Desperate people do desperate things. They often discredit themselves and undermine their causes. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics fell into this trap when they attempted to smear him by publishing a photograph of him making the Rabaa hand gesture.
The Daily Telegraph, one of several newspapers to publish the photo, believes it was taken in February 2016. At the time, they did not consider it newsworthy; but in the context of today’s anti-Corbyn campaign, they believe it is a matter of public interest.
Although this latest assault on the Labour leader coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya massacre, none of the commentators had a word to honour the memory of the 1,000 people killed by the Egyptian military in 2013.
In terms of numbers, the Rabaa massacre was second only to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China where at least 10,000 students were killed. In the eyes of Corbyn’s critics there was one important difference between these two massacres; that whereas the Chinese victims were “pro-democracy” demonstrators, the Egyptians killed were Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
And so the implied message from the current slew of articles is that when Jeremy Corbyn made the Rabaa gesture it was not about democracy but instead to display solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many would, rightfully, ask, who are the Muslim Brotherhood? The Mail Online cites counter-extremism “expert” Maajid Nawaz; the Muslim Brotherhood is to Muslims “what the BNP are to the English – bigoted, identitarian and dangerous”.
Really? If they are as toxic as the BNP how did they manage to win every election held in Egypt between the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the coup against Mohamed Morsi?
They won the constitution amendment referendum (March 2011), parliamentary elections (November 2011), presidential elections (June 2012), and the constitutional amendment referendum (December 2012); not to mention the professional syndicates and university student union elections held during the same period.
In one of its subtitles The Mail Online article also says, “the party of ex-Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi is banned in Middle East”. Its source, the Counter Extremism Project, says “the group is labelled as a terrorist organisation in Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates”.
For obvious reasons, The Mail Online makes no mention of the other countries in the Middle East where the Brotherhood and affiliated Islamist political parties legally function. Instead, it selectively quotes former Prime Minister David Cameron that the group’s beliefs are “counter to British values and democracy”.
Cameron, it would be recalled, had in April 2014 commissioned an inquiry, led by Sir John Jenkins, into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain. When the report was completed in December 2015, the former prime minister decided to publish its main findings only, but not the report in its entirety; claiming that the full report was an “internal” matter which contains “material provided by foreign Governments in the strictest confidence”.
In an attempt to uncover the truth about the Muslim Brotherhood the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee conducted its own inquiry, which was published in November 2016. It wrote: “It is an unfortunate commentary on our support for democracy that a political movement that was elected to office and removed in a military coup accompanied by significant violence is not engaged with at any official level at all, in exile or in the UK.”
The committee added that “the opacity of the process” and the “failure to publish it in full, left the review’s main findings open to criticism”.
Five years after the Rabaa massacre, the British public is still fed a diet of half-truths and distortions that appear to come from the copy-book of the Egyptian press. That, for example, the four figured gesture with the thumb placed in the palm was a salute of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In this light, it seems only a matter of time before they would also claim, like their counterparts in Cairo, that Egypt exited the 2018 FIFA World Cup because of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Even if the anti-Corbyn press did not want to pay tribute to the victims of the massacre and their crushed dreams of democracy, they could have at least paid tribute to the many journalists who were killed and imprisoned by the Egyptian military.
They may say, well they are all from the Muslim Brotherhood. But what about Mick Deane, the veteran Sky News photographer who was shot in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square after his flak jacket was confiscated at Cairo International Airport. Craig Summers, who was standing next to Deane when he was shot, said he believed his colleague was deliberately targeted.
The tragic onslaught on press freedoms did not, however, end with the Rabaa massacre. There are currently 32 journalists languishing in jails, 22 without charge. Days before Egypt’s last presidential elections in March, The Times journalist Bell Trew was detained and given the option of facing a military court or deportation. She chose the latter.
Bell Trew was not the only British journalist to stir the ire of the Egyptian authorities. A documentary by the BBC’s Orla Guerin on human rights abuses and forced disappearances led to accusations by the State Information Service that the BBC was spreading false information.
Al-Sisi was no less uncompromising; he said in a televised broadcast during a visit to the Mediterranean coastal town of Alamein shortly after, “Honestly speaking, defaming [the army and police], legally, for me now equals treason”.
After toppling Egypt’s democratically elected government it is clear that Al-Sisi is determined to remain in power by any means necessary. The massacre at Rabaa Al-Adawiya was a launch pad towards that end. So, for the anti-Corbyn brigade that depict the Rabaa gesture as a Muslim Brotherhood salute – this is not only a gross distortion of the facts but an insult to murdered victims as well as British voters who will, in due course, have their say.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.