It seems we are about to lose the ability to feel astonished at what is happening in Egypt, one day after another. Take, for example, the release of a large number of Islamist militants who were charged with terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians. The last of those was Mustafa Hamza, the mastermind of the attempt on the former president’s life in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. I don’t think readers need to be told about Hamza’s ideological and organizational stance, but I would just like to remind them that all his co-militants stressed in their interviews and memoirs that he did not only plan the assassination of the president, but was also involved in the killing of tourists in Luxor in 1997.
Therefore, there is no way we can say that there is not enough evidence of his criminal activities or that State Security framed him at the time. Before Hamza, another extremist militant called Refaei Taha was also released, and after him, several others were granted presidential amnesty. This series of pardons was initiated by the military a few weeks after they became in charge of “running” the country then, by the “group” that later came to power. So, the criminals are set free and the families of those they killed are left in utter misery.
I was not also surprised when I knew that leaders of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya called upon the Egyptian authorities and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to demand the Ethiopian government releases its members who were tried there for the assassination attempt. Similarly, I will not be surprised if the current government responds to this request which obviously defies all logic. A terrorist act is a terrorist act and murder and assassination are terrorist acts. This fact does not change with the change of regimes, but this happens only in Egypt. And we are not surprised!
My previous stances on militant groups in general, and al-Gamaa al-Islamiya in particular, are known to everyone. I have been close to several of their members over the years as I followed their ideological development and the initiative in which they denounced violence. I started to worry when some of their members expelled from the group the prominent leaders who were behind this historic initiative, namely Karam Zohdi and Nageh Ibrahim. It was then that I knew that the group could be planning to take back their pledges and follow a different path. It was also then that I felt they need to make clear statements about their position from the initiative because they owe this to the community. I was one of the people who believed them and actually took part in presenting this initiative to the public, and that is why I believe it is my right to ask them to clarify where they stand, especially that what they say now is contradictory to what they had said before.
I conducted hours-long interviews that have not been aired yet with all the previous and current leaders of the group, and without putting any pressure on them, they talked of renunciation of violence. Now, I find some of them retracting their earlier statements. This contradiction necessitates a clarification from them as well as from similar organizations, let alone the ruling “group” whose only source of legitimacy is that of a de facto situation that we have to bear with.
Meanwhile, neither the president nor his government described the Sinai attack that killed 16 Egyptians as a “terrorist” act, and some of them just labeled it “criminal.” Then, all of a sudden, 14 militants are sentenced to death for last year’s attack on a police station and a bank in the city of Arish which killed seven people.
I would like, though, to reassure the culprits that amnesty, or at least a more lenient sentence, is on its way. I don’t think we will be surprised then. We have gotten used to that!
(The writer is a former head of news at Egypt’s state television.)