Arab World: Egypt’s conspiracy theory

Did Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood conspire to topple Hosni Mubarak? Egyptians face increasing uneasiness over links between the two.

Hamas gunmen hold Morsi poster 370 (photo credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
Hamas gunmen hold Morsi poster 370
(photo credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
New revelations throw a startling light on how the Muslim Brotherhood worked hand-in-hand with Hamas during the mass demonstrations that brought about the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
According to the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily, quoting a high-ranking security source, Egyptian homeland security head Khaled Tharwet gave Khairat el- Shater – No. 2 in the Brotherhood’s supreme guidance office – transcripts of five phone calls that were allegedly intercepted between Brotherhood members and Hamas leaders during the crucial January 2011 period. The Brotherhood, it seems, wanted Hamas to put added pressure on security forces by contributing to the general turmoil. Another, no less important goal was to secure the release of extremists imprisoned in Wadi Natrun prison – most notably Mohamed Morsi, who was to become Egyptian president a year later.
From the transcripts, it appears that the Brotherhood knew in advance about the protests which erupted on January 25 – and that they participated in the planning. The first two calls took place between senior Brotherhood members before the mass demonstrations of January 25 and 27. On the 21st, one of them mentions preparations for the demonstrations and adds, “Don’t worry, we shall be helped by our neighbors.” The following day, he says, “Things are okay, the neighbors are ready.” In both cases, “Hamas” may be substituted in place of “neighbors.”
On the 24th, one day before the demonstration, a high-ranking Brotherhood member asks a Hamas official if they know exactly what they are supposed to do; “absolutely,” answers his correspondent.
There is another call on February 2, when the mass protests are reaching a paroxysm. An agitated Brotherhood member asks, “Where are you, I don’t see any of your people,” and the Hamas official replies, “Don’t worry, we are behind the museum [the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square] with our slingshots at the ready.”
The last conversation took place on February 11, after the resignation of Mubarak. The Hamas official congratulates the senior Brotherhood member, saying that “this is our victory also.” The Brotherhood members replies: “You have helped us and we owe you. We shall meet soon.”
That there are links between Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – which was set up in Gaza in 1987 – and the movement is nothing new; indeed, for many years they were both a favorite target of Mubarak’s repressive apparatus. However, these conversations put a whole new slant on the revolution narrative. Far from having waited a number of days before joining the protests as was previously believed, the Brotherhood was in the know and participated from the very beginning. Hamas terrorists, too, were right there in Tahrir Square, agitating and taking part in attacks on public institutions – though from the phone calls their precise role is not clear.
Interestingly, Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, who was interior minister during the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, confirmed last week that there had been Hamas members in Tahrir Square and that some of them had been killed. He added that Hamas and Hezbollah terror agents had taken part in attacks on a number of jails to free political prisoners. It is worth noting that Habib el-Adly – who was interior minister from 1997 to 2011 and is now on trial for his role in the repression – had been accused in the past of having ordered that the prisoners be allowed to escape, in order to frighten the people.
Apparently, this was not true. Adly stated in court last week that it was indeed Hamas and Hezbollah fighters who broke into the jails, and he appears to have some evidence to back his claim. A journalist from Al- Masry Al-Youm said that he himself had witnessed the arrest of members of both organizations near Tahrir Square on February 4.
Two years ago, the paper published the results of an investigation carried out over a period of six weeks – in March-April 2011 – at great personal risk by two courageous journalists. Among the many eyewitnesses interviewed in the piece were a number of prisoners who had been freed, as well as some Sinai Beduin. The tale of the storming of the al-Marg prison north of Cairo is a case in point. Ayman Nofel, a senior member of Hamas, was imprisoned there; so was Muhammad Yusuf Mansour, codenamed “Sami Shehab,” the head of the Hezbollah terror cell in Egypt.
On January 30, 2011, the prison was surrounded by dozens of heavily armed gunmen, who arrived on brand-new cars and motorcycles and opened fire on the guards, who were primarily new recruits with little or no experience; they then broke in and freed all prisoners. Eyewitnesses said the attackers were Sinai Beduin fighters who spoke with the same type of accent – that is, people from the Gaza Strip. Former prisoners said that Nofel and Mansour had been in touch by phone with the attack organizers and that they had told their comrades to be ready to flee.
The two men disappeared immediately after the break-in. Nofel surfaced in Gaza a few hours later, while Sami Shehab appeared on Lebanese television from Beirut after four days; Egypt has yet to ask for their extradition.
Al-Masry Al-Youm argues that Tharwet should not have been given secret transcripts to Shater, who has no official standing and is merely the No. 2 in the guidance office of the Brotherhood – a movement that was not even legal. For the paper, this is the proof of collusion between the Brotherhood and the top levels of national security, and it demands that an investigation be launched by the prosecutor-general on the links between the security apparatus and the Brotherhood.
According to a spokesman for the paper, the transcripts as well as details of the way they were handed over to Shater were given to Al-Masry Al-Youm by a highly reliable national security source. In the request sent to the prosecutor-general, the daily states that the names of the Brotherhood and Hamas members who were recorded in the five phone calls are known to it, though it only published their initials.
Some commentators are already calling for the Brotherhood to be indicted for treason, since it called on foreign elements – i.e. Hamas – to operate in a seditious manner on Egyptian soil. Others are outraged by what they see as the infiltration of the national security apparatus by the Brotherhood, and claim that this is yet another attempt at taking over the country while endangering the security of Egypt. There are reports that Shater and Essam el-Erian, a prominent member of the Brotherhood, pay frequent visits to the offices of the state security, and that they use a passage reserved for the interior minister.
Shater’s bodyguard was arrested while “loitering” by the voting stations during the parliamentary elections more than a year ago; he was carrying a weapon without a permit. It transpired during his trial that he had traveled several times to Gaza through the tunnels and had contact with Hamas leaders. He was sentenced to one year in prison, but nothing filtered out about the content of these contacts. A few days ago it was announced that he had been transferred to what was described as an “easier prison.”
Predictably, Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk denied there had been conversations between his organization and the Brotherhood at the time. A number of spokesmen for the Brotherhood also denied that transcripts of any kind had been handed over to Shater, and said it was just a ploy to discredit their movement. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry published a communiqué that did not address the issue, but threatened to prosecute those who try to harm its activities.
There has been no comment from the president, and it is easy to understand why. The commander of the Wadi Natrun prison, who testified last week about the break-in, stated that all political prisoners from the Brotherhood and jihadi movements had been sent to his jail. From January 25 onward, he said, there was a great deal of agitation among them; they threatened him and said they would soon be freed. Indeed, on January 30, some 80 heavily armed men attacked the prison with automatic fire, broke down the doors and freed all inmates, including Morsi; some of the recaptured prisoners, now standing trial, want the president to testify together with the actual and previous heads of the intelligence services.
So far there is no sign that this will occur.
Interestingly, why was Morsi in jail? According to the Brotherhood, he was considered “dangerous” by the government, but it is well known that he was a secondrate politician, not a fighter. According to one source, he was arrested and accused of spying following a lengthy phone call with a Hamas leader – recorded by national security – discussing what Hamas would do in Egypt during the revolution.
However, if Hamas expected the new regime to open the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and to allow people and goods – let alone arms – to flow freely on both sides, they were bitterly disappointed.
The border is still closed and Egypt carefully monitors those who are allowed in and out. Worse, more and more tunnels are being destroyed by the Egyptian army.
In actuality, despite their common ideological ground, Egypt is acutely aware of the security threats posed by its small neighbor. Over the past months, the role of Hamas in Egypt has becomes a hot topic.
Hamas is accused of having had a hand in the attack that caused the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers last August, and some say Nofel himself was involved. Hamas is also accused of letting jihadi terrorists cross into Sinai, and of being behind the kidnapping of three police officers who disappeared in Sinai last year and were allegedly taken to Gaza through the tunnels. Some also say Hamas wants to set up an outpost in Sinai and settle Palestinians in the peninsula with the help of Qatar.
The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to say on these subjects, although short denials are regularly issued.
Egyptians are increasingly uneasy about the links between the Brotherhood and Hamas. The latest revelations add fuel to the fire, and deepen the crisis of confidence between the people and the movement now ruling the country.
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.