In the middle of heavy evening traffic on 6 October Bridge, Hussein, a taxi driver in his early 60s, is not paying attention to the shouting and honking of horns following a car accident that has just taken place. He is listening to a news broadcast announcing that "Egyptian authorities prevented two Palestinian Hamas members from entering Egypt from Gaza.”
“They should absolutely close the border with Gaza; we have had enough of these people,” Hussein says emphatically.
This taxi driver who has been moving people around the capital for some four decades is convinced that Hamas “is to blame for so many things we are suffering today.” He buys wholesale the new narrative of Hamas involvement in the killing of protestors in Tahrir Square on 2 February 2011, the so-called "Battle of the Camel," in the midst of the January 25 Revolution.
“Nobody has dared deny the script of recorded conversations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas leaders released a couple of weeks ago,” he says.
Hussein is equally convinced that was Hamas activists who came from Gaza to get the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, now Egypt's elected president, out of Wadi Al-Natroun Prison, giving him a satellite phone "to call Al Jazeera."
For Hussein, as for several other Cairenes speaking to Ahram Online, Hamas is “for sure involved" in Egypt's domestic affairs. Some say this was at the command of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Cairo, while others point to Qatar, “which was aiming for the fall of Egypt.”
Nermin, a civil servant in her 50s, believes that “Hamas attacked the prison to get Morsi out and covered for their crime by allowing other criminals to get out.”
The opening of the prisons
According to Mohamed Al-Sharkawi, who was released from Wadi Al-Natroun Prison on the morning of 29 January 2011, there was no sign of an attack on the gates of the prison he exited.
“On the evening of Friday, 28 January, as we were following news of the demonstrations, we heard a few — I think five — gunshots and then there was nothing. We called on the duty officer to investigate, but he did not reply. We performed our dawn prayers and went to sleep, only to wake up the following day to screams of relatives looking for prisoners,” Al-Sharkawi said.
According to both Al-Sharkawi and Khaled Salah, another Wadi Al-Natroun detainee who escaped that day after families and prisoners used fire extinguishers to break open cell doors, there were no marks of any attack on the prison except the administrative building, where the records were kept.
As they were running away they heard that Islamist political prisoners had set the prison on fire.
The long and detailed story of Al-Sharkawi and Salah is in tune with the fact-finding investigation on the opening up of 11 prisons.
“This report was conducted when Ahmed Shafiq was prime minister, so there is no way that it was designed to support the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Maguida Boutros, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Al-Sharkawi and Salah, who turned themselves in following a long and arduous escape during which they say many prisoners were killed by police and army forces, approached both the EIPR and the Egyptian Council for Human Rights after having ended their terms in prison to report on the details in the hope of securing justice for those prisoners killed on the run.
Al-Sharkawi and Salah offered their testimonies before a court of law trying police officers for alleged involvement in the deliberate release of prisoners on 29 January 2011.
Lawyer and human rights activist Amir Salem accused both Al-Sharkawi and Salah of offering false testimony during a previous session of the case.
According to Salem, there are official recordings of telephone conversations that “reveal exactly the role of Hamas in helping Morsi and others escaping Wadi Al-Natroun Prison."
Salem pursued a court order for the Egyptian General Intelligence to turn over these recordings, to “reveal who was really behind the escape of Morsi.”
Today, the court is holding a new session whereby, according to Salem, more facts will be revealed about what really happened on the day of 29 January 2011 at Wadi Al-Natroun Prison.
The price for Sinai?
Rumours about Morsi giving away part of Sinai to the Palestinians emerged a few months ago, and though categorically denied by authorities, including the president himself, they remain persistent.
Intelligence sources who spoke to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity insist that it is “impossible to let this happen." In the words of one, “flexibility on the entrance of Palestinians [to Egypt] was adopted at some point, but it was a brief moment that was reversed. We are keeping a very close eye on the border. We are not giving Hamas or anyone else an easy time."
Tough relations between Hamas and Egypt's intelligence apparatus came to the surface this week in a statement issued from Gaza criticising the denial of entrance for two Hamas figures upon orders of Egyptian intelligence. The statement called upon the “Egyptian authorities” to undertake the necessary measures to more fairly regulate the entrance of Palestinians through the border with Egypt.
For political scientist Hassan Nafaa, the readiness of so many people to believe in Hamas involvement in the Battle of the Camel, the forced opening of prisons, and the appropriation of parts of Sinai indicates “essentially the growing anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment in public opinion.”
“In the eyes of many there is this link between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. People are frustrated with Muslim Brotherhood rule to a point at which they are equally frustrated with anyone or anything associated with them,” said Nafaa.
An anti-Brotherhood conspiracy?
This may be one explanation, but another, according to a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure, is the “deliberate confusion that is promoted by independent media to turn public opinion against the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“Today, independent TV channels are walking the footsteps of the Mubarak regime, demonising the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They are doing this to serve a political agenda adopted by some foreign countries — including Arab capitals that are supporting the remnants of the Mubarak regime,” the same Brotherhood figure charged. He added: “Some quarters within the Egyptian intelligence and police are helping them with bits and pieces of information that are being used to perpetuate a state of anxiousness.”
For his part, Salem is convinced that key state security bodies were “involved in covering up Hamas involvement in the escape of Morsi from Wadi Al-Natroun.” He promises that soon the facts will be brought into the public eye.
“When this happens, people will realise that the ruling president was involved in illicit communication with a foreign body that helped him escape prison, and that the Supreme Presidential Elections Committee accepted his nomination for the presidency without having the necessary legal papers that pardon his illegal breakout from prison — something necessary even if he was arrested under emergency law,” Salem said. He added: “In short, we would be confronted with a corrupt presidential elections process altogether.”
Earlier this week, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim said there was no official record to prove that Mohamed Morsi was ever in Wadi Al-Natroun Prison.
Morsi had told Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel that he escaped Wadi Al-Natroun Prison along with other prisoners, including leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, after unknown assailants attacked the prison and set prisoners free.