The War of Leaked Recordings

Two days before the fourth anniversary of the January 25, 2011 Revolution on Sunday, several Egyptian news websites reported alleged secret recordings of statements made by two senior Muslim Brotherhood members, Mohamed al-Beltagi and Azza al-Garf. In them, they were highly critical of ousted president and Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi.  

The leaks first appeared on the YouTube channel run by the “Repentant Brothers,” a group of supposed former Brotherhood members. Members of the groups, however, deny such group exist, claiming they are fake or fabricated by security agencies to distort their reputation. The date, location, and context of the recordings, no longer than 20 and 35 seconds each, are unknown.  Brotherhood officials ridiculed the leaks, claiming they were fake. They described them as a failed attempt to cover up the embarrassing leaks aired over the past month, allegedly involving senior army officials and aides to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

“When Morsi was in power, he turned against democracy, he turned against the rights of millions of people who went out and voted, and turned against a democratic process we dreamt of for sixty years. We dreamt that we would have a voice, that our voices would be heard and that we would witness democracy and exchange of power in Egypt,” Garf said in the alleged secret recording posted on the anti-Brotherhood website. Garf was a deputy in Egypt’s 2012 post-Mubarak parliament, representing the Brotherhood’s political wing, the now dissolved Freedom and Justice Party. She was also known as a staunch defender of Morsi, and was included on a list of Brotherhood members whose assets were seized by the government.

The more confusing statements were made by Beltagi in the alleged recordings. It wasn’t clear whether he was criticizing Morsi for failing to run the country, or for failing to take measures against his secular opponents who organized the June 30, 2013 protests that led to his ouster.

Beltagi, who belongs to a younger generation of Brotherhood leaders and is known as a hardliner, has repeatedly rejected any compromise since Morsi’s ouster last July. He was arrested in late August, 2013, and his daughter was among the protesters killed during the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit in held in Raba’a in August. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment in several cases.

“Dr. Morsi was the reason behind the retreat in all aspects of life in Egypt. He wasted our land and honor during the year he ruled this country. On June 30, we will arrest Morsi and hold him in prison. This image that lasted for a year had nearly led the total fall of the country and the people. We cannot remain silent anymore.”  

Critics of the Brotherhood attempted to use the leaks to claim the group is divided and that even its senior leaders were unhappy with Morsi’s leadership. News, however, of the alleged leaks were overshadowed by the violence and deaths in nationwide demonstrations held by Brotherhood supporters marking the fourth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. At least twenty-three were killed and over 100 injured in nationwide protests.

The battle between the Brotherhood and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah Sisi regime is not limited to the streets, alleged acts of terrorism and heavy police crackdown in which hundreds were killed. There is also a heated propaganda war in which the Brotherhood-controlled media used mysterious, but terribly embarrassing secretly recorded conversations among top aides to Sisi, and even the president himself, to discredit the regime and confirm how the military was running the country behind the scenes.

Over the past month, a private, Turkey-based television channel, Mekameleen, aired four long clips, the latest last week, of tapped conversations that allegedly took place in the office of Major General Abbas Kamel, the director of then-defense minister Sisi.  The Prosecutor-General immediately opened an investigation, and announced the recordings were fabricated. He later referred the case to the military prosecutor because it involved military officers. No results have been announced, and likely nothing will be known on measures the army took to prosecute those responsible for the recordings. Moreover, both official and private media loyal to Sisi have largely ignored the recordings. “Considering the ongoing terrorist acts carried out by the Brotherhood, the deteriorating economy, and Sisi’s massive popularity, nobody really cares now about such recordings aired by Brotherhood television channels,” said a journalist at a government-owned newspaper who did not want to be named.

In the first recording aired a month ago, Major General Kamel was heard speaking to the army’s senior legal advisor, Major General Mamdouh Shahin, making arrangements to forge documents on Morsi’s imprisonment, following his ouster. The second recording also involved a conversation between Kamel and Shaheen in which the first asked the latter to influence the judge presiding over the trial of four police officers accused of negligence, which led to the death of 37 prisoners in late August while being transferred in a police truck from a police station to Abu Zaabal prison. Kamel was heard in the third recording making a phone call to a senior official in a Dubai-based pan Arab television channel, allegedly asking him to stop the very popular political comedy show presented by Bassem Youssef a few weeks before the launch of Sisi’s presidential campaign. In the final recording aired last week, Kamel was making a phone call with the Army’s former Spokesman, Lieutenant Ahmed Ali, asking him to contact presenters of all major television talk shows in Egypt, calling them “our people,” to dictate what they should say in support of Sisi while running as president and to counter any criticism.

The leaks are unlikely to have any effect on the Sisi regime in the short term due to the wide support he enjoys among Egyptians, and the sharp rise in anti-Brotherhood sentiments.  Nevertheless, the recordings aired by the Brotherhood channels are not just embarrassing, but dangerous due to the ranks of the top military officials involved and the content that reflects illegal wrongdoing, forgery, and direct interference in judicial affairs. On top of all that, the fact that a party managed to infiltrate Sisi’s office at the defense ministry and record his top aide’s conversations, is a clear scandal in itself. While one informed source said that one of Kamel’s aides was involved, and that he tapped the conversations to sell them to a Brotherhood channel, other observers pointed to “conflicts among top security agencies,” who are trying to win the president’s favor.

Khaled Dawoud is currently Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly, an English language weekly published by Egypt’s oldest news establishment, Al-Ahram. He is also the official spokesman of social-liberal Al-Dostour Party established by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

Image: Photo: Mohamed al-Beltagi (Sarah Carr)