Global Post cites health officials as saying.Women of all ages, veiled and unveiled, have been attacked on the square, the paper cites activists who compile reports on sexual violence as saying. The say the attackers are using the women as a political tool.“These people are not revolutionaries. They are part of the counterrevolution, trying to stop us from succeeding,” 52-year-old Nadia Refaat, a self-described leftist and feminist protester in Tahrir, told the Global Post. “They are trying to scare women. But we will not be afraid.”