Why was Egypt’s prosecutor-general assassinated?

On June 29, Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat waskilled in a bomb attack that targeted his motorcade. Being the first terrorist attack to target a top Egyptian official since the failed attempt on the life on the interior minister in 2013, the assassination brought back concerns about the growing strength of the attackers and the corresponding weaknesses of the security system.

The attack also brought back to the forefront earlier threats by extremist groups to target the judiciary. Such threats did not prove hollow with the assassination in May of three judges in the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, the Wilayet Sinai (Province of Sinai) militant group, which pledges allegiance to ISIS, posted a video of the assassination of the judges a few hours before Barakat was killed under the title “The liquidation of judges.” The timing of the assassination is also quite revealing since it took place one day before the second anniversary of the June 30 protests that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood that was regarded by the group and its supporters as a military coup. All those links are expected to provide definitive answers to the reasons behind the assassination, but do they?

Pointing the finger of blame

In his article “From al-Khazendar to Hisham Barakat,” political commentator Khaled Ammar holds the Muslim Brotherhood accountable for the assassination and argues that it has been common for the group to target members of the judiciary in retaliation for sentences they issue against them. “It started in 1948 with the assassination of Judge Ahmed al-Khazendar who was at the time in charge of a case about the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the bombing of a movie theatre,” he wrote.

“When arrested, the attackers were found to possess documents that proved their affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood and the first suspect turned out to have been the secretary of the group’s supreme leader Hassan al-Banna.” Ammar added, noting that at the time, Banna denied having known about the assassination plot. Ammar also referred to the failed attempt on the life of Judge Moataz Khafagi who was in charge of the case known as “the guidance bureau incidents,” in which Muslim Brotherhood members were accused of murder and attempted murder as well as to the killing of the three judges in Sinai. While stressing that it is not possible to determine the culprits at the moment, historian and manuscripts professors Emad Abu Ghazi said that the Muslim Brotherhood has had the biggest share of political assassinations in Egypt, especially senior officials. “In addition to Khazendar, they killed Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nokrashi when he decided to disband the group and tried to kill president Gamal Abdel Nasser when he disagreed with them,” Ammar said.

Policemen investigate the site of a car bomb attack on the convoy of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat near his house at Heliopolis district in Cairo, Egypt, June 29, 2015. (Reuters)

Reports of ousted President Mohammad Mursi allegedly making a slaughtering gesture in the dock at the courtroom right after the attack on Barakat aroused suspicions as to his personal involvement in the assassination. “According to security sources, Mursi will be interrogated about this gesture in order to determine whether it is related to Barakat or not and whether he planned or at least blessed the assassination,” wrote journalist Mahmoud Abdel Radi.

Targeting Barakat

Nagi Shehata, known as the “judge of executions” for the death sentences he issued against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that like other members of the judiciary, Barakat was targeted because of his determination to fight terrorism. “I know that I for one am at the top of this hit list,” he said in a press interview. For Shehata, eliminating terrorist attacks against judges would only be possible through the modification of the Criminal Procedures Law. “Sentences should be implemented immediately following their ratification by the president instead of allowing them to be appealed,” he explained. “Slow justice is a form of injustice and the possibility of getting away with crimes encourages more crimes.” For Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend, the assassination of the prosecutor-general is bound to intensify the state’s efforts to eliminate terrorism. “And judges will now be more determined to make sure terrorists do not escape punishment,” he said. “We are going to avenge not only judges, but all the victims of terrorism, ” he said.

Policemen investigate the site of a car bomb attack on the convoy of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat near his house at Heliopolis district in Cairo, Egypt, June 29, 2015. (Reuters)

Hossam al-Kholy, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, argued that the security apparatus in Egypt cannot be absolved of blame. “It is true that anyone can be a victim of terrorism, but as we approach June 30, precautionary measures should be much stricter and certain public figures have to be placed under high protection,” he said. “What happened to the surveillance cameras that are supposed to allow security officials to monitor the roads?” Judge Wael Makram, who is also governor of the province of Fayoum, argued that since he assumed his position as prosecutor general, Barakat had never changed his route. “This made it easier for terrorists to target him on his way to work,” he said, adding that he still cannot confirm the laxity of security measures until the investigations are completed.

Journalist and former MP Moustafa Bakri accused political activists of playing a role as major as that of the Muslim Brotherhood as far as incitement of violence in concerned. “Activists who condemned the assassination of the prosecutor general did previously support terrorists involved in similar attacks. Those same activists were at the morgue supporting the families of executed terrorists in the Arab Sharkas case,” he wrote in reference to the controversial execution of six suspects found guilty of terrorism in what was seen as a retaliation to the killing of the Sinai judges. Bakri, however, did not mention names of the activists he referred to.

Policemen investigate the site of a car bomb attack on the convoy of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat near his house at Heliopolis district in Cairo, Egypt, June 29, 2015. (Reuters)

Egyptian novelist and journalist Alaa al-Aswani called Barakat’s assassination “a serious turning point” since it highlights the drawbacks of the state’s iron grip as far as countering violence is concerned. “Only justice can eliminate terrorism,” he wrote. “Repression, on the other hand, only gives it reason to survive.” Other analysts agreed that the security solution has proved its failure and that a political and intellectual approach has become inevitable. “The assassination of the prosecutor-general confirms that responding to violence with more violence only makes things worse,” said Abdel Galil Moustafa, activist and coordinator of the Egyptian Awakening electoral coalition. “Rehabilitation of criminals might take a longer time, but it is the only way out of this blood cycle,” he added.

Last Update: Tuesday, 30 June 2015 KSA 11:15 – GMT 08:15
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