'Egyptian authorities are afraid even of Morsi’s silence in the courtroom'
After the coup over 50 journalists were arrested and 11 were killed in Egypt. Salah Abdel-Maksoud, Morsi’s former Information Minister who is currently in exile, told RT about the consequences of Morsi’s defeat.
During Mubarak’s reign, Salah Abdel-Maksoud, a journalist and Cairo University graduate, was arrested four times. He protested against President Morsi’s overthrow in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square. He had been hiding for several months and later he managed to leave Egypt.
RT:You are one of 529 prisoners sentenced to death in a court session which lasted about 30 minutes. Right?
Salah Abdel-Maksoud: No, I’m in a different group together with President Morsi. The court hearings for several cases are not over yet. When they are over I may be arrested.
The coup leaders fabricated several cases against President Morsi and members of his government. I’m one of them. If these cases are sent to court, this may result in death sentences.
This is a threat not just for me, but for all the Egyptians who are pursuing justice and independence and demanding clean elections. This is a threat for the people attacked by the military who usurped power.
I participated in the protests in Rabaa Square. There are tens of thousands of people facing the threat of arrest just like me.
RT:Estimates of victims among the Brotherhood supporters vary greatly. Do you know how many were killed and arrested?
SAM: On the day of the coup around 6,000 people were killed, 25,000 people were arrested and 30,000 were injured. Since then almost every day somebody gets killed or arrested.
RT:Recently, Morsi’s daughter doubted that the man participating in the court hearings is her father, not his double, because both his appearance and his conduct were different from those of her father’s. Do you share her worries?
SAM: Well, if this is what she really said and if they haven’t twisted her words… This would mean that they are keeping Morsi in a place where nobody can visit him and that he is under constant pressure. Since July 3, the day when the coup took place, his family members were allowed to visit him just once.
During court hearings he is kept behind bars and glass walls. You can’t see him clearly. But that man is the president. He is forced to participate in a performance called “the trial,” which contradicts both the constitution and the law.
The coup leaders are afraid of letting him speak. They allowed his lawyer to see him just once. He is kept in complete isolation. When they do show him, they only do it briefly, so you can hardly see his face. They are even afraid of his silence.
RT:What do you know about Mohammed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood who is in his seventies and who’s also been arrested?
SAM: Dr. Badie has been charged with 28 cases, all of them fabricated. For instance, they charged him with promoting violence, despite the fact that all of his speeches had been recorded. He said that this revolution is a peaceful one but it is stronger than their tanks. Dr. Badie was calling the young people to proceed with the peaceful revolution.
RT:Is it true that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is headed by a Copt now?
SAM: That’s correct. Dr. Rafiq Habib, a Coptic Christian, is now the chairman of the party. When El-Katatni was arrested his chair was taken by his deputy. Dr. Habib is a professor, a very intellectual person and a famous thinker.
There are quite a number of Christians in the Freedom and Justice Party. The Brotherhood had included a lot of Christians since its foundation in the 1920s. Back in the 1940s, Hassan al-Banna, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, had formed the movement’s political branch, which included three Coptic Christians.
RT:The authorities who had toppled the president are cautious about arresting the Brotherhood’s Christians?
SAM: They are. On the other hand, the coup came as a result of an agreement between the Coptic chief, the head of Al-Azhar (the oldest and the most influential Muslim university in Cairo – RT), and a Salafi of the al-Nour party. All these people were playing in a spectacle called the President Morsi Overthrow.
This doesn’t mean that the church members, or Al-Azhar students, and Salafis don’t support the Brotherhood. I am only speaking about the leaders of these three forces. A lot of people support us in Al-Azhar. I could say that a lot of the church people are against the coup. The pro-Morsi coalition includes five Salafi parties.
RT:After the coup, the Coptic cathedrals were burned down, the number varied between 8 and 80. They blamed it on the Muslim Brotherhood, which, as you just said, was closely tied with the Copts. How would you explain this?
SAM: There were just a few instances, and there are still a lot of questions about them. Most of cathedrals were burned in Minya. The church leaders witnessed that the Muslim Brotherhood members were actually protecting these cathedrals from attacks. Heads of communities are convinced that there must be some mysterious formations behind the attacks, as the policemen were not trying to stop them. Those must’ve been some unofficial force groups. Otherwise I find it hard to explain why the law enforcement officials were not trying to stop them. There are still questions as to their objective. They were obviously trying to frame the Brotherhood for those arsons.
RT:Is it true that there were no casualties in the fires?
SAM: Yes, it is. It was a planned diversion. They wanted to destroy the cathedrals and take the valuables. The Muslim Brotherhood has never done anything like that. It’s gangs and criminal organizations who do that. The fact is that the Brotherhood and other Islamic groups defended the cathedrals while the police didn’t.
RT:How likely is it that the Grand Mufti will confirm the death sentences for 683 people?
SAM: I don’t think he will confirm them, because many people in Egypt and in the world are against it. These death sentences aren’t justified by the law or the Constitution. They didn’t even have the chance to defend themselves. If the Grand Mufti approves, it will be a catastrophe for Egypt.
RT:Who supports Morsi and the Brotherhood now?
SAM: Many nations do. I mean the people, the majority of whom are Muslim and many – Christian. The majority of the countries in the world didn’t recognize the post-coup government. The African Union suspended Egypt’s membership. The UN Human Rights Council has held two discussions on the subject. Amnesty International also started its own investigation.
RT:Some experts are convinced that Obama supports the Brotherhood and Morsi and condemns el-Sisi’s coup. Do you feel that’s true?
SAM: It’s just an act, just a façade showing that Obama is presumably concerned. Many leaders, including leaders of Arab countries, didn’t want Morsi to stay president. He wanted to free Egypt from American control, for the country to start manufacturing its own products, medicine and so on. He visited so many countries – India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, Russia and many more – to build up Egypt’s independence from the US.
RT:Could you tell us about your own experience of joining the Brotherhood?
SAM: None of my relatives were members of the Brotherhood, no one suffered because of the regime. In my university days, I got interested in the Brotherhood’s ideas, their program, their way of thinking and their active stance in the community. There are millions of people like me. People like the Brotherhood because it promotes reform. They suggest everyone should get to work towards the country’s prosperity. The Brotherhood believes that there should be different points of view and different religions represented in a society, and it respects women. The media has been distorting the perception of the Brotherhood for many years. Let me give you a couple of examples. Morsi’s deputy was a woman, and so were some members of his council. There was a woman, a Christian and a Salafi among his advisors.
RT:Were you a target of persecution under Mubarak?
SAM: I was arrested four times under Mubarak’s rule – in 1981, 1984, 1991 and 1995. I was released every time because the journalists’ union worked hard to defend me. But others had to serve long sentences in jail.
RT:Several journalists were arrested as part of the coup. What is happening to them?
SAM: These people as well as their families are exposed to physical and psychological torture. They have to stay in tiny 2 x 2 meter cells. Relatives are not allowed to visit them. When they are allowed, they can only speak through barbed wire. In some prisons, people are denied linen or a change of uniform, or any medicine or medical treatment. Their ration is very small while the physical torture is very tough and humiliating.
One of our famous journalists, Ibrahim Drawi, proved in court that he was tortured by an officer and gave his name. He had been battered really hard. Some of the journalists followed suit, like Mohammad Waquil, who also proved in court that he was tortured.
More than 50 journalists are now under arrest, four of them are from Al Jazeera. Eleven journalists have been killed since the coup started. Two journalists were injured last week. Five journalists, including Ibrahim and Mohammad, are facing a death penalty.
RT:What do you think about the upcoming election?
SAM: The election will be act of bullying and will take place under the pressure from the army. This spectacle will come off as they have planned. I don’t think the turnout will be high but the Egyptian media and those of the world media that back the regime will portray the vote as democratic, admitting there weren’t enough contenders in the race. That’s how they will substantiate Sisi’s victory.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.