Thursday, March 27, 2014

Israel closing off Gaza, Egypt executing 529 Muslims - Medea Benjamin

© Voice of Russia
Voice of Russia | Mar 26, 2014 | John Robles

Distracted by attempting to demonize Russia, continuing the support of a neo-nazi coup government in Ukraine which is to sign over 100% of Russia’s gas pipeline to Exxon oil under a clause in the European Union agreement, Washington seems to have forgotten to maintain even a pretense of pretending to care for human rights. Another client country Egypt is about to execute 529 innocent demonstrators for the death of one policeman. Where are the sanctions and the screams about human rights from Washington? Nowhere. Egypt provides oil and buys weapons, therefore Egypt can do as it may. US hypocrisy has approached epic levels, even allowing Egypt to beat and deport one of America’s most outspoken defenders of human rights. Medea Benjamin was recently deported from Egypt for attempting to enter Gaza and fight for the rights of the Palestinians and had her arm pulled out of its socket by police. Obama was silent. Of course, he has gas and weapons to sell and selfies to take. 

Medea Benjamin
© Voice of Russia
Hello! This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin – the co-founder and manager of CODEPINK. This is part 1 of a longer interview. You can find the rest of this interview on our website at voiceofrussia.com

Robles: Hello Medea! How are you this evening?

Benjamin:Very good, thank you. Thanks for having me on.

Robles: It is a pleasure to be speaking with you again. Can you tell us about what happened with you in Egypt right before Women’s Day? And then, what else is going on down there?

Benjamin:I was on my way to Cairo to participate in an international Women’s Day delegation with 100 women that planned to go to Gaza, crossing into Gaza through the Egyptian border. I was one of the first ones to arrive.

I was stopped at the airport, taken into a separate area, held for about 12 hours in a detention center. And then, in the morning I was told that I was being deported.

When I asked if I could wait for my embassy representative to come and tell me what had happened, instead I was thrown to the ground, I was violently attacked, my arms were pulled so strongly that my shoulder popped out of its sockets.

Robles: Oh my God!

Benjamin:And when I was screaming in pain, they took my scarf and stuffed it in my mouth and then dragged me like that through the airport to a waiting Turkish Airlines flight. And it was only when I got to Turkey that I was able to go to the hospital and get treatment.

Meanwhile, the other women were either not allowed into Egypt either and were deported, or they slipped through and got into Cairo but then weren’t allowed to proceed to Gaza.

So, it was very sad that the Egyptian Government kept us from a trip that we have been planning with the Egyptian officials for several months.

And it looks like, perhaps, these Israeli Government got to them and they are participating in trying to keep people away from Gaza. But it is also indicative of the brutality of the Egyptian regime right now.

Robles: Can you comment on the fact that no matter how bad Morsi was, I mean, he was a democratically elected President and was one of the first in Egypt. Basically, it was a military coup. Can you comment on that?

Benjamin:Yes, it was definitely a military coup that happened in July. Morsi was elected in the elections that were considered free and fair. And the Muslim Brotherhood was more organized than the other factions that had participated in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime or the remnants of the Mubarak regime.

Many people had valid complaints about the way that Morsi Government was operating. There were ways to deal with that and that was through the next elections.

Instead, there was a military coup and this military government has been extremely brutal, certainly, to its own people, but also to the Palestinians who are living in Egypt.

The Hamas Government that had offices in Cairo were closed down, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization, Hamas was considered unwelcome in Egypt and Palestinians who have been living in Egypt, lost their citizenship. And the border at Rafah, that is the gate between Egypt and Gaza, has been closed most of the time.

And in addition to that, the tunnels that used to be the lifelines for people in Gaza to get access to goods that the Israelis would not allow in (and I'm not talking here about rockets, I'm talking about medicines, food supplies, gasoline, things to repair their houses). All of those kinds of things have been stopped by this government that has blown up all of those tunnels.

Robles: What can you make of this cooperation between the Egyptian military junta and Israel? Can you comment on that?

Benjamin:Well, first, it should be recalled that since the time of the Camp David Accords the Egyptian Government has agreed to work with Israel to control the Palestinians. And they have not allowed for their border with Gaza to be one in which people and goods could go back and forth freely.

So, this isn’t new. But the cooperation with Israel has been strengthened since this Egyptian military government has gained power. I think there is certainly the hand of the US that has in the past used its money to Egypt as a way to push the Egyptian Government to be favorable towards its policies.

But now, it is also the fact that this Egyptian Government, since it came to power in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling party in Gaza is favorable to the Egyptian Brotherhood and so is seen as an enemy of the Egyptian state right now. So, that’s why things have tightened up along the border and for the Palestinians living in Egypt, in general.

Robles: I see. I recall that Mohamed Morsi, some people said he was educated in the US, he got his PhD there. He was actually accused of treason, he was in prison, the CIA helped to get his out, they funded him, he was apparently going to be their puppet and then, all of a sudden, he fell out of grace with them. The military was accusing him of treason. So, it seems kind of bizarre for me that now the military is just following the same Western line.

Benjamin:I certainly think that this government is doing what the US is happy about, but there are also things that it is not happy about. The Morsi Government was a moderate Islamist Government and to call them now a terrorist organization, the Egyptian Government is accusing them of the attacks that have been taking place particularly in the Sinai against the Egyptian police and the Egyptian military.

These attacks, the group that has been taking credit for them is not the Muslim Brotherhood, but an Al Qaeda inspired group. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood has been denouncing them and insisting that they have no connection to these military attacks. But the military Government in Egypt finds it convenient to blame this all on the MB, to blame it all on Hamas and to use it for its political purposes.

The US has been back and forth about its support for this coup. It says that it’s cut off military aid to Egypt and allowed the economic aid to continue. But, on the other hand, it continues to have close relations with the Egyptian military.

Perhaps, if we talk now about the latest issue of the courts that have just condemned 529 Egyptians to death, the US Government through the State Department released information saying that it was shocked by this and did not seem very happy with the way the Egyptian courts are now doing the bidding of the military government instead of administering justice.

Robles: What is going on with that? Can you tell us about that? That is something that you guys have activated yourselves over. These 529 people, what happened with that? Can you give us some details?

Benjamin:Yes, it is quite outrageous that the Egyptian court that has been hearing the case of hundreds of Egyptians who have been accused of killing one policeman, that all of these people were condemned to death. It seems that this is the tactics that the Egyptian court is using to do such an outrageous verdict, and then there will be an appeal process, and hopefully things will be changed on appeal, but this is sending a terrible message to the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the millions in Egypt to tell them that they are considered to be terrorists, and they will be treated in the most harsh fashion.

The trial itself was a sham. There were only two sessions. The prisoners, hundreds of them were brought in a cage. The lawyers for the defendants were never able to even read over a thousand pages of indictment. So, they hardly knew what they were trying to defend their clients about. And the second day they were not even able to speak. The lawyers were not even allowed into the court. The judge called on the security guards to keep them out.

So, it was a total kangaroo trial and the international community, particularly the human rights community has been outraged by this, condemning it, calling for an immediate reversal of this verdict.

Now, this isn’t the end because there are hundreds more pro-Morsi supporters who are going to be on trial this week. And unfortunately, I think we can predict more ridiculous verdicts coming from this court.

Robles: Are you serious that 529 have been sentenced to death over the death of one policeman?

Benjamin:Yes, Amnesty International has called it the largest group death sentence that they know about in recent years and in Egypt’s entire history. It really has been seen by lawyers and human rights groups as being absolutely outrageous, preposterous, ridiculous.

And I think in the coming days there is going to be a lot of pressure on the Egyptian military to do something, because this is obviously a court that is doing the bidding of the Government and trying to adjudicate not on the basis of anything legal, but on the basis of people’s political affiliation.

In addition to this there have been over a thousand people who have been killed since the July coup by this military Government. And the courts have done virtually nothing to deal with this excessive use of force to bring anybody to task for that. In fact, the only trial we know is of one policeman who was accused of killing people in detention.

There are also many-many credible reports of torture in prisons and there are about 16,000 people who have been put in prison since the coup. These are mostly MB supporters, but there are also people who were supporters of the original revolution against Mubarak – secular people, as well as some of the well-known cases, like the journalists who are on trial.

So, in addition to this horrible verdict, the death sentence for the 529 people, there are also the cases of these over 16,000 people languishing in terrible conditions in the prisons.

Robles: What are they trying to do? Are they going to start killing all MB supporters? You said that there are more trials coming up. Do you think this is designed just to scare people? Do you think they’ll really carry out such a sentence?

Benjamin:Many people who have been analyzing this situation say they doubt that they will carry out such a massive execution, that there will be appeals and changes, but some people will be executed.

And they are also saying that perhaps this is a way of increasing the level of violence, because the outrage of the MB might lead some of them to decide to go into some kind of military action or violent action against the Egyptian Government representatives, which would justify this crackdown.

And so, there certainly are people speculating of different reasons why the court might have done it. But one of the most insidious kind of analysis is that this is meant to push some MB members into a violent position and the military will be justified then in even greater crackdown.

All this is taking place as the military Government is positioning itself for elections in which the Chief of the military Sisi is putting himself forward as a candidate. So, it looks like there will be a crackdown, perhaps, a state of siege that will happen just as the elections are supposed to be taking place. And I think it is important for the world community to condemn this verdict, to condemn and Egyptian coup and to condemn the idea that a democratic elections of president could take place under these conditions.

You were listening to an interview with Medea Benjamin – the co-founder and manager of CODEPINK. That was part 1 of a longer interview. You can find the rest of this interview on our website at voiceofrussia.com

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