Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mursi run after riot police fired tear gas during clashes in Cairo

Egyptians say the mood is different now. Gone is the call of the revolution demanding justice for the brutal torture and killing of a young man and an end to the police abuse his case exemplified. In its place is a weary, national shrug toward brutal attacks, now that they’re directed against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. There is little popular demand for justice and little prospect for accountability. If Egypt’s military-backed government can get away with killing more than 1,000 protesters in broad daylight in 2013, what has really changed since the days of Hosni Mubarak?

Since the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, the only democratically elected leader in Egyptian history, security forces have launched a campaign of persecution against the Muslim Brotherhood, with mass killings of protesters, dragnet arrests of its supporters and, most recently, the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

insight hrw INSIGHT: The Government Cracks Down, and Egypt ShrugsOfficials have said they would establish a fact-finding commission to investigate the August 14 massacre of more than 1,000 protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque and two incidents in July in which security forces killed scores of protesters after Morsi’s overthrow. But no commission has been formed. Human Rights Watch investigations into these killings concluded that government forces used excessive lethal force to disperse the protests, indiscriminately firing at protesters.

Egypt’s track record on accountability for the slayings of protesters since the revolution has been dismal. Even investigations into the deaths of protesters at the hands of Mubarak’s forces, at a time when accountability was a national rallying cry, resulted in only slap-on-the-wrist sentences for a few low-level police officers. There has been no comprehensive public accounting of the killings under the military authorities. With little popular pressure demanding justice for pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters killed this year, it’s hard to imagine that the government has any serious intention of punishing security officers, much less senior officials.

“Egypt’s test today is… to show that Egyptians stand against the abuse of any of their fellow citizens, even their political opponents.” – Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch

In its campaign to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to heel, the authorities have arrested thousands of rank-and-file Brotherhood supporters on a laundry list of charges. In a startling example of selective prosecution, the authorities are charging Morsi and other senior Brotherhood officials with inciting torture and murder at an anti-Morsi protest last year at which 11 protesters died, but they have made no arrests of anyone charged with these killings.

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A poster of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lies on the ground as military police stand on Cairo's burnt Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, the morning after the clearing of a pro-Morsi protest camp August 15, 2013. (Reuters)

The military authorities have brazenly “disappeared” five key Morsi advisors, detaining them in secret places without charge for more than five months, though the government charged and transferred them to Tora prison earlier this month. Few voices besides Brotherhood partisans are demanding, at minimum, due process for the detainees.

And in November, a court convicted 21 women and girls for participating in pro-Morsi protests, with the women sentenced to 11 years in prison and the girls to detention until they’re 18. An appeals court reduced the sentence, but the chilling message to protesters remains. Challenges by human rights organizations to government abuses are met with scorn.

Brotherhood officials and family members whom Human Rights Watch has met with in Cairo have focused not on politics or strategy but on a desperate appeal for the well-being and survival of their colleagues and loved ones. Relatives lucky enough to have prison visits tell of the appalling conditions the detainees face.

Many senior Brotherhood figures are held in solitary confinement, and report that they are sleeping on the floor in dank cells and are forced to defecate in holes in their cells. They say that food, water and electricity are extremely limited, and they’re unable to get needed medicines. Prosecutors have renewed pretrial detentions en masse, with no real opportunity to challenge the detentions.

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Women detained at a pro-Islamist protest stand in a holding cell at a court hearing in the coastal city of Alexandria December 7, 2013. (Reuters)

In this context, it’s startling to hear Secretary of State John F. Kerry lauding Egypt’s new rulers for “restoring democracy” while charging the Brotherhood with “stealing the revolution.” Such shameless cajoling does nothing to rein in the military’s heavy-handed abuses, much less move Egypt in a democratic direction. As President Obama has said, it’s hard to have a political dialogue when the opposition is in jail.

A Palestinian friend described the situation in Egypt today as proof that Egyptians “aren’t opposed to oppression; they’re OK with it as long as they’re not the ones being oppressed.” Egypt’s test today is to prove him wrong, and show that Egyptians stand against the abuse of any of their fellow citizens, even their political opponents.

A version of this post was originally published by the Los Angeles Times.

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

 INSIGHT: The Government Cracks Down, and Egypt Shrugs

Sarah Leah Whitson

Sarah Leah Whitson is the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

  • seedssnoop

    Egypt has become a Nazi state, there is no freedom for any body except military Junta.

    While MB ruled Tunisia is enjoying freedom, there is no massacre of opponents, there is no mass arrest, there is no ban on protests, there is no media ban. If this is extremism than I would like to live in this extremist state than under the western secular fascist Junta of Egypt which can imprison you for speaking against them.

    • Ali Baba

      Egypt could be in Nazi state if it is under control of Muslim brotherhood. the cycle of violence started with Muslim brotherhood. they are behind 25 January revolution. they the one who attack police station and open the door for criminal to wave the violent. they are the one who kill police men. they are the one who are using suicide bomber. then they act as a woman and deny their involvement

      • Scott Sinnock

        Wouldn’t you call for a revolution of sorts if, say, the democratic party was declared illegal. The Muslim brotherhood won the election with about 60% of the vote. They tried to implement policies that disagreed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from Christian Europe, expressing northern European distorted Enlightenment morality. For that, the majority has to be removed from office because European morality trumps democracy and sovereignty every time. We Are Right — and as the TV show Dinosaurs said, WAR is the acronym. You see, we have to kill people for their own good.