Egypt Cleric Advocates Death for Dissidents

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An Egyptian anti-government protester walks past a banner readind "Resist" during a demonstration outside the Egyptian high court in the Egyptian capital Cairo to protest against the death of protesters during last week's demonstrations against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood on 7 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - Gianluigi Guercia)

By: Mohammad Khawly

Published Friday, February 8, 2013

The week preceding the assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid on 6 February 2013, a hardline Egyptian Salafi cleric proclaimed it permissible to kill the opponents of the president.

Many see the cleric’s fatwa as a possible prelude to assassinations carried out by Islamists against the president’s opponents.

Salafi preacher Mahmoud Shaaban appeared on the Egyptian religious channel al-Hafez citing a number of hadiths, or sayings by the Prophet Mohammad, to call for the execution of those who spread chaos and instigate subversion.

In a widely-shared clip, Shaaban claimed that the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), was seeking to burn the whole country. He mentioned by name Hamdeen Sabahi, founder of the Popular Current movement, and Mohammed Baradei, founder of the Constitution Party.

A long discussion ensued between the preacher and the program host of “Fil-Mizan,” meaning “In the Balance,” over who should carry out the fatwa – the government or ordinary citizens.

Following the uproar caused by those remarks, Shaaban denied issuing a fatwa calling for the elimination of dissidents. The cleric claimed that the clip had been “spliced and manipulated” by unknown parties seeking to tarnish the image of Islamists.

However, the Salafi preacher confirmed that he had said that it is the right of the ruler to kill opposition figures that contest his authority.
Shaaban's repudiation only added insult to injury. This prompted al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy to issue a statement rejecting what it described as a “misinterpretation and abuse of religious texts.”

The academy said that “murderers and instigators of murder are equally guilty of the sin and receive the same share of punishment in this world and the hereafter.”

Egypt’s interior minister posted a security detail at Mohammed Baradei’s home, while sources close to Sabahi said that he refused protection because “he is an ordinary citizen and does not need it.”

In turn, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil rejected such extremist edicts. He said in a statement that the cabinet would take necessary legal action against anyone who issues fatwas inciting violence against opponents.

Meanwhile, Prosecutor General Talaat Ibrahim ordered an investigation into Shaaban after a lawyer filed a complaint accusing the Salafi cleric of inciting violence.

For its part, the NSF issued a statement mourning Chokri Belaid, and said that his assassination “raises alarm bells from Tunis all the way to Cairo.” The opposition coalition also stressed that “handing out death fatwas against [opposition] leaders...in Egypt and Tunisia shall stop the march of the revolution.”

Assassinations or Street Violence?

In recent days, there have been several killings in Egypt, including administrators of anti-Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood websites. Do such incidents portend that Egypt is only a small step away from systematic assassinations of dissidents?

Khaled Abdul-Hamid, member of the Socialist Popular Alliance (SPA), said that he doubted that the administrators had been targeted specifically. Abdul-Hamid then proclaimed that the assassination of Belaid “will not intimidate us here in Egypt.”

This was echoed by Hussam Hindi, a journalist who has often reported on protests in the country, both before and after the uprising.

Hindi believes that there is a difference between Tunisia and Egypt, and said that those who have been killed in Egypt were not deliberately targeted, but instead died during clashes and protests.

“The regimes in Egypt and Tunisia are oppressive, but the Muslim Brotherhood would not carry out assassinations themselves. However, they might use Salafi groups for that purpose.” Still, these groups “do not assign any importance to young activists, and would rather focus on public figures.”

Essam Shaaban, member of the Egyptian Communist Party’s central committee, predicted that there would be a confrontation with right-wing religious parties, especially “if the regime continues the same failed policies, because they will have nothing other than oppression and coercion to silence Egyptians.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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