How Governments Deal With Militant Religious Movements in general and Militant Jihadist Groups in particular: the Case of Egypt since the Military Takeover in 2013


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How Governments Deal With Militant

Religious Movements in general and

Militant Jihadist Groups in particular: the

Case of Egypt since the Military Takeover

in 2013

Egypt’s Repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and Violent Jihadist

Groups since 2013



José Guilherme Fardilha Beja Lopes – s1754254 Supervisor: Dr. A. P. Schmid

Second Reader: Prof. Dr. E. Bakker

Thesis in fulfillment of the Master of Science in Crisis and Security Management at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs at Leiden University, Campus The









1.1 Introduction ... 7

1.2 Theoretical Framework ... 9

1.2.1 Defining Terrorism ... 9

1.2.2 Counterterrorism Defined ... 11

1.2.3 Counterterrorism Practices ... 12

1.3 Research Proposal ... 14

1.3.1 Research Question and Sub-Questions ... 14

1.4 Research Design ... 16

1.4.1 Type of Research ... 16

1.4.2 Unit and Sub-Units of Analysis and Unit of Observation ... 17

1.4.3 Research Method ... 17

1.4.5 Justification ... 18

1.4.6 Limitations ... 19


2.1 Egyptian State and Religion ... 20

2.1.2 Egyptian State as an Islamic Actor ... 21

2.1.3 Egyptian State as a secular actor ... 22

2.2 Militant Religious Groups in Egypt: opposing the “secular-religious” state ... 23

2.2.1 Radical Militant Islamic Groups ... 24

2.2.2 Partisan Islamic Groups ... 26 The case of the Muslim Brotherhood ... 28



3.1 The Fall of the Muslim Brotherhood: the Rabaa al-Adaiya and al-Nahda

Massacres ... 33

3.2 Repression of the Muslim Brotherhood ... 35

3.3 Violence and Repression in the Sinai ... 37

3.4 Conclusion ... 40


4.1 Actions against journalists ... 42

4.2 Full control of media outlets ... 42

4.3 Conclusion ... 43


5.1 The Protest Law ... 45

5.2 Penal Code Amendment ... 46

5.3 Anti-Terrorism Law ... 48

5.4 Martial Law ... 49

5.5 Conclusion ... 49


6.1 Al-Azhar and the Sisi Regime: Cooperation and Conflict ... 51

6.2 Religious control through other means: Dar-al-Ifta and the Ministry of Awqaf (Ministry of Religious Endowments) ... 54

6.3 Conclusion ... 56


7.1 Context ... 57

7.2 Actions taken ... 58

7.3 Conclusion ... 59



8.1 The Muslim Brotherhood Fragmentation ... 60

8.2 Proliferation of Violence ... 61


8.2.2 – Salafist-Jihadism gaining power ... 63


9.1 Conclusion ... 64

9.2 Discussion and Recommendation ... 65






1.1 Introduction

The conflict between religion and state in Egypt has gone through many phases and forms, however one aspect stands out, namely that this conflict spread and grew in the context of the military coup and the inauguration of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president of Egypt and his subsequent actions, within the overall context of the Arab Spring.

The demonstrations that shook the streets of the great cities of Egypt in the early 2011 drew the eyes of the world to a hitherto unknown facet of a nation that seemed to live solely on glories of an illustrious past. At the end of 2010, the revolutionary wave that began in Tunisia, commonly known as Arab Spring, struck Egypt. The vision of pyramids and sphinxes was replaced by the clamouring voices of the popular masses, which triggered a domino effect that affected Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, among others countries.

The Arab Spring mainly affected states that were relatively stable, from a foreign policy standpoint, such as Tunisia and Egypt. It therefore intrigued the international community and gave rise to a wide range of attempts to decipher the seemingly unexpected social phenomena in the region. After all, who were those Egyptians, who, awakening after 30 years of dictatorship, took part in such important demonstrations? In answer this question, Tarek Osman (2013) indicates that the main actors of the post-Mubarak period were the military and the Islamic movements (Osman, 2013). In fact, it was the clash between these two factions that would dictate the course of the following years of the Egyptian political history, as this thesis will demonstrate.


power. Once in power, the Brotherhood faced the challenge of balancing its Islamic principles with popular demands for democracy and socioeconomic reform.

In 2013, after only one year in power, under the rule of President Mohamed Morsi, the MB failed to rise to the occasion as either “conservative democrats” or Islamists. The collapse of the MB was the result of a series political, ideological and organizational failures, so that, to many Egyptians, it appeared to be a vestige of the old order, rather than a positive force in the intended evolution of a new Egyptian polity (El-Sherif, 2014a).

President Morsi was removed from power by the Egyptian Armed Forces, in what was referred to as “a patriotic act” (Aljazeera, 2013). Later, in 2014, an election was held to confirm Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the presidency and a new Constitution was introduced. Sisi’s government, supported by the anti-Muslim Brotherhood Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, conducted a vigorous crackdown on supporters of the MB. In December 2013, the MB was declared a terrorist organization and its assets were confiscated. Subsequently, its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party was dissolved. This marked the beginning of the new administration’s “war on terror”.

The new regime entered the religious realm and announced “a religious revolution” to be led by Al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old centre of Islamic learning. Despite pushing back against this intention, Al-Azhar continued to be closely identified with the regime and supported it in the struggle to bring religious spaces under firmer official control. Since 2013, the Ministry of Religious Endowments has extended its oversight over sermons, closed many mosques outside of prayer times and decreed that mosques with an area of less than eighty square metres cannot be used as daily prayer rooms.

Combined with this intention to counter radicalism in the mosques, the carte blanche given to the military forces by the new president gave rise to a harsh security campaign. A broad mandate was given to apprehend all opponents of the government and to prosecute them as terrorists. In north Sinai and on the western border, the state’s actions were similar to conventional warfare, although arrests also featured prominently.


achievement of power and by opposing to revolutionary strategies. However, the new political and security environment resulted in the fragmentation of the group. New factions emerged, which endorsed and carried out violent actions of varying types, ranging from non-lethal arson and sabotage to assassination (Awad, 2017). At the same time, Salafi-jihadist militants in the Sinai, who had always had a more violent approach, also seized the opportunity presented by the political chaos and killed dozens of soldiers in the months following the July 2013 coup, thus beginning a bloody insurgency that continues to this day (Awad & Hashem, 2015).

This thesis will analyse the relationship between the Egyptian government and militant religious movements in Egypt, and consider the state’s counterterror strategy. The effects of these developments will also be addressed in the context of the current political and social climate in the country.

1.2 Theoretical Framework

This thesis does not have recourse to a grand theory in order to analyse how governments deal with militant religious groups in general and militant jihadist groups in particular. Instead, it builds on concepts to be found in the literature on counterterrorism strategies.

In order to understand what counterterrorism is and why this concept is used within the framework of the thesis, it is necessary to define terrorism and the way in which it relates to armed conflict. Thereafter, counterterrorism will be defined. This is followed by a presentation of the two major counterterrorism strategies that serve as the theoretical boundaries for this thesis, i.e. repression and conciliation with militant religious groups by the government.

1.2.1 Defining Terrorism

Research on terrorism often involves a labyrinthine debate on what terrorism is and how it is to be defined. More than 250 definitions have been catalogued by Alex P. Schmid and Joseph J. Easson, none of which have received general acceptance (Schmid, 2011).


documents devoted to this subject, terrorism is to be defined irrespective of actors or objectives. According to Raymond Aron an act of violence is termed “terrorist” when its psychological effects are disproportionate in relation to its purely physical results (Aron, 1966). According to this definition, the deliberate potentiation of the psychological effects obtained by the violence is a necessary and sufficient characteristic of terrorism.

Other definitions focus on another characteristic of many terrorist acts, which is typical of the practice of terrorist groups, i.e. that the real intended target of the violent acts perpetrated is rarely that directly targeted by them. This is what Paul Wilkinson (1979) tells us when he argues that terrorism has three basic elements: the systematic use of murder, injury, destruction, or threat, to create a climate of terror, to publicize a cause, and to coerce a wider target into submitting to its aims (Wilkinson, 1979). As Jerold M. Post (1990) wrote, what distinguishes terrorism from other forms of political violence is the differentiation between the target of violence, that is, the innocent or non-combatant victim, and the target of influence, that is, the general population, or the elite of decision-makers (Post, 1990).

The final key element to define terrorism is found in the political change that it intends. Accordingly, and as Eric Morris and Alan Hoe (1987) clearly explain, terrorism is the threat, or use, of extraordinary violence for political purposes (Morris & Hoe, 1987).

Despite the difficulty in finding a universally accepted definition of terrorism, what can be summarised from the above interpretations is that three key elements appear in most definitions: terrorism is conceived as a (1) violent means, (2) aimed at triggering political change (3) by affecting a larger audience than its immediate target (Tellidis & Toros, 2015).


In the context of this thesis, the terrorism perpetrated in Egypt has its roots in ideology, particularly Salafi-Jihadism and the Ikhwani Jihadism. At the basis of this theoretical approach is the idea that certain beliefs lead individuals to engage in terrorist activities. In the past, ideologies such as Communism and (ethno) Nationalism were illustrative of this phenomenon. Nowadays, militant militarized and politicized Islam – also known as jihadism – is the ideological force most commonly cited as being at the origin of most terrorist threats (Schroden, Rosenau, & Warner, 2016).

According to Ramos (2012), the jihadist movement has three variants, which depend on the contexts, objectives and strategies:

1. Irredentist jihadism is the struggle to recover the land of Islam from non-Muslims governments or to external occupants. The struggles in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Palestine are examples of this.

2. Internal jihadism is the struggle against Muslim regimes considered to be impious, which are consequently deemed to be legitimate targets. The Armed Islamic Group in Algeria or Al-Jihad and the Islamic Group in Egypt are examples of this.

3. Global jihadism is jihad against the West, which is viewed as the enemy of Islam, responsible for the existence of Israel and the supporter of corrupt Muslim regimes.

For this thesis’ purpose, the concept of jihadism will be developed in the context of internal jihadism, being assumed by both Salafis and Ikhwans.

1.2.2 Counterterrorism Defined  


terrorism, thus stressing a prevention-based approach. In contrast, Pape (2003) considers that counterterrorism is a function of the nation state’s security apparatus, which centres on combating the terrorist threat to state security. In a more precise and straightforward conceptualization, Falkenrath (2001) describes counterterrorism as the policies, programs and operations that governments undertake in order to meet the challenge of terrorism.

1.2.3 Counterterrorism Practices

In their writings on the fight against terrorism, Ronald D. Crelinsten and Alex P. Schmid (1993) warn that what is acceptable to the people in a democracy depends on the nature of the threat and the nature of the society that is defending itself. This is because the nature of the terrorist threat, including the type of group involved (e.g. revolutionary or nationalist), and the cultural traditions of the country concerned, are important elements in determining potential effectiveness (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993). These authors provide a general framework of methods used to counter terrorism and their respective advantages and disadvantages. According to them, the most common way to differentiate response options to terrorism, is to distinguish between soft line and hard line responses (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993) or, as Peter Sederberg (1989) argues, i.e. between conciliatory and repressive responses or, according to Alex Schmid (1988), between conciliation and force.

The most common forms of conciliatory response are accommodation (including direct negotiations with terrorists and the possibility of granting their demands) and reform (usually aimed at aspects focused by terrorists, but without negotiating with them directly) (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993). The most common forms of repressive response are recourse to repressive laws, or martial law. In the former case, counterterrorism policy is subject to the rule of law and terrorism is treated as a crime. In the latter case, counterterrorism responds within the context of the rules of war by treating terrorism as a special form of war or “low-intensity conflict” (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993).


incident) and long-term responses (focused on the future, both in terms of prevention, deterrence and structural reforms) (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993). Finally, Crelinsten and Schmid (1993) distinguish between domestic responses and international responses, the former include all applicable legal and administrative policies within a single state, the latter typically include diplomatic and political policies, such as the strengthening of international law instruments with regard to terrorism, imposition of economic sanctions, i.e. sanctions against states that support terrorism, and various types of military intervention, e.g. pre-emptive strikes, retaliation, or even large-scale military intervention (Crelinsten & Schmid, 1993).

Considering the issue of whether it is better to repress terrorists and isolate them from their main constituencies, or to accommodate them, by making concessions and proposing that terrorist groups engage in the political process, John Paul Lederach’s (2011) analysis proposes a theory of change based on isolation (no negotiation) or engagement (negotiation). According to this author, isolation essentially involves a strategy of identifying, targeting and limiting individuals and groups that espouse violence defined as terrorism. Isolation, as a strategy, involves recourse to legal mechanisms to limit material support. This increasingly includes contact, consultation or dialogue with blacklisted groups, as these activities may well contribute to their legitimation and success (Lederach, 2011). The term engagement is not used by Lederach in its military sense. In his work, engagement refers to strategies that require contact, consultation and dialogue. Particularly, strategic peace building suggests that engagement must take place with a wider range of people and stakeholders at multiple levels of society, than is typically undertaken in official processes (Lederach, 2011).


channels of communication that involve one or more intermediaries, who pass messages back and forth between the parties (Pruitt, 2006). This author also refers to isolation strategies, such as the provision of information to the authorities about the identity and the location of terrorists, in order to put social pressure on them. He also suggests that efforts to isolate terrorists are often combined with efforts to combat them (Pruitt, 2006) - something Zartman (1995) refers to as a “two-handed approach”.

1.3 Research Proposal

The proposed qualitative research builds on the counterterrorism practices referred to above and uses them as its primary analytical framework. According to the theoretical literature, states engage with militant religious groups either by repressing them or by accommodating them. The violent terrorist acts perpetrated by these groups aim to overthrown the existing political regime, and, in the case of Islamism, to bring about an Islamic State (Awad, 2017). This thesis seeks to analyse the Egyptian government response to violent jihadist acts since 2013 and the ways in which it is dealing with the militant religious groups still present in the country, with a particular emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the removal of Morsi and the MB from power in 2013, the government led by Abdel Fattah El-Sisi initiated a harsh, repressive strategy targeted at the MB. While during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak there were attempts at accommodation (Caridi, 2014), the repression of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brothers) is now total. This study will explore the various repressive measures taken by the Sisi’s administration, which range from military action to a new legal framework, which identifies the MB and groups linked to it, as terrorist. This thesis will also assess whether this repression has successfully reduced violent terrorist actions in the country and if it has led Egypt towards stability.

1.3.1 Research Question and Sub-Questions


strategy is intended to reduce the escalating violence perpetrated by these religious groups and to legitimate the government as the nation’s protector.

The following research question is therefore proposed in order to evaluate Sisi’s repressive strategy:

How has the Egyptian government, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, dealt with militant jihadist movements in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, since 2013?

The aspects identified in this study are informed by the counterterrorism practices adopted by governments, based on a repressive strategy, which seeks to isolate and eliminate militant religious groups. They are the basis of the following sub-questions:

1. What violent means have been used by the military and the security forces in order to contain the Muslim Brotherhood and violent jihadist groups?

2. How is the media being repressed in order to cover-up the violence perpetrated by the government against dissenters?

3. How is repression being enforced by the courts and legal institutions?

4. How is the government implementing its strategy to teach moderate Islam and thus gain control in the religious sphere?

5. How is Egypt getting support from other countries to enhance the repression and containment of the Muslim Brotherhood?


these repressive strategies are being supported and funded by foreign countries that have adhered to the Egyptian cause.

Subsequent to the analysis, the final chapter of the thesis – Deductions – will firstly look at the consequences of repression, followed by concluding remarks and a discussion, where a recommendation will be presented in regard of the Egyptian counterterrorism strategy.

1.4 Research Design

1.4.1 Type of Research

This qualitative research is a single-n case study, which will examine a specific historical period in Egypt, and explore how the government is dealing with militant religious groups in general and militant jihadist groups in particular. The aim is to produce a description of the many relevant aspects of this phenomenon with regard to a single case, instead of selecting a limited number of aspects relating to multiple cases. This will enhance the understanding of the particular topic when resources are relatively limited, as is the case of this thesis, relying mainly on secondary sources (Lijphart, 1971).

According to Zainal (2007), the use of a case study as a research method allows a researcher to thoroughly assess the data within a particular context. R. Yin (1984) has the following definition of a case study as research method: “a case study is seen as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used” (Yin, 1984).


1.4.2 Unit and Sub-Units of Analysis and Unit of Observation

The unit of analysis, which is the subject of this thesis, is the policy and direction adopted by the Egyptian government since 2013, in order to deal with militant religious groups, with particular emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood and violent jihadist movements. This direction is grounded in various counterterrorism measures, which result in various outcomes. The measures are conceptualized in issue-oriented sub-questions, which address the major concerns and perplexities to be resolved (Creswell, 2007). These issue-oriented questions “are not simple and clean, but intricately wired to political, social, historical and especially personal contexts” (Stake, 1995).

Given this, the sub-questions will concern the phenomenon of Egypt’s repression of religious groups since 2013 (central research question), breaking this down into sub-topics for examination. The sub-topics presented in the sub-questions (see chapter 1.3.1) are the sub-units of analysis. Consequently, as the thesis intends to show the interdependence of influencing factors, it will look at each sub-question as a sub-unit within the case, so that each sub-unit will be analysed separately. The result will be the cross-case analysis of all the findings, which together will answer the main research question posed in order to address the case. The final discussion will be presented holistically, with consideration of the embedded sub-units.

The units of observation are, firstly, the actors engaged in countering religious violence (government, military and other security forces, religious institutions, and law-makers) and, secondly, the militant religious groups in question (starting with the Muslim Brotherhood and exploring the actions of violent jihadist groups since 2013).

1.4.3 Research Method


organizational reports are also used, such as International Religious Freedom reports, Human Rights Watch reports, International Crisis Group reports, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reports and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports. The research will also involve content analysis of primary data, including the Egyptian Constitution, Egypt’s terrorism-related legislative laws such as the Protest Law, NGO Law, Penal Code, Terrorism Law and Military Court Law, statements by key government actors, and online newspaper articles from the Egyptian and international press. These research methods will permit a full description of the various measures adopted by the government to deal with militant religious groups, while the recourse to multiple sources for data collection and comparison enhances the validity and reliability of the study (Swanborn, 2010).

When determining which events to search for and include in the thesis, the research tracks only those events that could be reasonably considered to be acts of terrorism, and the government’s proclaimed response to such acts. The definition of terrorist act adopted is an act that involves deliberate violence carried out for political ends against civilians by non-state actors. In this context, it is also important to observe that, for the purpose of this thesis, security measures taken to combat declared terrorist groups and judicial actions for the same purpose are deemed to be counterterror operations.

The time scale covered by this thesis starts with the launch of repressive measures by the new government in 2013, and continues until the present day.

1.4.5 Justification

The scientific relevance of this thesis stems from the fact that counterterrorism in non-Western context is still an under-researched topic that requires further development (Schmid, 2011). At the same time, the relation between religion and politics continues to be an important topic, as religions often make strong claims on people’s commitment, and governments do not always tolerate and accommodate religious beliefs. This study will therefore contribute to explore this issue, by providing an in-depth analysis of a particular case.


as one of the main representatives of stability in the Middle East and North Africa, assumes the challenging task of dealing with and countering terrorism, both domestically and abroad. However, the current state of affairs in Egypt is quite unlike what many had hoped it would be when Egyptians took to the streets on January 25th, 2011. According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, more violent attacks are occurring than ever before, and are being perpetrated by jihadi factions that have emerged in the recent years (TIMEP, 2017). The economic situation in the country is worsening, with high unemployment rates, and social schisms are becoming more evident. President el-Sisi has adopted a strategy, which is based on harsh military campaigns against violent jihadist groups. This is undermining democratic values and social freedoms in order to stabilize the country.

Given the tumultuous environment in the Middle East and North Africa and particularly the rise of the Islamic State and the on-going conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, it is of major importance to analyse Egypt, as its actions against religious jihadism are likely to influence surrounding countries that face similar threats.

1.4.6 Limitations

The first limitation of this thesis stems from the fact that it relies on a single-n case study. According to Pamela Baxter and Susan Jack (2008), single-n case studies involve a risk that causal relations that are generalizable will not be identified, which affects their external validity (Baxter & Jack, 2008).

In addition, case studies are often accused of lack of rigor. Yin (1984) affirms that “too many times, the case study investigator has been sloppy and has allowed equivocal evidence or biased views to influence the direction of the findings and conclusions” (Yin, 1984). As the research uses a lot of secondary data, there is a chance that the findings are influenced by biased views or equivocal evidence. This excessive use of secondary data is due to the fact that the case is recent, and consequently there is little literature available on the topic.


repression has restricted the public space for free speech and opinion. This has consequently had a negative effect on both the reliability and validity of the facts. However, the data provided by the international media present on the ground, and by some political activists, who oppose the regime, increases the internal validity of this study.


2.1 Egyptian State and Religion

Historically, religion and religious institutions have played an important role in the determination of state power and the rule of law in the Islamic tradition. Egypt is no exception to this, as its population comprises a large majority of Sunnis Muslims (90%), with the remainder being Coptic Christians and other religious minorities (Nations Encyclopedia, 2017).

So far as the influence of Islam on state power is concerned, firstly, the historical Arab-Islamic State has been used, in what Ayubi (1991) refers to as a validation of the appropriation of religion by the state rather than rivalry between religion and state, as occurred in Medieval Europe (Ayubi, 1991). Secondly, Islam has historically been a restraint on secular state power and a source of resistance against unpopular or unjust rulers (Brown N. J., 1997). In the case of Egypt, this framework has resulted in the coexistence of secular and Islamic institutions on various levels: i.e. the economic, social and political levels.


secular and Islamic principles in a distinctive framework, and which claims to represent a moderate version of both of these principles, while seeking total control of society (Sharakawy, 2013).

The “secular-religious” agenda is based in three main aspects:

1. Control of the “Ulama” (the transmitters and interpreters of religious Islamic doctrine and law).

2. Leaving some space for the apolitical Islamist discourses, which are mainly voiced by Sufis, apolitical Salafists and modern preachers. This is intended to complement the discourse of the state-appointed “ulama” (Sharakawy, 2013).

3. Containment of political Islamists, who oppose the government on Islamic grounds. This containment has evolved to actual repression, with the repressive measures against the Muslim Brotherhood since 2013, as this thesis shows.

It is important to mention that the yearlong rule of the MB (2012-2013) was an exception to the “secular-religious” agenda described above. The next chapter will analyse the reasons for the rise and fall of the MB, which opposed the “secular-religious” agenda. The current government, under Sisi, has returned to the hybrid model of combining secularism and Islamism, as will also be analysed. The following sections do not refer to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, but will address the general trend, over time, of Egyptian governments with regard to religion and society.

2.1.2 Egyptian State as an Islamic Actor

From a legal point of view, Egyptian law is based on Islamic and civil law. The 1923 Constitution, the first Egyptian Constitution after the 1919 independence revolution, stated that Islam is the religion of the state. Since then, this provision has been maintained, as article 2 of the 2014 Constitution illustrates: “Islam is the religion of the state (…)” (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014). In 1980, an amendment added that Sharia law (religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition) is the principle source of law. The 2014 Constitution retained this amendment and added it to article 2 of the constitution.


(chapter 6). Since 1989, the government has given the Ministry of Religious Endowments the power to control public mosques and this power has been fully exercised by Sisi’s administration.

Finally, the social and cultural aspects of the Egyptian regime’s discourses are often close to the conservatism professed by Islamists. This has the effect not only that the Islamist agenda is depoliticized, but also that the state thereby adopts this agenda as its own (Sharakawy, 2013).

2.1.3 Egyptian State as a secular actor

Modern Egyptian rulers have always had recourse to secularism in order to exclude or neutralize the political impact of religion (Sharakawy, 2013). At the same time, the rise of religious terrorism after 9/11, pushed governments to exert greater control over religion and to profess a moderate version of Islam. This provided governments with a further reason to use secularism as a strategy to dominate religion and control public life.

However, the roots of Egyptian “secular-religious” strategy are not only related to the fight against terrorism but also lie in nationalism. As an important aspect of society, religion is part of the Egyptian national identity. Islamism is therefore a component of Egyptian nationalism (Sharakawy, 2013), which is to say that Egyptian nationalism and identity exist and evolve within an ethnic context. Islamism is a component of this identity and, within it, is subordinated to territorial and nationalistic influences.

This subordination of Islam to national interests has been illustrated by the neutralization or containment of various religious movements, so as to deprive them of a space in which to express their independent political intentions. Governments have justified this on the grounds of the undemocratic nature of religious movements, and the need to preserve the separation between religion and the civil sphere (Sharakawy, 2013).


movements, such as the MB, of their legal status. No distinction was made between radicals and moderates, as the mass trials, arrests and even killings of MB members revealed.

2.2 Militant Religious Groups in Egypt: opposing the

“secular-religious” state

In order to analyse how Islamic groups and movements act in Egypt, it is important to identify and distinguish their varying aims and strategies. Various Islamic agendas have been developed in the Middle East, namely different fiqhi madhabs (jurisprudential schools), Sufi orders, philosophical schools of thought, Shi’a formations and rulers (Esposito J. L., 2005). Moataz A. Fattah (Fattah, 2013) refers to five different agendas, namely:

1. The apolitical agenda: which limits Islam to the private domain, depriving it of any political and legislative role. This agenda is endorsed by secular Muslims, non-Muslims, modern preachers, Sufis, and apolitical Salafists.

2. The Statist “secular-religious” agenda: as already described, this agenda combines secularism with Islamic values, using religion as a source of political legitimacy, but leaves no space for the rise of political religious movements to power.

3. The radical militant Islamist agenda: which encompasses the use of violence for political gains, in order to depose anti or un-Islamic rulers.

4. The armed resistance agenda: this agenda is adopted by Islamic resistance and liberation formations that seek to achieve national independence from foreign occupation. Two examples of this trend are Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza strip.

5. Partisan Islamist agenda: this agenda is adopted by Islamic groups with moderate and constitutional strategies, such as the MB, which are opposed to recourse to violence and extremism, in order to achieve political gains.


Islamists and the partisan Islamists that emerge as the main opponents of the various governments throughout modern Egyptian history.

2.2.1 Radical Militant Islamic Groups

The agenda of these radical Islamic groups is based on three concepts. Takfir, Hisba, and Jihad. Takfir is the act of labelling someone as kafir (unbeliever) and no longer a Muslim. Hisba is the claim of control over Islamic principles. Jihad refers to the armed struggle against unbelievers, namely the use of violence to force Muslims to adopt Sharia principles. These three concepts are used by radical groups to legitimize their revolutionary attacks against the regime (Fattah, 2013).

Within Egypt, several groups arose as a response to “secular-religious” policies of the governments. Two prominent groups emerged in the past, namely Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya and the Al-Jihad Group. Both groups were involved in the assassination of president Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. However, they subsequently went through a process of comprehensive deradicalization, by engaging in peaceful coexistence and by acting in a non-violent manner (Fattah, 2013).


attacks by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups between 2007 and 2013, mainly targeting the Middle East and North Africa (Jones, 2014).

In Egypt the threat posed by Salafi jihadist groups is growing, with a particular focus on the main Salafi jihadist organisation present in North Sinai – Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (now called Wilayat Sinai). Nonetheless, several other groups keep being active and dedicated to the jihadist cause and terrorism.

The following is a list of radical militant groups in Egypt:

Most relevant:

• Ajnad Misr

• Wilayat Sinai (Islamic State “Sinai Province”)

Smaller Groups:

• Al-Morabitoon • Ansar Al-Islam • Jaysh Al-Islam • Jund Al-Islam • Kitca’ib Al-Furqan • Takfir Wal-Hijra • Tawhid Wal-Jihad

• Islamic State in Egypt (outside Sinai peninsula)

Muslim Brotherhood split:

• Hassm


  Figure  1  -­‐  Terrorism  in  Egypt  since  2014 (TIMEP, 2017)

2.2.2 Partisan Islamic Groups

These groups reject violence and radicalism and engage in politics with an evolutionary approach based on political goals through a party-like Islamic platform. These political goals involve the elaboration of a party program that addresses political, economic, and social issues. For this reason, partisan Islamic groups apply the Da’wa (the proselytizing or preaching of Islam) through the education of Muslims and present a positive and moderate and peaceful image of Islam (Friedland, 2015).

However, suspicions regarding the violent propensities of these partisan Islamic groups’ have always emerged (Fattah, 2013). In the case of the MB, this suspicion is based on three sources. Firstly, the established observation that Islamic actors are intrinsically related to violence (Ayoob, 2004). Despite being discussed by various authors, this intrinsic relation with violence is strongly disputed by several

2,814  attacks   have  been   reported  across  


60%  of  attacks   have  been   unclaimed  

2,856  reported   injuries,   including  953  

civilians   1,981  reported  

killings,  including   721  civilians   58%  of  attacks  


authors (Armstrong, 2000); (Esposito J. , 2002); (Fattah, 2013). This debate is however beyond the scope of this thesis. The second source of suspicion is the alleged connection of the MB with terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad. As Fattah (2013) argues, this argument is forced and weak. Supporters of this argument refer to the participation of former Muslim Brotherhood members in these violent groups. The third source of doubt with regard to the MB’s propensity to violence is the actual violent acts perpetrated by the Brotherhood throughout its history. Only two such acts have in fact been reported. The first, which occurred in 1948, was the assassination of prime-minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi, which took place in the context of the creation of an armed branch of the group, called the “special apparatus”. The second such act coincided with the radicalization of part of the Muslim Brotherhood during Nasser’s rule and, in 1954, a member of the MB attempted to assassinate Nasser during a public speech. This was a consequence of the fact that one of the group’s leaders, Sayyid Qutb, had started to argue the need to wage jihad against the regime. With his repressive policy, President Nasser prevented these violent intentions from coming from the MB, but ultimately, the following president, Sadat had to deal with the radical wave. Two groups were created, both comprising former members of the Muslim Brotherhood that supported Qutb’s ideas, i.e. Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya and the Al-Jihad Group. These groups were responsible for the assassination of Sadat. These two radical flirtations with violence should be regarded “as departures from the Brotherhood’s largely nonviolent beginning” (Fattah, 2013), instead of being used to describe the group’s ideology.

In any event and despite the debate about the moderation of these partisan Islamic groups, most of them retain non-violence and a commitment to politics and constitutionalism as a principle. So far as relations between partisan Islamic groups and the state are concerned, they have, over time, been either partially included or partially excluded by the regime, legally assimilated, autocratically excluded, and assimilated by secular democracies (Fattah, 2013).

(28) The case of the Muslim Brotherhood

The MB was founded by Hassan al-Banna, in Ismailia, Egypt, in 1928. The aim was the promotion of what he considered to be the essence of Islam. Over the next four years, the group spread to neighbouring cities and the Delta region. In 1932, al-Banna decided to move the centre of the organization to Cairo, and, from then on, the number of members grew significantly. Within ten years of its creation, the Brotherhood had grown to approximately 50,000 members and had become one of the most important social movements in Egypt (Mitchell, 1969). As with other religious movements at that time, the MB was initially an apolitical movement that sought to reform religious practice and provide social assistance to its members. However, in the late 1930s, the Brotherhood's activities became political. The event that precipitated this change was the Arab protests in Palestine in 1936 against the Zionist movement, which had grown in the early part of that decade. The Brotherhood supported the protests and fought for the Palestinian cause among the Egyptian population. At the same time, the organization published criticism of Egypt's monarchist regime and of Britain's influence on Egyptian politics (Munson, 2001). In 1941, the British military authorities demanded that al-Banna withdraw from Cairo, and, in October of that year, al-Banna and other Brotherhood leaders were arrested and the organization's meetings were banned. The group’s response was to establish a “special apparatus” (an armed militia), which was blamed for the assassination of prime-minister Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi in 1948, with the result that the government dissolved the organization. That same year, al-Banna was killed by the Egyptian police, which brought the first period of the history of the MB to a close (Mitchell, 1969).


phase in the relationship between the organization and the regime, which lasted until 1967, when the Arab countries lost the war with Israel. The Brotherhood was compelled to act clandestinely during these years (Zollner, 2009).

An interesting feature of this period was the division between the more radical sectors of the MB and its moderate leadership. Although al-Hudaybi took a permissive attitude in relation to Qutb's educational activities and efforts to update the MB’s ideology, he sought to distance himself from the more radical approach linked to the jihadist principles and the consequent turn to violence. The outcome of this was that al-Hudaybi became isolated from the more radical younger members of the organization, and was considered to be a weak leader, who was incapable of guiding the Brotherhood during the years of repression (Zollner, 2009). Despite his lack of charisma, al-Hudaybi established the ideological foundations adopted by the group in the early 1970s, when it rejected Sayyid Qutb's radical and militant precepts. Al-Hudaybi died in 1973 and was succeeded by Urmar al-Tilmisani, who led the Brotherhood during the Sadat years, a phase that was initially characterized by a degree of cooperation between the organization and the state.

Sadat sought to end the complete exclusion of the role of religion in society, which had been imposed by Nasser. He established Islam as a primary foundation of the political order (Wickham, 2013) and strengthened those religious movements, which he considered to be less dangerous, in order to counterbalance the power of leftists and Nasserites (Goldschmidt Jr., 2008). This strategy had several facets. Sadat exploited the fact that he was a religious man. He called himself a guardian of the faith, emphasized that his first name was Muhammad (Muhammad, the prophet of Islam) and made a point of attending the important Friday prayers. In politics, Sadat promoted religious schools and included the still controversial article 2, in the 1971 Constitution, which enshrines the principles of sharia, Islamic law, as a source of law. Another act that directly benefitted the MB was the general amnesty that was declared so that the members of the MB, who had been imprisoned by Nasser, were released between 1971 and 1975 (Wickham, 2013). This paved way for the MB to become a relevant political actor once again.


moderation. Dissidents from the MB that still followed the radical ideas of Sayyid Qutb, created two jihadist groups, namely Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya and the Al-Jihad group. This eventually led to the assassination of President Sadat in 1981.

Despite this wave of radicalization, the Muslim Brotherhood sought to maintain its politically moderate role close to the state, during the following presidency of Hosni Mubarak. The strategy adopted by that administration with regard to the MB was to partially include it in political life, while also excluding it from achieving any relevant political role. Accordingly, and in absence of any formal political platform, the Brotherhood directed its activism to various social spaces, such as the trade unions and universities, which served as effective platforms and as an alternative to the unequal political system that withheld effective participation from it. The Brotherhood knew how to represent and articulate the dissatisfactions of the lower middle class with the Mubarak government (Al-Awadi, 2004). Accordingly, and in the absence of institutional means, the MB applied its social force in order to compensate for its lack of political position. The tendency to transform social legitimacy into legal legitimacy, and the mobilization involved in the process, was also manifested in unsuccessful attempts to establish political parties, such as Hizb al-Wasat. Moreover, representatives of the MB attempted to participate in elections as independent candidates, in addition to forging alliances with other political parties such as the secular liberal Wafd party. This demonstrates the growing pragmatism of the MB, as it sought to create political alliances with groups with different ideologies. The main reason for the conflict between the MB and the Mubarak regime was therefore the Brotherhood's quest for legitimacy, and the organization’s insistence on competing with the regime (Al-Awadi, 2004).

Mubarak faced severe opposition in the 1990’s, because of the country’s economic and financial problems and this fomented the growth of protests. The regime’s response was to initiate repression and the security forces engaged in brutal violence against the population. This combination of events, led to the 2011 Revolution, the context of which is not dealt with in this thesis.


Mohammed Morsi, leader of the Freedom and Justice party, won the presidential elections, on 24 June 2012.

The MB did not remain in power for more than a year, and missed a historic opportunity to rule the country. In 2013, there was a military coup that removed Morsi from power. According to Ashraf El-Sherif (2014b), the fall of the MB is associated with three different levels of failure. Firstly, the group failed to read the political and social context correctly and moved to political hegemony too quickly. Political hegemony expressed the Brotherhood’s belief of that its electoral victory was irreversible, so that it therefore failed to make any concessions to secular elites. Secondly, the group failed ideologically, with its refusal to assimilate modern democratic values, and its unwillingness to sacrifice some of its values in order to achieve important political victories. Finally, the MB failed organizationally because it retained its rigid hierarchy, which prevented it from being open to society. This organizational introversion soon began to create a divide between the group and society (El-Sherif, 2014b).




This section provides an analysis of the elements comprised in the strategy aimed at the repression of the religious sphere in Egypt. In order to do this, the repression and its consequences will be analysed from differing vantage points on the basis of five sub-questions, with one chapter being devoted to each sub-question. The answers to these sub-questions should provide a clear response to the central research question of this thesis.

Chapter Three focuses on the use of force to repress the Muslim Brotherhood and violent jihadist groups. This violent repression is perpetrated by the military and other security forces, and ordered by the government. Chapter Four considers the use of repression in the media, in order to promote the government’s agenda. Chapter Five analyses how repression is being conducted by law enforcement agencies, namely how the government is introducing and implementing legal measures to prosecute all those opposed to it. Chapter Six considers another aspect of the repressive strategy, namely the use of three institutions, i.e. Al-Azhar, Dar al-Ifta and the Ministry of Religious Endowments, to exert control over the religious sphere. Chapter Seven describes the formation of a regional anti-MB front comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, with the support of Sisi.





As the 2012 presidential and legislative elections took place in an atmosphere of calm and tranquillity, the people of Egypt had hopes of a democratic future and were relieved that the danger of an authoritarian regime had been forestalled. However, the Egyptian people’s expectations, raised by the Arab Spring, soon gave way to new anxieties and fears, when the military took power in 2013.


What violent means have been used by the military and the security forces in order to contain the Muslim Brotherhood and violent jihadist groups?

President Sisi’s strategy of repression was the result of the Egyptian regime’s ideological shift from liberalization and economic progress, to a focus on political stability based on the suppression of the MB and the fight against terrorism (Mandour, 2015). The objective of political stability could no longer be pursued via President Mubarak’s support base, namely the National Democratic Party (NDP) and its affiliated business elite. The NDP had no links with Sisi, although it was broadly supportive of the new government. Sisi’s previous career as an army general returned the military to the political sphere. The new president had allies within the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF), the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the military intelligence service. This resulted in changes in the composition of the ruling elite, with the military assuming a dominant role in relation to the NDP-backing business elite.

These changes in the composition of the ruling elite ended the role of the NDP in restraining the use of force, as it was formally against torture and violence. As the military gained a new lease of life with Sisi in power, force-based repression became the preferred option in the aim to destroy the MB and eradicate terrorism (Mandour, 2015).

The military and other security forces, ordered by the new government, soon started a violent crackdown on the MB, as is illustrated by the events in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square and al-Nahda Square (chapter 1.1). The military and other security forces also sought to arrest thousands of people, on the alleged grounds of links with the MB, and started a campaign of mass arrests and imprisonments that has ultimately led to a complete crackdown on the group (chapter 1.2). However, the military soon faced a new threat from violent jihadist groups in North Sinai (chapter 1.3).

3.1 The Fall of the Muslim Brotherhood: the Rabaa Adaiya and

al-Nahda Massacres


second camp, the Nahda camp, was established in Giza. On 3 July 2013, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Morsi’s minister of defence, deposed the elected government, in what was widely considered to be a coup, but which was supported by the masses (Siegelbaum, 2013); (Kirkpatrick, 2013).

The reaction of the MB was immediate: its leaders decided to adopt a revolutionary strategy that would seek to reverse the coup (Awad, 2017). As a consequence of this, clashes occurred between members of the MB and the police, supported by the military, in August 2013. On 14 August 2013, the new interim government, led by Adly Mansour, gave orders to clear both camps. According to Kirsten McTighe (2015), the justification for this decision was the fact that both camps were magnets for terrorists. Government officials claimed that violent and sectarian rhetoric was used by MB protesters, which were documenting this in videos that went viral (McTighe, 2015). In fact, as The Guardian reported, “the prime minister, Hazem Beblawi, said the crackdown was essential to create stability, and praised security forces for what he characterized as maximum restraint” (Kingsley, 2013a). The attack was carried out as a military-style assault against an entrenched enemy, using overwhelming and indiscriminate force against anyone within the encampments (Bassiouni, 2017). According to Human Rights Watch, at least 817 people and probably at least 1000 people died and 1492 others were injured (Shakir, 2014). The government, represented by the Egyptian Health Ministry, only acknowledged 638 deaths, but said that 3994 persons had been injured (Mohsen, 2013).

In the hours following the dispersal of the protesters at the Rabbaa camp, the Rabbaa al-Adawiya field hospital was placed under siege. Reports referred to snipers targeting visitors to the hospital, and stories emerged of doctors and medical staff being prevented from delivering medical assistance (Aman, 2013). At 4:00 pm on 14th August, security forces filled the floors of the hospital with tear gas; four hours later the hospital burned to the ground (Aman, 2013). No mention was made of this attack in the fact-finding report issued by the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, but those who were able to escape from the hospital reported that they had seen at least 360 burned corpses (Bassiouni, 2017).


demonstrators had tried to break into the building with the support of armed motorcycles, leaving them no other choice other than to open fire, as weapons were the only equipment they were carrying (Kingsley, 2013b). Human Rights Watch, citing the official Forensic Medical Authority, reported that 61 protesters were killed (Shakir, 2014).

These confrontations led to a series of events, which ultimately crushed the MB. On 23 September 2013, the Egyptian authorities banned the MB and ordered the freezing of its assets (Kingsley, 2013c). According to Egypt’s State Information Service, a Cairo court not only banned the MB, but also ordered the formation of a panel independent of the government to administer the group’s funds (State Information Service, 2013). Following this, on 25 December 2013, Hossam Eissa, the Minister of Higher Education, speaking on behalf of the government, stated that the MB and its organization had been declared to be a terrorist organization (Associated Press in Cairo, 2013) This was followed, on 9 August 2014, by the dissolution of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing (BBC, 2014a).

3.2 Repression of the Muslim Brotherhood

The decisions taken by the new military-dominated government, soon to be led by former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were illustrative of a massive wave of repression targeting the MB. This can be seen in the treatment meted out to the Brotherhood’s leaders and members, in the arrests and detentions made, in the court cases and mass trials against them, as well as in the increasing numbers of “disappearances”. The Freedom House NGO states in its Freedom in the World report for 2016, that “large numbers of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, including nearly all of the organization’s senior leadership and Morsi himself, were arrested following the coup” (Freedom House, 2016).


top leaders of the MB, which resulted in many death sentences. Morsi’s trial began on 4 November 2013. Just as with Mubarak, his first public appearance after his fall was inside a cage. The charges against the former president focused mainly on three issues: escape from prison in January 2011, during the popular uprising, including an allegation of the murder of police personnel; alleged incitement of violence against anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters during street demonstrations in December 2012; and alleged disclosure of secret state information to Hamas, Hezbollah and the government of Qatar (Sadek, 2014a). After a year and a half of judicial proceedings with little substantiated evidence, the former president was sentenced to death on 16 May 2015 on charges of involvement in the murder of police personnel after escaping from jail in January 2011 and for disclosure of confidential documents to third countries and political movements (Kirkpatrick, 2015). On the same occasion, other MB figures, including the current supreme guide of the MB, Mohamed Badie, Khairat El-Shater and Saad El-Katatni were also sentenced to death on similar charges.

In addition to the prosecution of MB leaders, a number of prison sentences were also given to MB militants and sympathizers. For example, on 24 March 2014 the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 men to death (Human Rights Watch, 2014). The same Court, on 28 April 2014, sentenced 683 people to death (Amnesty International, 2014). According to Human Rights Watch (2015), on 11 April 2015, “51 alleged supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood” were tried in a mass trial. The judge sentenced 37 of them to life imprisonment and condemned 14 others to death (Human Rights Watch, 2015).


(Reuters in Cairo, 2016). In 2016, Egypt’s Supreme Court overturned the life sentence against the former president for espionage for Hamas and ordered a retrial (El-Din E.-S. G., 2016). Also, in 2017, the same court reduced Morsi’s sentence in the Qatar case to 25 years, in its final ruling, which is a reduction of 15 years in relation to the original 40-year sentence (Middle East Monitor, 2017).

The government’s efforts to destroy the MB were merciless. In its 2016 report entitled “Egypt: 'Officially, You Do Not Exist': Disappeared and Tortured in the Name of Counter-terrorism”, Amnesty International (2016) stated that a "pattern of abuse" that includes arbitrary arrests, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances by state agents had become "particularly evident since March 2015" (Amnesty International, 2016).

3.3 Violence and Repression in the Sinai

In addition to its repressive policy in relation to the MB, the government is facing a severe threat in Sinai. The context and the protagonists are different, in this part of Egypt, especially with the rise of a group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM). This group is affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS) and presumably also has ties with Hamas, in Gaza (Bassiouni, 2017).


el-Baghdadi and changed its name to Sinai Province (Waliyat Sinai). That same year ABM was declared to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US government, and in September 2015 the Department of State amended ABM’s designation to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Sinai Province (ISIL-SP).

Although ABM has ideological disagreements with the MB, it is noteworthy that it shifted its activity from attacking Israeli forces to attacking Egyptian security forces, after the Rabaa and Nahda square massacres (El-Gundy, 2015). In videos published in 2015, the group claimed responsibility for attacks on Egyptian security forces to avenge the imprisonment of Muslim women supporters of Morsi (El-Gundy, 2015). Despite these facts, no close connection has been established between the two groups. The increase of attacks perpetrated against the Sisi administration is related to its position in relation to Israel and its escalation of military repression.


pursue conventional military operations rather than pursuing counterinsurgency tactics, such as working closely with the local population in order to provide them with security. This has hindered the Egyptian government’s ability to effectively root out extremist threats in the Sinai where the terrorists have exploited the lawless territory in order to plan, orchestrate and increase attacks (Seftel, 2017).

This increase of attacks resulted in the bloodiest terrorist incident in Egypt’s modern history, on 24 November 2017, when at least 305 people were murdered in a complex assault on the Al Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abed, North Sinai. The assault involved approximately 30 masked gunmen and possibly at least one suicide bomber, with nearby vehicles being set on fire to block roads and hinder rescue efforts. The response was immediate, with an Egyptian army spokesman claiming that “terrorist spots”, where weapons were stored, had been bombed by air force jets that same day (BBC, 2017). Although the terrorists responsible for the 24 November attack were seen raising the black banner of the self-proclaimed IS, no claim has been made by the ISIL-SP so far. The target had been a Sufi Muslim mosque (the Sufis’ mystical interpretation of Islam is considered to be heretical by ISIL-SP).

In parallel with ISIL-SP terrorist activity, two other groups also operate in North Sinai, namely Salafia Jihadyya and al-Tawhid Wal Jihad. The former was created after the January 25 Revolution with the primary goal of targeting Israel. Other minor groups are affiliated with it, including Jihad wil Tawhid, Ansar al-Jihad, Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis. Their best-known operations were an explosion of a major gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel, and the firing missiles into Israel from Egypt’s borders (Bassiouni, 2017). The latter group dates back to the 2011 Revolution and its main target is also Israel. Its best-known attacks were carried out at Taba in 2004 and 2006 (Bassiouni, 2017).


3.4 Conclusion

The answer to the sub-question at the beginning of this chapter, i.e. “What violent means have been used by the military and the security forces in order to contain the Muslim Brotherhood and violent jihadist groups?” is that the indiscriminate use of force by the military and the security forces is exemplified by their crackdown on the MB and the fight against terrorist actions originating in North Sinai.

A far-reaching crackdown on dissent has put at least 34,000 people (government’s information), and possible hundreds more, behind bars (Amnesty International, 2016). The vast majority of those imprisoned are members of the MB, which has been outlawed and is considered to be a terrorist organization. With the rising threat in Sinai, mostly from a group called Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, now renamed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Sinai Province after it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, the government is giving more powers to the military. It is therefore likely that repression through the use of force will continue.


The policy of repression established by Sisi’s government also took the form of concentrated pressure on the media. The aim was to silence public criticism of the military, the police and other security operatives, by concealing the violence perpetrated against anyone opposing the regime, with particular emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood. This pressure was also intended to conceal the arbitrary arrests and detentions from the general public (Bassiouni, 2017). The aim of this chapter is therefore to analyse and answer the following sub-question:

How is the media being repressed in order to cover-up the violence perpetrated by the government against dissenters?


that the 2014 Constitution contains several encouraging provisions regarding freedom of speech and the media. For example, article 65, which guarantees freedom of thought, opinion, and speech (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014). Likewise, article 68 affirms that all official state documents and information are the property of the people, who have the right to access the same in transparent manner (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014). Articles 70, 71, and 72 of the Constitution all provide rights that support a free media environment (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014), i.e. freedom of the press, broadcast and digital sectors; right to establish media outlets; bans on prison terms for press-related offences; declaration of independence and neutrality of all state-owned media outlets. The contradiction arises when these positive aspects are weakened by a series of exceptions and vague provisions. A clear example of such exceptions appears in article 71, which provides that limited censorship is permitted in times of war or general mobilization. This article also leaves room for interpretation, where it provides that the law must provide the penalties for incitement of violence (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014). This shows that the Constitution fails to establish the circumstances in which these exceptions apply, which has resulted in legislation creating structures that enabled political influence.


4.1 Actions against journalists

The following examples provide a better illustration of the existing repressive practices against journalists. In 2015, Egyptian security forces shut down the two most prominent literary and art centres in Cairo, namely the Townhouse Gallery and the Merit Publishing House, on the grounds of tax offences (Bassiouni, 2017). In April 2015, 13 journalists were sentenced to life prison for conspiring against the state during the Rabaa Square episode. In May 2016, security forces raided the headquarters of the Egyptian Journalist’s Union to arrest Mahmoud el-Sakka and Amr Badr, and in June, the head of the Union, Yahya Qalash was accused of spreading false news (Freedom House, 2017). In February 2016, Hossam Bahgat, a leading journalist, who works for the online newspaper Mada Masr, was detained for allegedly accepting foreign funding to undermine national security (Freedom House, 2017).

These are just some examples of the constant mass of arrests and prosecutions against journalists and media related institutions.

4.2 Full control of media outlets

Furthermore, Sisi issued a counterterrorism law in 2015 (chapter 3), which prohibits journalists from publishing news related to militant violence that contradicts the official government version. This restricts the reporting of sensitive issues, namely the areas affected by terrorism and insurgency, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula (Freedom House, 2017).





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