CAIRO — Egyptian officials on Tuesday sought to counter growing concerns that their crackdown on dissidents marks a return to the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood as trying to cripple Egypt’s future and calling the brief tenure of President Mohammed Morsi the “worst year in Egypt’s history.”
In his comments at a rare news conference, Mustafa Hegazy, a political adviser to Egyptian President Adly Mansour, defended the government’s arrest of thousands of Morsi supporters and the killing of hundreds of protesters. He said the Brotherhood remained determined to thwart the will of the vast majority of Egyptians.
“The Egyptian mainstream is in an unprecedented state of solidarity against a common enemy,” Hegazy said, adding that the Brotherhood is “determined to cripple the Egyptian future one way or another.”
Hegazy’s statements came just four days before the third anniversary of the start of the uprising that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.
The government has called on supporters to take to the street Saturday to mark the Jan. 25 anniversary and to celebrate the military-led government’s assumption of power after the ouster of Morsi, who had been a senior Brotherhood official before rising to the presidency in the first democratic election in Egypt’s history.
On Wednesday, Hegazy said Egypt was on the path to stability with a newly approved constitution that earned 98.1 percent approval in a two-day referendum last week. He noted, for example, that the new constitution protected freedom of expression and he insisted that criticism of the government is fine “as long as it’s within legal boundaries.”
But he declined to comment when journalists asked him about cases that seemed to contradict that assertion, including one about the conditions in which three staff members of Al Jazeera English are being held. The three, including a Canadian-Egyptian national, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, and the satellite news channel’s Australian correspondent, Peter Greste, have been held in solitary confinement since they were arrested Dec. 29 and accused of running a terror cell out of their makeshift office at the Marriott Hotel.
Fahmy, a well known author who has worked for CNN and the BBC, is listed as a terrorist on the prison docket even though no charges have been filed against him. He is not allowed a bed, books or writing materials.
Hegazy also declined to answer when asked about the case of an Associated Press cameraman who was arrested during last week’s referendum because his footage appeared on Al Jazeera, an AP client. He has since been released on bail.
Under Egyptian law, it’s unlawful to publish news items that are deemed harmful to the state. But Hegazy refused to answer why the Al Jazeera English staff members face charges but an Egyptian journalist and ex-parliamentarian, Mustafa Bakari, who called for the killing of American citizens in Egypt, has not.
Hegazy said the government has a duty to protect Egypt. “There is no room for extremism in the new Egypt,” he said.
Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @nancyayoussef