By Huda Badri
Following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 Egypt witnessed violent confrontations – including the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda squares – leaving thousands dead and wounded.
Excessive force was used by the state, and in some cases by armed protesters and militant groups. Also, hundreds have been detained and given harsh sentences, including female students, journalists, and protesters. Many human rights groups have expressed their concern about the rising number of detentions and torture cases.
Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad, a prominent Egyptian lawyer was assigned to head the Egyptian 30 June fact-finding committee to investigate the incidents. He speaks with Daily News Egypt the circumstances that accompanied the committee’s work, the reasons behind extending its work, and a separate report on security in the Sinai.
Did the committee achieve its goals?
Committee members have not stopped working since it was established. They were able to get information from direct and indirect sources and from the events being investigated. Also, they were able to overcome obstacles to reach specific and direct conclusions.
What are the main difficulties you have encountered?
The most prominent one was the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood refused to co-operate with the committee – at first they agreed but then retreated. This was the main reason why the committee’s investigating period was extended .
However, we managed to compensate for this by visiting the Brotherhood’s members in prisons, and using the testimonies they presented to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report.
How will this report strengthen Egypt’s international status after 30 June?
Usually, when conflicts occur in a country, an international fact-finding committee is established to investigate these conflicts. But since Egypt is a sovereign state, a national committee was formed to prevent any possible intervention in its internal affairs. Until now, the International Council for Human Rights (ICHR) showed no objection to the national committee’s work, with the exception of some western-led organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW).
We exerted a lot of effort so that our work remained completely independent and unbiased, and to determine who is responsible for the incidents that occurred after the 30 June protests.
Will the final results prove the committee’s unbiased stance during the investigation?
Every single incident in the report is documented. And those who don’t agree can present their documents and arguments to the public.
Are these results expected to reduce international pressure on Egypt? And will the results please the Brotherhood?
As a committee, we observed and monitored every action and incident with documents. However, it is difficult to please every side of the story.
Every part of the report is documented, and we are ready to receive any clue or evidence brought by the Brotherhood.
Does the report describe the Muslim Brotherhood or any other organisation as a “terrorist group”?
The report doesn’t use the word “terrorist”, but those who proved to be responsible for any terrorist accidents were called militants. Also, those who participated in any murder or terrorist action are considered partners in the crime committed.
The committee chose to replace it with the word such as ‘militants’, as our role is to investigate, not to call charges.
Was the plan used by Ministry of Interior to disperse Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins compatible with international standards?
Both the plan and the international standards were included in the report along with testimonies from the dispersal for the public opinion to decide freely what really happened.
Did the report monitor the peaceful efforts exerted to disperse the sit-in?
Yes it did. And we asked the press who were assigned to cover the sit-in dispersal from its very beginning. And the first part of the report is aimed to be an introduction to the prior 30 June era.
Some witnesses avoided testifying in the report. Was this due to the absence of a law to protect witnesses?
This is not true. The committee has announced more than once that it will not reveal or disclose any information about a witness. Even when Mohamed Al-Beltagy’s wife came to the committee, her name was disclosed upon her request.
Why did the committee submit a report on Sinai to the president before it completed any other report?
Sinai’s events especially the terrorist accidents that took place in North Sinai forced us to submit the report concurrently with the state’s efforts towards collecting information about the current critical situation in Sinai.
We are giving due importance to Sinai. One of the members, Mohsen Awad, and Salah Salam, the head of the Doctors Syndicate and member of ICHR, went there with no protection or guards to meet Sinai’s residents and collect information. This information revealed that the militants in Sinai are using advanced weapons that could be remotely used, which tells us they are widely funded and trained.
Our recommendations concerning Sinai is to stop problems before they happen; in other words to destroy the tunnels between Egypt and Palestine to halt the targeting of security personnel and facilities.
What is the reason behind the rise of terrorism in Egypt?
There are several reasons; the most significant is the presence of extreme religious rhetoric in our school curriculums.
Do members of the committee correlate between the findings of different cases, or does each case stands alone?
The results and the files of the committee are connected and are not investigated separately. For example, the committee investigated the number of killed students, and those who were suspended.
Recently the committee met President Al-Sisi to submit the Sinai report. Was this based on the committee’s demand or the presidency’s? And what was the reaction of the president?
The committee received an invitation by the presidency to submit the report. President Al-Sisi demanded that the report should be made available to the public and ordered that it should be presented in an international press conference.
When and how will the report be presented?
The final report will be published to the public first in the headquarters of the Shura Council, and then handled to the presidency.