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October 5, 2016

Mysterious killing of Muslim Brotherhood leaders once again highlights brutal repression of Egypt's military govt.

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Two Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been killed in suspicious circumstances by the Egyptian security forces.

 A ministry statement carried by the official MENA news agency said 61-year-old Dr. Mohammed Kamal, a physician by profession, was killed along with Yasser Shahata Ali Ragab in an exchange of gunfire as police tried to arrest the two late on Monday (Oct 3, 2016) night.

But a Brotherhood statement posted on its official website shortly after reports of the shootout surfaced said Dr. Kamal had been arrested by police, suggesting he was killed after being taken into custody.

The statement went on to say: Here's our reply to your heinous crime, to the murderous military junta. …..We announce it, as also the founding Imam Hassan Al-Banna announced it: "To die for the sake of God is our highest aspiration".

Muslim Brotherhood sources told Al Jazeera that security forces killed two of its leaders hours after detaining them.

London-based Brotherhood leader Mohamed Soudan told Turkish news agency Anadolu:

“Authorities announced the death of Kamal and Shehata shortly after local media reported that they had been arrested. This means that both leaders had been liquidated,” he said. 

Dr. Kamal was twice sentenced in absentia to life in prison on charges of setting up an armed group and setting off an explosion near a police station, while Ragab was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail.

Dr.Kamal was one of the most prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the Guidance Bureau. He was previously in charge of the supreme Administrative Committee, known as the youth committee.

He was accused of planning the June 2015 killing in Cairo of Egypt's chief prosecutor, Hisham Barakat — the first assassination of a top Egyptian official in 25 years.

Dr. Kamal was also accused of master minding the failed assassination of Egypt's former mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, in Cairo in August. However, a lesser-known group - Ansar Beit al-Maqdis - claimed responsibility for that attack.

Gomaa was a key supporter of the military's 2013 coup that  deposed the first freely elected President Mohammed Morsi. In public speeches, he has been advocating the use of force against Morsi's group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Harsh crackdown

The mysterious killing of the two Muslim Brotherhood leaders once again highlights the brutal policies of the US-backed military government of Filed Marshall Abdel Fatah el-Sisi who came to power in July 2013 by overthrowing the elected President Mohammad Morsi.

Since President Morsi's outer, the military government has been carrying an extensive clampdown on Morsi's supporters and other government opponents. Thousands of the group's members, including its top leadership, have been jailed for opposing the coup. Egyptian security forces have launched a harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood, killing hundreds and detaining thousands for allegedly inciting violence.

On February 2, 2015, an Egyptian court sentenced 183 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death on charges of killing police officers, part of a sustained crackdown by authorities on anti-government elements.

The men were convicted of playing a role in the killings of 16 policemen in the town of Kardasa in August 2013 during the upheaval that followed the army's ouster of president Mohamed Mursi. Thirty-four of them were sentenced in absentia.

Egypt has mounted one of the biggest crackdowns in its modern history on the Brotherhood since the political demise of Mursi, the country's first democratically-elected president.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been arrested and put on mass trials in a campaign which human rights groups say shows the government is systematically repressing opponents.

The Newsweek wrote in August 2015, under Field Marshall el-Sissi, Egypt is enduring what Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork calls “a human rights crisis that is the worst in memory.” Peaceful assemblies are outlawed; police shoot demonstrators and abuse thousands of political detainees with impunity.

Anyone opposing the regime faces severe repression, but the Muslim Brotherhood is particularly targeted. “The new regime moved very quickly to decapitate the organization, which meant arresting the top three tiers of the organization,” says Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Since Morsi’s fall, tens of thousands of members have either been detained or fled into exile, and only a minority of the Brotherhood leadership has managed to escape, mainly to Istanbul.

Their leader, Mohammed Badie, was sentenced to death in April 2014 along with 682 other Morsi supporters in a trial that lasted just eight minutes. The thoroughly politicized courts have also sentenced Morsi to death, in May 2015. By comparison, Hosni Mubarak, the country’s dictator for 30 years, got three years for corruption charges.

In March 2014, a court in Egypt sentenced 528 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death.They were convicted of charges including murdering a policeman and attacks on people and property. The group is among some 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters on trial, including senior members.

The speed of the case, and the severity of the outcome, are unprecedented in Egypt, according to legal sources. In a case centred on the killing of a single police officer, more than 520 defendants have been sentenced to death, at a breathtaking pace.

“Egypt is trying to crush the Muslim brotherhood. Can it survive?” was the title of the Newsweek article by Janine di Giovanni and Fredrik Elisson.

The Newsweek article recalled that government hostility is hardly new to the Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna as a force to resist British domination, the organization grew quickly but fell out with the nationalist military leaders who took charge in 1952, after the British-backed King Farouk abdicated. The group’s members went underground, surviving under various regimes—persecuted under Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956 to 1970), whom the Brothers tried to assassinate in 1954; kept in check by Anwar Sadat (1970 to 1981); and initially tolerated by Mubarak (1981 to 2011). That détente ended when the Brothers won a shocking 20 percent of the Parliament seats in 2005 elections, and Mubarak lashed out.

As a result of decades of repression, the Brotherhood has developed a tight-knit organization. “You don’t just sign up for the Brotherhood, it’s a serious process,” says Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution.

After the toppling of Mubarak in 2011, the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, won a sweeping victory in the first democratic parliamentary elections in the country’s history, followed by the election of Morsi, their presidential candidate. The formerly outlawed Brotherhood was suddenly on top.

1,150 civilians killed on August 14, 2013

Brotherhood supporters, outraged by the coup, protested in the streets but were mowed down by police. The Human Rights Watch reported that in July and August 2013, many of Egypt’s public squares and streets were awash in blood. On July 3, 2013, the military deposed Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first elected civilian president and a high-ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Over the course of the following two months, Muslim Brotherhood supporters organized two large sit-ins in Cairo and smaller protests across Egypt to denounce the military takeover and demand the reinstatement of Mohammad Morsy. In response, police and army forces repeatedly opened fire on demonstrators, killing over 1,150, most of them in five separate incidents of mass protester killings.

The gravest incident of mass protester killings occurred on August 14, 2013, when security forces crushed the major pro-Morsy sit-in in Rab’a al-Adawiya Square in the Nasr City district of eastern Cairo. Using armored personnel carriers (APCs), bulldozers, ground forces, and snipers, police and army personnel attacked the makeshift protest encampment, where demonstrators, including women and children, had been camped out for over 45 days, and opened fire on the protesters, killing at least 817 and likely more than 1,000.

Human Rights Watch researchers documented the dispersal of the Rab’a sit-in and found that security forces opened fire on protesters using live ammunition, with hundreds killed by bullets to their heads, necks, and chests. Human Rights Watch also found that security forces used lethal force indiscriminately, with snipers and gunmen inside and alongside APCs firing their weaponry on large crowds of protesters. Dozens of witnesses also said they saw snipers fire from helicopters over Rab’a Square.

The Human Rights Watch reported in January 2015, Scores of Egyptians died in government custody in 2014, many of them packed into police stations in life-threatening conditions. Yet the authorities have taken no serious steps either to improve detention conditions or to independently investigate detainees’ deaths.

Some detainees appear to have died after being tortured or physically abused, Human Rights Watch found. But many appear to have died because they were held in severely overcrowded cells or did not receive adequate medical care for serious ailments.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)