The Egyptian military regime has charged President Muhammad Morsi, who was overthrown in a military coup on 3 July, with “espionage” and “collaborating” with the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, “the charges stem from a prison escape by Morsi and other political prisoners, including members of the [Muslim] Brotherhood, during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak” in January-February 2011.
“The accusations have been discussed in judiciary circles for months and have recently gained traction as the army seeks to impose order, marginalize the [Muslim] Brotherhood and move beyond more than two years of unrest,” the Los Angeles Times said.
Lurid claims that Hamas has assisted Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have been disseminated by the Egyptian media, along with incitement against Palestinians, leading to a climate of fear for Palestinians in Egypt.
The rumors have been used to justify Egypt imposing travel restrictions on Palestinians, tightening the siege of Gaza as well as a renewed campaign to destroy tunnels that are lifeline for the Palestinian population there.
Hamas has consistently denied the accusations. But is there any basis to them?
Egypt’s Interior Ministry, not Hamas, opened the prisons
On Newshour at 20:00 GMT on 26 July, the BBC World Service’s Owen Bennett-Jones interviewed Dr. Omar Ashour, Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics and Security Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, about whether Hamas really did collaborate in a jailbreak with Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Electronic Intifada transcribed the interview as it was a rare, informed discussion, and an antidote to the wild rumors fed by Egyptian media. Bennett-Jones began by asking Ashour what he thought of the accusations:
Omar Ashour: It’s quite surprising because we’ve been through this before in April 2011. There was a fact-finding commission that was appointed by the then prime minister Essam Sharaf and it was headed by the head of the Court of Cassation in Cairo.
[The commission] basically said that the principal actor in the opening of jails – it was more than five jails, it is five central jail areas that were opened simultaneously – and they accused principally Mubarak’s minister of interior Habib el-Adly of doing that to try to create a chaotic situation because back then this is when the January revolution was at its height, on the 28th, 29th of January .
So the main accusation was going there. Whether there was communication afterwards from the prisoners who got out of their cells and either their mother organizations, like in the case of Hamas or Hizballah, or with their families – because we saw in the case of Wadi Natroun and Abu Zaabal prisons and in some of the Tora prisons – that the families and others tried to open the external doors of the prisons.
But there are videos showing that the internal doors, the doors of the cells – showing Central Security officers in their suits, in their black suits, opening these cells and asking the prisoners to leave. It’s YouTubes and actually this commission showed it as well.
Owen Bennett-Jones: It’s an extremely complicated situation and there were also stories about gunmen being around and these people being freed. Did the report confirm or deny that?
Omar Ashour: It confirmed that. It said that there were gunmen outside but what’s happening inside was very different from what’s happening outside the prison in most of the cases, because, again, these are five prison areas. So, for example the Tora prison area itself has around six prisons in it.
Owen Bennett-Jones: Let me abbreviate this since it’s obviously highly complicated. In your view, as someone who’s read these reports and obviously quite on top of this subject, do you think Hamas were involved?
Omar Ashour: I think there was a possibility that Hamas was involved when they saw the collapse happening, when they saw that the Ministry of Interior is opening prisons.
They had some of their men in these prisons so they may have possibly just acted afterwards. Or you had some of the families – because the Egyptian border draws lines between tribes, so you have half of the tribe in Gaza and half of the tribe in Sinai.
So some of these guys from the Palestinian part – the Gaza part – had their relatives over there and went directly to try to help them out. And this happened among several families, clans and tribes in Egypt. It was not only the ones affiliated with Hamas.
So it could have happened like that, but the principal actor who opened the prisons and who opened the cells, and who got the order for doing so, was the Egyptian ministry of interior, was the minister of interior at the time Habib el-Adly. And that’s an official report. The interesting part is they never sent the 100-pages to the public …
Also see the website (in Arabic) of the “Fact-Finding National Commission About Jan 25th Revolution,” to which Ashour referred.