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Safwat Hegazi, Body Double?

Safwat Hegazi (R, L?)
Safwat Hegazi (R, L?)

In late August and early September I published an article and two other posts about Safwat Hegazi, one of the more controversial Islamist supporters of Mohamed Morsi.

The article collected links and information about his often inflammatory speeches and public statements, calling him a Bellwether of Egyptian Islamism.

The second linked to a full article describing an interview conducted by Arab West Report at the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site. In it he comes across as very reasonable, denying any membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

And the third was a link to a very surprising video confession by Hegazi about his regretful association with these protests, sad to see them provoking bloodshed. That post expressed a bit of shock leading to the title, Safwat Hegazi, Stool Pigeon?

Several weeks later in a conversation with a Salafi friend, we discussed Hegazi. ‘That video,’ he said confidently, ‘was faked. Hegazi might be dead or he might be in custody, but that video looked nothing like him.’

It made me recall my initial surprise, both in his confession and appearance.

Hegazi’s trial has now begun, in which he declared the released photos were fake:

Egyptian hardline Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy said Saturday during his ongoing trial that photos of him following his arrest released by Egypt’s Interior Ministry were fabricated, according to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party website.

Hegazy, who appeared in court on Saturday along with FJP leader Mohamed El-Beltagy – both charged with inciting violence – reportedly said photos released online by the ministry upon his arrest in August were fake.

The photos showed him with a shaved beard and only a dyed-black goatee. Hegazy stated that he never shaved his beard prior to his arrest.

The allegedly fabricated photos of Hegazy stirred public confusion following their release over the significant changes in his appearance since his detainment. It was widely believed that he had changed his appearance to avoid detection.

Hegazy appeared in photos of Saturday’s court session with his trademark white beard.

The confusion continues. Were the released videos and pictures real, an attempt at character assassination, or irrelevant either because of his overall innocence or outstanding guilt?

But there is another twist besides:

Judges of Cairo Criminal Court recused themselves Saturday from the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leading figure Mohamed El-Beltagy and Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy, saying it has felt unease over the case.

No further explanation was given. Was the unease due to an obvious miscarriage of justice, or fear of Islamist supporters if they carried out justice?Or, was it simply from an inability to conduct the trial, as in this related case:

A second panel of judges has withdrawn from the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders accused of inciting the killing of protesters.

The defendants refused to recognise the court, dubbed it “void” and “illegitimate,” and chanted “down with the military rule.”

The judges said they were unable to conduct the trial properly.

Like many questions of the revolution, we will have to wait and see, but waiting often takes a long time…

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Safwat Hegazi, Stool Pigeon?

This is an unbelievable video of Safwat Hegazi in custody. In previous posts I summarized his controversial statements as conveyed in the media, and provided an interview with him conducted by AWR.

Here is a translation of the written Arabic caption in the video:

0:06 – I swear by God Almighty, I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but no one believes this.

0:15 – I swear by God, if I knew there was a single knife in Rabia al-Adawiya (site of the MB sit-in) meant to kill a soldier, I would have left them.

0:43 – If I could go back in time I would not have stood by the Brotherhood ([spoken, not in caption] – not because they are terrorists but) because they don’t know how to do anything right.

1:39 – I am not against the deposing of Morsi nor his trial. There is no one in the world above the court.

Simply incredible. What is this man’s reality?

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Safwat Hegazi: Bellweather of Egyptian Islamism?

Safwat Hegazi
Safwat Hegazi

Safwat Hegazi has long been an interest of mine due to his inflammatory rhetoric in favor of Islamism. This article was written for Arab West Report before the removal of President Morsi from his office, in preparation for a hopeful interview. Cornelis Hulsman was able to secure this interview during the sit-in protest, and this will be published here in a subsequent post. Since then, Hegazi has been arrested for inciting violence.  Unfortunately, the database of AWR remains inaccessible due to hacking.

………….

The Islamist landscape in Egypt is often seen through the lens of two dominant groupings: The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, the latter of which have splintered into several smaller political parties. But Sunni Islam, lacking an organizational hierarchy, facilitates the emergence of independent scholars on the basis of their knowledge and charisma. Though the Brotherhood and Salafi Nour Party are rightly understood as the prime movers in Islamist politics, the influence of individual actors must not be discounted. Among the most prominent is Safwat Hegazi.

Despite his general independence, Hegazi is often identified – rightly or wrongly – as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless, his strident pro-revolutionary and pro-Islamist positions frequently place him in support of President Muhammad Morsi in general, and in support of an even larger Islamist project in particular, as will be seen. These positions are not just his own, but reflect his position as the secretary-general of the Revolution’s Board of Trustees, one of many revolutionary groupings, and from membership in two Islamist/Salafi organizations, the Legitimate Association for Rights and Reform, and the Association of Sunnah Scholars, which he heads.

Most controversial, however, is Hegazi’s membership in the National Council for Human Rights. This semi-governmental watchdog was reconstituted by Morsi to replace the Mubarak and NDP dominated council with twenty-five new members. Liberals and leftists received a share of the seats, but critics complained of Islamist domination and the appointment of figures with no experience or demonstrated commitment to international human rights norms. Hegazi was singled out as an example.

Among the complaints is Hegazi’s willingness to shed blood.

He issued a fatwa not only licensing the assassination of Syrian President Bashār al-Asad, but also declaring ‘a sinner’ anyone who did not do so. ‘Killing Asad is a duty of the Islamic nation,’ he declared, taking legitimacy from other organizations who issued similar statements.

While Syria can be considered a domain of war, Hegazi’s pronouncement of death extends further. lAnother fatwa urges Muslims to kill any Israeli found walking in the streets, saying the day will come when Muslims rule the world. He also announced he would personally kill someone who insults Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, though he was careful to emphasize he was not asking the public to assume this responsibility.

Finally, in the context of demonstrations at the presidential palace over Morsi’s controversial constitutional declaration placing his decisions beyond judicial oversight, Hegazi warned demonstrating Copts. Repeating Islamist claims that over sixty percent of protesters were Christians, he saw a conspiracy to overthrow the president. Copts share this country with us, he admitted, but declared there were red lines. ‘Whoever threatens it [presidential legitimacy] with water,’ he said, ‘we will threaten him with blood.’

An anti-Christian sentiment can be detected as well in earlier incidents. Upon return of the fiery and polemical Islamist preacher ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Kāfī to Egypt after thirteen years in exile, Hegazi was there to meet him at the airport. But it was his conduct in Qena which speaks more fully to the issue.

After the revolution the ruling military council replaced Mubarak-era governors and appointed new ones in their stead. Qena, with a large Christian minority, had been the one governorate with a Coptic head, and his replacement with another Copt sparked huge protests and cutting of the railway line. Some rejected him for his role in suppressing protests as a member of the police force during the revolution, but much of the protest centered on his religious identity.

Hegazi was part of a team dispatched by the military council to help calm the situation, but instead took the side of the demonstrators. ‘Your demands are our responsibility,’ he declared. ‘No one can impose on us something we do not want.’ In a later, unrelated incident, Hegazi also condemned Shia Muslims, declaring their faith to be blasphemy.

In the accessed media, the motivation for Hegazi’s stances is unclear, but there is space to see it primarily as revolutionary, rather than as sectarian. His is an Islamist activism, but it is revolutionary all the same. Sometimes, these come into conflict.

This was apparent during a summer demonstration in Tahrir Square in 2011 against military rule. Hegazi had earlier withdrawn from a national consensus conference due to the presence of old regime figures, and in this his action was similar to liberal response. But in the square it was non-Islamists who felt the need to withdraw as Salafi protestors used the occasion to chant decidedly Islamist slogans. Hegazi rejected claims there was an agreement among all revolutionaries to use only consensus slogans and demands. Other Islamists admitted there was, however, though they interpreted it differently. In any case, Hegazi became a part of the deteriorating unity of the revolution and the decent into political polarization.

In an earlier example, following the burning of a church in Imbaba in May 2011, representing the first major sectarian attack after the revolution, Hegazi appeared at a massive joint Brotherhood-Salafi rally. He interpreted the attack as part of the counter-revolution, saying it was carried out by thugs, rather than by Islamists. He also took the opportunity to declare the soon coming of the United Islamic States, with one caliph to rule all Muslims.

This theme appeared again during the presidential election campaign, which Hegazi declined to participate in – possibly on behalf of al-Jamā’ah al-Islāmiyyah – due to the large number of worthy candidates, mentioning specifically the liberal Ayman Nūr along with other Islamist candidates. But eventually he threw his support behind Muhammad Morsi, declaring him the only candidate who promised to implement sharī‘ah law.

But Hegazi’s rhetoric went much further. He declared Morsi to be a new Salāh al-Dīn who would unite the Muslims and liberate Jerusalem. A few days later at a huge rally in the Delta, in front of Morsi and Brotherhood leadership Hegazi called for ‘millions of martyrs’ to go to Jerusalem, establishing it as the capital of a new caliphate. The green flag bearing the Islamic shahādah, he defended, belongs to Islam and not to Saudi Arabia.

Part of Hegazi’s motivation is revolutionary. Prior to the first round of elections he called for people to reject the former regime candidates, labeling especially ‘Umar Sulimān, Ahmad Shafīq, and ‘Amr Mūsa. But it is also fully Islamist; a few weeks later he said it was ‘against religion’ to elect a candidate with a vision for liberal, secular, communist, or socialist state. As for the Salafi political parties which endorsed ‘Abd al-Mun’im Abū al-Futūh for president, Hegazi called their leaders agents of state security.

Hegazi’s support for Morsi has continued after his election. He defended the sacking of military council leadership, saying it was not to monopolize power but to secure the demands of the revolution. He supported the constitutional declaration, as described above, and has even approved the practice of kissing the hands of religious leaders, placing Morsi among their number. His partisan positions have earned Hegazi a good deal of opposition – and possible maligning – in the press. An admitted NDP thug has accused him and Brotherhood leadership of orchestrating the revolutionary Battle of the Camel. He was also quoted as seeking to turn the political struggle in Egypt into a civil war, as the opposition was against God and his caliph, a statement he subsequently denied.

As a controversial Islamist in Egypt, Hegazi is not alone. Many have made comments even more outrageous, but none have received such official government endorsement. Appointment to the National Council of Human Rights is a major statement of presidential approval, in which President Morsi implicitly signals toleration of Hegazi’s rhetoric, if not appreciation and approval. France, meanwhile, has barred him from entering the country.

More than likely, Hegazi’s appointment is a political reward for necessary support, keeping secure the president’s right flank. Policy makers in the West appear content to allow Morsi to nurture sectarian discourse as long as practical international obligations are kept sacrosanct. These obligations, however, include a measure of respect for human rights; how far Islamists can transform domestic religious realities is yet to be delimited.

But President Morsi is accountable for the views of Hegazi. Having chosen the politically expedient road of endorsing him domestically, he must endure the politically difficult road of explaining him internationally. Egypt is free to create the society it wishes, but the global community is free to criticize accordingly, and determine the level it welcomes and aids Egypt’s ongoing transition.

These matters are not easy, either for the president or the international community. Safwat Hegazi, however, symbolically stands in the nexus. By all appearances he enjoys his position.

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Brotherhood Faces Both Ways as Egypt Votes for President

Mohamed Morsy

The Islamist front-runner in today’s historic presidential election in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy, has ‘clarified’ the Islamic position on conversion, in what could be seen as an appeal to liberal election watchers.

He said on the popular al-Nahar satellite TV station, on 17 May, in Arabic: ‘There is a wrong concept widely misunderstood, that the apostate [convert] is subject to Islamic punishment. This needs clarification,’ he said on the eve of the first free elections in Egypt’s history.

The man described by the Times today as an ‘uncharismatic party bureaucrat’ was not the Brotherhood’s original candidate, but emerged after the interim authorities banned Khairat al-Shater, who had spent time in jail under the Mubarak regime.

His pronouncement is startling since apostasy – renouncing Islam – carries the death penalty in much of the Muslim world.  It is not proscribed by the constitutional law in Egypt, although citizens can bring cases against those suspected of contravening any aspect of the sharia which is still the primary source of law.

Opportune

Morsy’s own conversion has come at an opportune time, on the eve of the second day of polling.  He believes he has found a new perspective on what is widely seen as the root cause of oppression in the Islamic world:  ‘The Egyptian citizen, between himself and God, if he wants to change his faith or his doctrine, he has complete freedom.’

Morsy, like all candidates, in appealing to as many voters as possible, speaks the language of Islam, with competition fierce between him, other Islamist candidates such as Abdul Moneim Abou El Fotouh and secular figures like former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Current polls show Morsy trailing in as low as third or fourth position, but few people doubt the organizational capabilities of the Brotherhood to get out the vote.

For his part, Morsy predicted he would capture 60 per cent of the vote in first round elections which began yesterday (23 May) but there would be a run-off if any candidate failed to win 50 per cent-plus-one of the electorate, between the top two, on 16/17June.

He has clearly chosen this issue due to its high symbolic value among human rights advocates, with two cases of Muslims converting to Christianity currently going through the courts, according to the 2011 US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report.

A third case concerns around 100 Coptic applicants seeking re-conversion to Christianity, having previously adopted Islam.

Countries where conversion is treasonable are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Qatar, UAE, according to the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies’ 5th annual report in 2010, and this has a chilling effect on Egyptian religious freedom.

A case can be made against any Egyptian citizen for any crime against Islam and a judge has the ability to accept or deny that case.

In the past decade, a number of judges have taken it upon themselves to rule according to Islamic law regardless of what the constitutional law says, and have imposed draconian punishment ranging from imprisonment and torture to enforced divorce and loss of position.

The apparent arbitrariness of this as a system – since Sharia is so widely interpreted in the Muslim world – accounts for the insecurity felt by many.

Revd Fayez Isack is a pastor at the evangelical church of Kasr el-Dobara in Cairo, the largest Protestant church in the Arab world. He maintains these legal cases are only the tip of the iceberg, but there is no sound research on precise numbers.

He finds little comfort in Morsy’s statement.

‘This is typical of the way they talk. The apostate has all the rights until he becomes a threat to the system of God, and then the law of God is applied,’ he said.

According to other Protestant sources, who asked not to be named for the sake of security, there are hundreds of thousands of ‘secret believers’ who have converted to Christianity. For these, the ‘clarification’ Morsy mentioned is important.

Morsy contends that religion is a private matter – up to a point.  He stated:  ‘Anyone who keeps his trouble in his home, to himself – no one has the legal or Islamic right to knock on his door and ask what he’s doing. But when the home begins to affect society, this is where the law and the sharia have the right to interfere.’

Official Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan backs up Isack’s critique. ‘Egyptian society is not like the West; calling to a different religion causes social strife, even if just one person to another.’

Jerusalem

Morsy’s appeal to liberal voters contrasts with other MB efforts to reach conservatives with a pan-Islamic vision that has horrified some commentators in the wake of the Revolution.

Sheikh Safwat Hegazi, a popular television preacher who appears frequently with Morsy at rallies, was banned from entering France in April.

Safwat Hegazi

Endorsing Morsy, he declared recently before thousands at Cairo stadium: ‘We can see how the dream of the Islamic caliphate is being realized, God willing, by Dr. Mohamed Morsi.

‘Our capital shall not be in Cairo, Mecca or Medina; millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.’

Ghozlan dismissed these comments, but stopped short of condemning them.

‘Egypt is a sinking ship, and we need to get back on our own feet before we can worry about regional issues.

‘This is less a strategy than a dream, and his comments are not based in any reality.

‘We are part of the Arab world and we believe in Arab unity and greater integration both politically and economically, but we would need to wait decades, even centuries, before we can see a caliphate realized.

‘Wisdom says let the statement go and seek to clarify, rather than embarrassing the person who came to support you.’

Yet another MB commentator, Hassan Abdel Sattar Mohamed, member of the media committee of the Brotherhood for south Cairo, is clearer.  He stated: ‘Hegazi sees in Morsy one who will apply the goals of sharia, and who has a vision for the unity of Arab and Islamic states.

‘We refuse the Zionist entity which occupies al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem], and we support the Palestinian cause.

‘It is the ultimate goal to have Jerusalem as the capital and to march for its liberation, but reality does not permit this now.’

Politicians around the world seek ‘big tent’ politics, but often by default fall back on the strength of their base. Seeking the centre, the Muslim Brotherhood has made countless statements on their intention to create a civil state with full citizenship rights for all.

The question that remains to be resolved is whether such statements as these on apostasy and the caliphate represent an appeal for votes – or core policy objectives.

This piece was originally published on Lapido Media.

 

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