Thoughts on Egypt I: the Revolution and Ali Gomaa’s Timeline

Introduction

I have continued to observe the number of articles and public discussions since the Egyptian revolution in 2011. I have been hesitant to comment since my experience is that political/social events unravel so quickly that what we know today is only a portion of what we end up knowing tomorrow. One of my professors commented in the early days of the 2011 revolution that one needs to make sure that what one says publicly is something they are ready to live with in the future. I have also found that this general demeanor of hesitation and the need for verification a quintessential part of traditional Islamic scholarship.

In addition to this general attitude, I have a personal stake in the dramatic political events of Egypt in the numerous ways I am connected to Egypt. One link in particular has caused me to want to write a little about this topic and this is my relationship to my shaykh, Dr. Ali Gomaa, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt. While I am fairly agnostic to public sentiment against him, as someone who has been in the public eye for nearly 20 years I am used to him having detractors, the events involving him and the Egyptian revolution have been quite different. He has, I believe, been treated unfairly and this is largely due to two factors: one, he has been misquoted extensively, and two, no one has sought to verify what he said and when. In the post below I try to provide a timeline with sufficient references to what he said, when he said it, and a little bit of why he said it. This last part is not necessarily the goal of the below text, and something I hope to turn to in a future piece.

2011 Uprising

Dr. Ali Gomaa made several public statements in relation to the massive uprising that began on January 25, 2011 and lead to the stepping down of former Egyptian president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. His general position was one of caution addressing the potential for mass bloodshed and chaos. [1] He was clear that public protest to address grievances is a fundamental human right [2], but cautioned that mass demonstrations that lead to a disruption of day-to-day life could be considered impermissible (haram) from an Islamic legal point of view. 1Ibid.

On Thursday February 3, 2011, Dr. Gomaa went on national TV to answer “hundreds of calls he received that day” with concerns about attending Friday prayer services. [4]  He issued a fatwa allowing people who feared physical harm due to calls of further mass protests to pray at home and not attend Friday prayer services.

Morsi’s Year

In March of 2011, Dr. Gomaa’s 60th birthday and the official retirement age of Egyptian government employees, the SCAF issued him a one year extension to help with the continuity of government. 2Author in discussion with Dr. Gomaa on the eve of the one year extension. In June of the same year Muhammad Mursi was elected Egypt’s new president. [5] On July 20, 2011 Dr. Gomaa held a national press conference to announce the start of the holy month of Ramadan and announced the month in the name of Egypt’s new president.[6] In March 2013, Dr. Gomaa retired from his position of Grand Mufti of Egypt and Dr. Shawqi Allam became Egypt’s new Grand Mufti.

Post June 30, 2013

Millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, 2013 to protest policies and constitutional decrees of President Mursi. As a result, he was placed under arrest by Egypt’s Defense Minister Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who also dissolved the constitution and placed the head of Egypt’s Supreme Court Justice Adly Mansur as the interim president. [7] Dr. Gomaa argued that the arrest of Mursi was legitimate from an Islamic legal perspective since the “people of the state” and those who “loosen and bind” (ahl al-ḥall wa’l ‘aqd), manifested in the Defense Minister, the Republican Guard, Sheikh al-Azhar Dr. Ahmad al-Tayyib, and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, were the ones who moved against Mursi to prevent further national chaos. [8] Dr. Gomaa also drew comparisons from recent history in which an ruler was removed from power due to national security concerns. [9]  Morsi supporters, largely led by the Muslim Brotherhood, staged sit-ins in various squares around Cairo, most notably the Raba‘a Square in Nasr City.  At the same time, there were major security lapses in the Sinai region that required military and police intervention. Legal action was taken to allow the Ministry of the Interior to break up the Raba‘a protests [10], and this eventually took place on August 14, 2013. There was significant loss of life throughout the Raba‘a breakup from both police forces and protestors. Five days after the Rab‘a breakup, on August 19, 2013, Dr. Gomaa addressed Defense Minister Sisi and other members of the armed forces in a live televised event in which he supported not only the breakup of the protests and military intervention in Sinai, but also argued for the legitimate use of lethal force. [11] He based his position on the fact that the protestors in Raba‘a were armed and that, according to eyewitnesses, it was the protestors that fired on the police first, not the other way around. [12]  Dr. Gomaa argued that the use of force from the side of the protestors and the significant loss of life from police forces at the beginning of the conflict necessitated the use of force to quell armed insurrection, and that these facts alone meant that Raba‘a was no longer a legitimate peaceful protest and the argument for the right to freedom of assembly ceased to have legitimacy. 3Ibid.

Dr. Gomaa’s comments and opinion towards the Muslim Brotherhood extended beyond the Raba‘a episode.  Since August 2013, Dr. Gomaa has likened the Brotherhood to the early khawārij who sought to rise against the Caliph Ali bin Abi Ṭālib in the 7th century. [14] On October 31, 2013, Dr. Gomaa held a national press conference to announce the launch of a fund to help rebuild Christian churches in Egypt that were destroyed by Muslim extremists including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. [15] As a result of this specific incident and generally due to his public attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party engaged the London based law firm ITN to bring charges of crimes against humanity against Dr. Gomaa and other members of the Egyptian state establishment. [16] Dr. Gomaa’s solicitors put ITN on notice that such actions were a PR stunt of the Muslim Brotherhood and a direct response to his efforts to help the Egyptian Christian community.4I personally oversaw this letter being issued from the Coexist Foundation, of which I am president and of which Dr. Gomaa is a trustee. The Coexist Foundation’s UK solicitors, CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, issued a letter on behalf of the foundation on December 20, 2013 placing ITN on notice for potential libel.

References   [ + ]

1. Ibid.
2. Author in discussion with Dr. Gomaa on the eve of the one year extension.
3. Ibid.
4. I personally oversaw this letter being issued from the Coexist Foundation, of which I am president and of which Dr. Gomaa is a trustee. The Coexist Foundation’s UK solicitors, CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, issued a letter on behalf of the foundation on December 20, 2013 placing ITN on notice for potential libel.

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