Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi cancelled a trip to South Africa because he feared being arrested for his role in the Rabaa massacre, a former minister has said. The revelation was made by Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, a former minister of trade and industry, in an explosive interview on news website Zat Masr, which has since been suspended in Egypt.
The interview was first published last week but was later deleted. It has been shared by social media accounts run by Egyptian dissidents abroad. In the interview, Abdel Nour, who served as a minister between July 2013 and September 2015, lambasted Sisi’s government. He attributed the economic crisis in the country to “excessive borrowing and a lack of confidence in the government’s decisions”. He also warned that the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for February 2024, will be a “farce” and alleged that security services will approve the list of candidates who can run against Sisi. On the situation of freedom of opinion and expression, he said “people in Egypt are afraid, and anyone who expresses an opinion on public affairs is arrested”. “The evidence is that if two people meet up and want to talk about public affairs, they put their phones away, fearing surveillance,” he added.
Skipping South Africa trip
The highly critical comments by Nour have been widely shared online by opponents of the government, as the former minister is still considered an ally of Sisi. Abdel Nour was a leading figure in the National Salvation Front, an alliance of parties and public figures that opposed the rule of late President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. He rallied Sisi, then defence minister, to oust Morsi from power ahead of the 2013 military coup.
Abdel Nour was appointed minister in the post-coup interim government, which was accused by Human Rights Watch of committing possible crimes against humanity in the mass killing of pro-Morsi supporters, in what is known as the Rabaa massacre. In August 2013, tens of thousands had gathered in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square to demand the return of Morsi. Egyptian soldiers and police officers killed at least 900 people as they forcibly dispersed a protest camp in the square on 14 August.
At the time, Abdel Nour publicly supported the use of starvation and siege tactics to disperse the protests. He reiterated his comments in the recent interview, saying that he faces charges of international crimes in the UK and South Africa as a result. “During Rabaa, in a TV interview, I said I don’t understand why can’t we besiege the protesters and ban food and drinks from reaching them. By banning delivery of food and drinks, they would have to leave the protests,” Abdel Nour said.
Lawyers representing Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party filed criminal charges against Sisi and leading members of the Egyptian government believed to be involved in the incitement and killings of protesters. According to Abdel Nour, he and Sisi cancelled a trip to South Africa in 2015 because of their fears of being arrested there under universal jurisdiction, as South Africa is a signatory of the Rome Statute and has incorporated the treaty into its domestic legal system.
The former minister said he has also not visited the UK for years following advice from the former British Ambassador in Cairo James Watt and Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. “I was about to be arrested in the UK and was advised to return to Egypt quickly,” he said, referring to a planned visit to the UK in 2014. “I travelled with the Egyptian-British businessmen association to promote Egypt and investments in Egypt,” he explained. “The British ambassador told me ‘don’t you ever travel to the UK without informing us, because there is an order to investigate you because of that issue,” he added.
Watt told Middle East Eye he “categorically denie[s] having said anything of the sort to Mr Abdel Nour or to anyone else”. “I was not aware of any such investigation, and I continue to believe that there was none. If I had been aware of such an investigation, it would have been entirely incorrect of me to mention it to him,” Watt said. “I can only think that that Mr Abdel Nour, who I respect greatly, has misremembered.” Then in 2015, during a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Abdel Nour said that Sisi’s top aide at the time Abbas Kamel warned him against travelling to South Africa. “Neither you nor Sisi are travelling to South Africa because the Muslim Brotherhood filed a lawsuit there and there was a judgement,” he said.