Commentary

Assassination of Hisham Barakat Prompts Solidarity and Soul-Searching

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The assassination of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s Prosecutor General, by suspected Islamic militants has delivered a startling and high-profile blow to General al-Sisi’s attempts to stabilize Egypt. This is not the first time Egypt has been rocked by terrorist attacks, but the killing of a high profile official who was directly involved in the prosecution of many Muslim Brotherhood figures is likely to be seen as a serious challenge to the Egyptian regime. While messages of support and solidarity have not been lacking, some in the region point their finger at the heavy-handed manner in which the Egyptian government has handled the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. Many in the region are warning al-Sisi not to answer Mr. Barakat’s assassination with further curtailing of the freedom of the average Egyptian.

Judging from some of the reports coming from Egypt, such as from Al Ahram, Mr. Barakat’s death was mourned not only by the political class, but also by the country’s cultural institutions: “The Cairo Opera House and state television and radio are among a number of institutions to announce a halt to their activities in mourning for prosecutor general Hisham Barakat….The management decided to suspend all activities, across all the opera's venues, in Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour, for three days, starting on 29 June….The Cultural Development Fund that operates under the Ministry of Culture, joined the mourning, also announcing a freeze of their activities which span across a large number of venues. Earlier this month, the Fund announced a dynamic Ramadan programme, infusing dozens of cultural houses and palaces with artistic activities….Meanwhile, Egyptian state television also announced it would temporarily stop all series currently airing on all it channels.”

The Gulf Today editorial, meanwhile, sent a message of solidarity from the government and people of the UAE, while making a call for greater support from the international community: “Whenever Cairo faces such challenging times, the UAE has risen to the occasion and maintained an unwavering stand by extending full support to efforts exerted by Egypt to safeguard its stability and security…. Egypt deserves all support in its hour of need to eradicate those extremists who do not respect the most basic principles of humanity. It is good to note that the UAE and the rest of the world stand solidly alongside the Arab Republic of Egypt in combating terrorist acts…. Those responsible for the attack should be brought to justice. The extremists should be made to understand that the Egyptian spirit is much stronger and cannot be cowed down by their guns.”

The Saudi Gazette dedicated its recent editorial to the alleged role that elements affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood played in the assassination, alleging out that the Egyptian people are seeing the true face of the Muslim Brotherhood: “It is already clear that the Brotherhood's allegedly peaceful political operations mask the presence of killers who have pledged allegiance to Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS)….Many decent ordinary Egyptians supported Morsi and the Brotherhood because they thought doing so would bring about a break with their country's venal political past. Now they are discovering their error. For all its protestations to be a moderate political force, the Brotherhood has a hidden, ugly and violent face…. As Egyptians draw together in the face of the great terrorist evil that now confronts them, people from other countries should draw together with them and demonstrate their solidarity by continuing to visit the country.” 

Many Egyptian and regional observers expressed their views on the main factors driving the ongoing violence in Egypt. There are some, like The Daily Star’s Rami Khouri who believe that it is socio-economic disenfranchisement in Egypt that are responsible for the ongoing instability: “As long as Western and Arab power structures refuse to delve fully into the long but clear causal cycle of political and socio-economic factors that transform ordinary young men into global terrorists – including some of the policies of those same Arab and Western powers – then we are all destined to suffer more and more attacks in the years ahead…. Government authority has been replaced by a range of other organizing forces – religion, tribalism, ethnicity, civil society, private wealth and others…. The timing, location and target of the Cairo killing should help focus state attention on finding a better way, through inclusive democracy and an expanding economy that is not skewed to the military, to safeguard Egypt and its people.”

In an op-ed for the Daily News Egypt, Amr Khalifa opines that the killing is a sign of state dysfunction and proof that the Egyptian government needs to change tack, taking a more reconciliatory approach: “In a sign of systematic failure of Egyptian security or a possible penetration by Egyptian militants of the upper echelons of security, the last two years have seen similarly large attacks both succeed and fail….Even when Wilayat Sinai (‘Sinai State’, an ISIS affiliated militant group chiefly working in Sinai) issued a video calling for the further killing of Egyptian judges, just yesterday, security measures still failed, amateurishly, to stop the deadly attack….But the Egyptian regime continues to…insist on blaming all ills and crimes on the Muslim Brotherhood even when the terrorist signs point in another direction…. It is precisely this kind of strategic stubbornness which is more a national security risk to Egypt than any kind of terror attack.”

The Daily Times (Pakistan), on the other hand, argues the killing was a reaction to military repression under the Sisi regime and the perception of a politicized judiciary: “The assassination of Hisham Barakat…is an indication of a virulent hatred against the harsh sentences dealt out to former president Morsi and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood…. Though the Egyptian judiciary claims that it functions independently, sentencing more than a hundred people with life imprisonment and death sentences in one go hardly qualifies as due process…. The military has shown a complete intolerance of dissident or oppositional opinion. Except the one year of democracy seen during Morsi’s brief and truncated tenure, Egypt has only known dictatorship since 1952…. Killings such as that of Barakat are a reaction to the suppression of society by the military regime. The military seems to want to control every aspect of the citizens’ life and not even leave room for them to think independently.” 

Which is perhaps why Daily News Egypt’s Emad El-Sayed cautions against over-reacting by adding restrictions on the Egyptian people: “The blood of Hisham Barakat is the responsibility of everyone with no exception, including the Ministry of Interior, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the government. Although it is necessary to hold all parties accountable and to punish the negligent and the careless, we cannot make the incident an excuse to impose more restrictions on the people…. The responsibility for assassinating the Prosecutor General lies on the shoulders of the police apparatus as a whole, from the interior minister to the private security, including Homeland Security…. Also, we should not take this incident as an excuse for imposing security restrictions on the street, as there is already more than enough tension and anger in the street. We should not listen to those who demand imposing a state of emergency, as it sends a negative message inside and outside regarding our security conditions.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.