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Egypt activists decry government narrative on Cairo terror shootout

Security forces inspect the scene after an armed attack by unknown assailants to Marminna Church in Cairo’s southern Helwan district in Cairo, Egypt on December 29, 2017 [Stringer / Anadolu Agency]
Security forces inspect the scene after an armed attack by unknown assailant in Cairo, Egypt on 29 December 2017 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

A number of Middle East news sites have republished pro-government narrative on the alleged shooting of terrorists in a gun battle between security forces and a "militant hideout".

The police officer, who was allegedly killed in the shootout, was identified as Lt. Col. Mohammed Fawzi Al-Houfi but the alleged terrorists have not been named.

Activists say the dead officer was a perpetrator of the torture and arrest of activists.

"National Security Officer Mohamed Al-Houfi was the cause of sadness in many houses, I know children who were orphaned because of him, and mothers whose hearts were broken as a result of what he did to their children," Haitham Ghoneim wrote on Facebook.

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The story, promoted by Egyptian pro-government channels, has raised concern given the government's reputation for forcibly disappearing citizens and then publishing photos of the shootouts online and labelling the victims terrorists.

Earlier this month Human Rights Monitor announced that Egyptian authorities had extrajudicially killed 100 people already during the first quarter of 2020.

In March a graphic video of a soldier in Sinai cutting off the finger of a corpse then setting fire to his body went viral. The government said he was a terrorist but several rights organisations said he was a civilian.

READ: Um Ibrahim: 'My son should be playing with his friends, not in an Egyptian prison'

At the beginning of this month, Sinai resident Um Ibrahim told MEMO that her husband was arrested from their home as a punitive measure against the family; a photograph of his corpse later appeared on Facebook where he was labelled a terrorist.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Sinai Bedouin, Coptic activists – anyone who opposes the Egyptian regime – have all been labelled as terrorists by the Egyptian government as a way to justify their crackdown on dissenting voices.

The UN recently wrote a report expressing "serious concerns" over the government's anti-terror laws they say give the government cover to carry out human rights abuses.

According to the government's narrative on this most recent shootout, the suspects were planning an attack on Coptic Christians during their Easter celebration which falls on 19 April.

As activist Ahmed El-Attar wrote on Facebook: "Are the churches closed or open? I mean, the whole world knows that everything is closed and that the headquarters of the churches have only a few guards and monks, why would he attack empty and closed churches?"

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Others have suggested that it was a police raid on an armed robbery were hostages had been taken since the shootout took place in a business district.

Questions have been raised about the timing of the announcement since the Egyptian government is under intense pressure to confront their spiralling COVID-19 crisis.

Medics across the country are criticising the government for failing to provide them with PPE, whilst the health system is thought to be on the verge of collapse after years of underfunding. A 'successful' terror operation could relieve some of this pressure, turn media attention away from the pandemic and restore faith in the government.

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