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Mohamed Morsi: An Egyptian tragedy

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was deposed in a coup led by his defence minister, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in July 2013 [File: AP/Maya Alleruzzo] [Daylife]

The death of former President Mohamed Morsi is only the latest in a series of untold tragedies that have afflicted Egypt since the spark of revolution flickered more than eight years ago. His unlikely rise to the presidency reflected the aspirations of millions of Egyptians for a future free of despotic military rule. His subsequent arrest at the hands of a resurgent dictatorship made him one of 60,000 Egyptians imprisoned for daring to seek a better life.

The mysterious circumstances surrounding Morsi’s death while in the custody of Egyptian state security services bring up many questions.

But there is no doubt about the regime’s culpability for a death it has long sought, whether through a series of spurious death penalty cases against the former president, or as a consequence of the appalling prison conditions that have contributed to the demise of his health and which have been roundly condemned by international human rights bodies.

For Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the field marshal who overthrew Morsi in a July 2013 coup and restored military rule in Egypt, his death signals yet another milestone in a six-year mission to bury any remaining vestiges of Egypt’s short-lived democratic transition.

That process began when the then-defence minister ordered the arrest of the democratically elected president, who had appointed him, and proceeded to crack down on his supporters. The massacre at the Rabaa Square sit-in six weeks later in which nearly 1,000 protesters were killed represented the largest single-day mass killing of civilians by security forces in Egypt’s modern history. In the years since, the el-Sisi regime has banned all forms of protest, shut down independent media, imprisoned tens of thousands of activists and even engaged in extrajudicial killings.

El-Sisi was anointed president in 2014, following a sham election held under extremely repressive conditions, and re-elected for a second term last year in another equally absurd vote in which the incumbent’s sole opponent had endorsed him.

The constitutional amendments the regime pushed through earlier this year have all but cemented the Egyptian military’s extraordinary privileges over civil society and were intended to ensure an el-Sisi presidency for decades to come. All the while, the economic deprivation, physical insecurity and basic human indignity against which millions of Egyptians mobilised in 2011 have gotten far worse.

In contrast to el-Sisi’s iron-fist approach to power, Morsi’s path to the presidency mirrored the uncertainties and anxieties of the society from which he emerged. Born in 1951 in a small village northeast of Cairo, Morsi came of age during the height of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s presidency in which Egypt’s authoritarian system first took root.

He relocated to Cairo to pursue his higher education as part of a broader wave of urban migration from the Egyptian countryside. But the collapse of Nasserism following the country’s defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, and the inability to meet the basic needs of a rapidly growing population, sent Egypt into a crisis. Like many other Egyptians, Morsi pursued further studies abroad, receiving a doctorate in engineering in the United States before returning to teach at an Egyptian university during the early years of President Hosni Mubarak‘s rule.

In some ways, Morsi represents a lost generation, millions of Egyptians deprived of any say in their own governance for decades, who were later forced to watch as an octogenarian president prepared to hand over power to his son Gamal who was in his early 40s. Rather than wallow in his own marginalisation, Morsi joined many others of his generation in devoting much of his life to public service, working within the Muslim Brotherhood‘s political wing, which offered itself as an alternative to the corrupt ruling National Democratic Party.

Although it had been outlawed since 1954, by the late Mubarak era, the Muslim Brotherhood had steadily emerged as a significant opposition movement within Egyptian civil society, offering crucial social services and joining a broad cross-section of society in calling for serious political reforms and demanding democratic elections. That opportunity finally arose following the mass protests that unseated Mubarak in February 2011.

Unlike Gamal Mubarak, who believed himself destined to inherit his father’s seat, there was nothing to suggest that Morsi ever desired the presidency he eventually won in the country’s first-ever free presidential election. Nor did he prove particularly suited for the position, which had little use for his years of experience in activism within a closed political system. However, what most of Morsi’s harshest critics failed to grasp during his precarious year in office were the structural impediments that would have doomed any figure from the ranks of Egypt’s revolutionaries to failure.

On the eve of the country’s historic presidential election, the ruling military council quietly issued a decree that effectively stripped the incoming president of all executive powers. Months later, when Morsi attempted to reclaim the powers of his office, a predictably alarmist state media and a distrustful political opposition condemned it as a sinister power grab. The weakest president Egypt ever had, had incredibly become “pharaoh” in the eyes of an increasingly fractious public.

In a sense, Morsi’s greatest mistake was in managing to convince Egyptians that he held the powers of the office to which he was elected. Whether fairly or unfairly, by the end of his first year as president, every new failure had been laid at Morsi’s feet. The accusations had even crossed over into the ridiculous: Morsi was supposedly negotiating a secret sale of Egypt’s pyramids to a foreign country when he was overthrown. Some of the conspiracy theories would have been laughable had they not ended up on a list of court charges for which he would later face a possible death sentence.

Absent from many of the critiques of Morsi’s ill-fated presidency was the role of countless other actors committed to ensuring the failure of Egypt’s revolutionary moment: government bureaucrats loyal to the former regime who refused to implement presidential policies; an oligarch class that created artificial energy shortages to stir popular discontent; a political opposition that cynically played the role of spoiler when it could not defeat Morsi or his party in elections; foreign governments that bankrolled the counter-revolution; and of course, the Egyptian armed forces, which continued to hold most of the cards during the contentious revolutionary transition.

One could certainly point to Morsi’s leadership flaws, his poor communication of key decisions, and his inability to forge a broad revolutionary coalition to withstand the coming counter-revolution, but in the face of such an onslaught, it is unlikely that any opposition figure would have stood a chance.

And so his presidency came to an unceremonious end before it ever really began. Morsi’s legacy encompassed little more than the momentary hope for a democratic future embodied in his ceremonial assumption of a post long regarded as the sole domain of ruthless authoritarians.

But as his successor would soon realise, that brief hope has proven to be stubbornly hard to extinguish. Six years after the coup that overthrew Morsi, many Egyptians continue to perceive the current regime as illegitimate.

It is probably for this reason that the el-Sisi regime, consistent with its rampant inhumanity, denied a former president a proper public funeral, instead hastily arranging a pre-dawn burial which only two of Morsi’s surviving family members were allowed to attend. By choosing to bury him in the dead of night, the regime has only succeeded in shining a light on the enduring tragedy of a nation.

Source: Aljazeera

First four suspects named for MH17 murder trial

[Clockwise from top-left] Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko [Bellingcat]

Four suspects are to face murder charges for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in July 2014, after online investigators published a new report detailing the attack on the passenger airliner which killed 298 people.

Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko were officially named by Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday morning. Three of them are members of the Russian armed forces who are alleged to have helped a separatist movement in Ukraine to obtain, use and remove a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system.

All four are likely to be tried in absentia when the case is scheduled to be heard in March 2020 in the Netherlands, where most of the victims came from.

“They have all been involved with the transport of the Buk missile which downed the MH17 plane, according to investigators,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Moscow. “They were very much at the top of the separatist organisation behind the attack.”

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce was among the dead, expressed relief that five years after the plane was blown out of the sky above conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, a trial could finally start.

“This is what we hoped for,” Fredriksz-Hoogzand told reporters. “This is a start of it. It is a good start.”

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told Interfax Ukraine on Tuesday that the four were “only the top”.

“Naturally, then, the number of people who are involved in this will be much larger than the four people who will be named,” said Zerkal.

Those four are not expected to face the charges in person. 

“Of course, for justice, we would like to see the guilty tried and punished in an international court,” Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at Birmingham University, told Al Jazeera.

But if the suspects are unlikely to see the inside of a court room, why proceed with the trial?

“It is still essential to complete investigations and issue findings,” Lucas added.

“It is important for closure, not least for the relatives of those who have been killed. It is important as a marker that the international community will not turn away from crimes, including the slaying of innocents. And it is important as a message that even the most powerful states and individuals cannot act with impunity.”

Civilian flight

In the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the Russian military annexed Crimea in eastern Ukraine. Protests in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions blew up into a full-scale armed pro-Russian insurgency, and Ukraine deployed its armed forces to suppress the separatists.

The violence escalated, and Ukrainian air force jets were deployed, with several shot down over the rebel-held territory.

After the disappearance of MH17, a social media account linked to Girkin claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian military aircraft in the area. A video published by News Corp Australia a year later showed Russian-backed rebels arriving on the scene to discover it was a Boeing 777 civilian flight, packed with hundreds of tourists on their way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

“Prosecutors will today send their indictments to the Russian Federation, so the government can notify the suspects of the charges against them,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen.

“They will not be formally requesting extradition, as according to both the Ukrainian and Russian constitutions, it’s not allowed to extradite any people.

“Police will keep investigating all of these details and the witness accounts they have been receiving, and hope to receive many more.”

Suspects

Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko were the top four figures identified by Bellingcat, an open-source investigative network, as being behind the attack. Bellingcat analysed more than 150,000 bugged phone conversations which were released by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the Ukrainian Security Service.

Their journalists also used geolocation techniques to study photos and video footage of the missile launcher which were posted online as it was transported across the country.

Girkin, also known as Igor Streikov, who went by the code-name “Strelok” in the intercepted phone calls, is a former colonel in the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. In 2014, Bellingcat reports, he was the “minister of defence” for the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) – a Russian-funded militant separatist group which has been dubbed a terrorist organisation by Ukraine.

The DNR’s military intelligence organisation was headed by Dubinsky (call sign “Khmury”), who Ukraine maintains is also a member of Russia’s military intelligence agency. The intercepted phone calls point to him first requesting the Buk missile launcher, Bellingcat reports, adding that a group under his direct command which played a key role in the decision to shoot down the passenger jet, thinking it was an enemy aircraft.

Pulatov, a former lieutenant colonel in the Russian military, was Dubinsky’s number two at the time of MH17’s downing and was likely involved in securing the missile launcher. He was the man behind the call sign “Gyurza” on the intercepted phone calls, Bellingcat reports.

Kharchenko, identified on the phone calls as “Krot”, is the only Ukrainian of the four. He was head of the DNR’s Krot Reconnaissance Battalion and is alleged to have coordinated the transport of the missile launcher to the launch site, and then, after the destruction of the passenger jet, arranging the removal of the launcher system to Russia.

He is still believed to be in Ukraine, prosecutors in the Netherlands said on Wednesday, as they prepared international arrest warrants for the four. They will be placed on global “wanted” lists before the trial begins in March.

Source: Aljazeera

US: Trump EPA rolls back Obama rule on coal-fired power plants

Steam rises from the coal-fired Jim Bridger power plant outside Rock Springs, Wyoming in 2017 [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

The Trump administration on Wednesday completed one of its biggest rollbacks of environmental rules, replacing a landmark Obama-era effort that sought to wean the United States‘s electrical grid off coal-fired power plants and their climate-damaging pollution.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, signed a replacement rule that gives states leeway in deciding whether to require efficiency upgrades at existing coal plants.

Wheeler said coal-fired power plants remained essential to the power grid, something that opponents deny.

“Americans want reliable energy that they can afford,” he said at a news conference. There’s no denying “the fact that fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix”, he said.

President Donald Trump campaigned partly on a pledge to bring back the coal industry, which has been hit hard by competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.

The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule will go into effect shortly after publication in the Federal Register.

‘Outrageous Dirty Power scam’

But environmental groups, who referred to Trump’s rule as “the dirty power plan”, have vowed to challenge the rule in the courts.

“The dirty power plan rolls back the Clean Power Plan and threatens lives of people in this country and it threatens to cost our economy billions of dollars and it jeapordises our climate leadership,” Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a video posted on Twitter. 

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a top Democrat, said in a statement that “the Trump administration’s outrageous Dirty Power Scam is a stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving dirty special interests the green light to choke our skies, poison our waters and worsen the climate crisis.” 

Joseph Goffman, an EPA official under President Barack Obama, said he feared that the Trump administration was trying to set a legal precedent that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government “next to no authority to do anything” about climate-changing emissions from the country’s power grid.

The Obama rule, adopted in 2015, sought to reshape the country’s power system by encouraging utilities to rely less on dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants and more on electricity from natural gas, solar, wind and other lower or no-carbon sources.

Burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heat is the main human source of heat-trapping carbon emissions.

Supporters of the revised rule say the Obama-era plan overstepped the EPA’s authority.

“This action is recalibrating EPA so it aligns with being the agency to protect public health and the environment in a way that respects the limits of the law,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior official at the EPA who helped write the replacement rule. She now runs a nonprofit, Energy45, that supports President Donald Trump’s energy initiatives.

“The Clean Power Plan was designed largely to put coal out of business,” Gunasekara said. Trump’s overhaul is meant to let states “figure out what is best for their mission in terms of meeting modern environmental standards” and providing affordable energy, she said.

Democrats and environmentalists say the Trump administration has ignored scientific warnings about climate change as it sought to protect the sagging US coal industry.

“The growing climate crisis is the existential threat of our time and President Trump’s shameful response was to put lobbyists and polluters in charge of protecting your health and safety,” Pelosi said.

Campaign promise

With coal miners at his side, Trump signed an order in March 2017 directing the EPA to scrap the Obama rule. It was one of the first acts of his presidency.

His pledge to roll back regulation for the coal industry helped cement support from owners and workers in the coal industry, and others. Despite his promise, market forces have frustrated Trump’s efforts. Competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable fuel has continued a yearslong trend driving US coal plant closings to near-record levels last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Joe Goffman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard and former EPA General Counsel who worked on the Clean Power Plan, also said the new regulation could allow some coal-fired power plants to avoid retirement by making “hardware fixes and operational changes”.

But a Reuters survey last October of 44 utilities that have announced plans to shutter coal units in coming years showed none of them expected the new EPA proposal would affect the timing of those retirements.

Stagnate progress?

Since coming to office, Trump has taken a number of steps that environmentalists have described as an “attack” on the fight against climate change. 

He has moved to withdraw the US from the 2016 Paris Agreement, the international accord that aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise this century to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

An Associated Press analysis on Tuesday of federal air data showed US progress on cleaning the air may be stagnating after decades of improvement. There were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air in the US both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the US had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.

Without providing evidence, Trump has repeatedly claimed just the opposite, saying earlier this month in Ireland, “we have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president”.

Along with an initiative requiring tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks, the Clean Power Plan was one of Obama’s two legacy efforts to slow climate change. The Trump administration is also proposing to roll back the Obama-era mileage standards, with a final rule expected shortly.

Trump has also rejected scientific warnings on climate change, including a report this year from scientists at more than a dozen federal agencies noting that global warming from fossil fuels “presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life”.

The EPA’s own regulatory analysis last year estimated that Trump’s replacement ACE rule would kill an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030, owing to additional air pollution from the power grid.

Last month, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives passed its first climate change bill in nearly a decade, which would require the Trump administration to keep the US as a part of the Paris Agreement. 

Source: Aljazeera

'Credible evidence' links MBS to Khashoggi's murder: UN report

Saudi Arabia has denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew about the plot to kill Khashoggi [Amr Nabil/AP]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be investigated over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a UN rights expert has concluded, citing “credible evidence”.

In her long-anticipated report, which was released on Wednesday, UN extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”.

Speaking to Al Jazeera just after the report was published, Callamard said based on the information made available to her, “there is little doubt in my mind that the killing was premeditated. It was planned.”

Khashoggi’s killing by a team of Saudi operatives in the the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2 provoked widespread revulsion and marred the image of the crown prince.

The 100-page report cites audio from inside the consulate, recorded just minutes before Khashoggi entered.

In the audio, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a close aide to bin Salman, asked whether it will “be possible to put the trunk in a bag?”

Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.

In response, Salah Mohammed Abdah Tubaigy, a well-known Saudi forensics doctor, replied “No. Too heavy,” after which he expressed hope that Khashoggi’s killing would “be easy”. 

“Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them,” Tubaigy said in the recording, adding: “Leather bags”.

There was a reference to cutting skin, according to the report.

Tubaigy also expressed concerns that his direct manager was not aware of what he was doing. “There is nobody to protect me.” At the end of the conversation, Mutreb asked whether “the sacrificial animal” has arrived.

At 13:13 local Istanbul time, a voice said “he has arrived”, the report said. In the recordings heard by the special rapporteur, Khashoggi’s name was not mentioned.

Callamard said she “determined that there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s”.

Saudi Arabia dismissed Callamard’s findings as “not new”.

“The [UN] report reiterates what has already been published and circulated in the media,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“The report of the rapporteur in the human rights council contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”

Saudi cover story

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, described the findings as “damning”.

“It’s a report that is pretty certain of who is to blame – she [Callamard] says Saudi Arabia is responsible for premeditated murder,” Bays said.

“It completely blows away the official Saudi cover story that this was a botched plan to seize Khashoggi and take him back to Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from outside of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, said the report’s findings were likely to provide Turkey with “momentum” to put pressure on US President Donald Trump to “come out and take action against bin Salman”.

The report also said that Saudi Arabia must apologise to Turkey for “abuse of diplomatic privileges”.

Body still missing

Callamard told Al Jazeera, “It is very difficult to imagine that you will include a forensic doctor in a team for the purpose of only carrying out an abduction.”

Asked if anyone knew where the remains of Khashoggi were, Callamard said, “Oh yes, absolutely,
the people that were in the room, the people that disposed of the body. There were 15 individuals involved.

“His remains have not been found and I must highlight the fact that the recordings need to be interpreted, they do not tell a very straightforward story. What was done to his body I cannot deduct from the sounds that I have heard,” she said. 

Callamard in her report confirmed earlier findings after a visit to Turkey this year that the evidence pointed to a brutal crime “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials.

Matthew Bryza, a former US ambassador and a non-resident senior fellow at the US-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the findings made clear Khashoggi’s killing was “a premeditated murder, planned carefully”.

“The Saudi government must come up with an explanation for who ordered this, who’s responsible and where is the body,” Bryza told Al Jazeera from Istanbul.

“This report builds and restores momentum for justice to be done.”

It suggests among other things that member states impose targeted sanctions against those allegedly involved in the killing, including the Saudi crown prince, “focusing on his personal assets abroad, until and unless evidence has been produced that he bears no responsibility for the execution of Mr Khashoggi”.

Calls for criminal probe

In a statement on Wednesday, Amnesty International said the report’s findings highlighted the need for an independent criminal investigation to uncover the truth.

“We call on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to immediately take up the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to launch an international follow-up criminal investigation. The UN report confirms that the steps taken to date by Saudi Arabia to ensure accountability are not only inadequate, but violate themselves human rights standards, both procedurally and substantively,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East director of research, said.  

Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday his country strongly endorsed the UN recommendations.

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Saudi Crown Prince MBS warns against exploiting Khashoggi murder

The CIA and some Western countries reportedly believe bin Salman, also known as MBS, ordered the operation to kill Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince’s policies and Washington Post columnist.

Saudi officials have denied these suspicions.

Callamard had earlier denounced the lack of transparency at the kingdom’s secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder.

She called on Saudi authorities to reveal the defendants’ names, the charges against them and the fate of 10 others initially arrested.

US President Donald Trump’s administration said it was pressing its close Middle East ally Saudi Arabia to show “tangible progress” towards holding to account those behind the Khashoggi killing.

Washington wants the Saudis to do so before the one-year anniversary of his murder, a senior administration official said last week.

Callamard is due to present her report on June 26 to the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states include Saudi Arabia.

Source: Aljazeera