- October 9, 2007
- 9 minutes read
A Peace-maker behind Bars
Why does Mubarak’s regime target Khairat El-Shater, Muslim Brotherhood’s second deputy-chairman, frequently referring him to military tribunals, and hardly tolerating his business activities despite his well-known political moderation? To answer this question, one must examine this person’s history which is replete with similar crackdowns.
El-Shater began his political life by leading a student struggle 1968 against the oppression of Nasser’s dictatorship. Though he was the youngest (aged 18 at that time) he had the particular organizing skills that enabled him to run demonstrations inside Alexandria University campus, and to unite all factions for one goal: calling for political reform and condemning the Egyptian regime for its defeat in the 1967 war, deeming it incapable of ruling the country or even defending it. El-Shater and his colleagues were subject to police blockade for a couple of days during which he had the guts to encourage his friends to hold. At this point, he was recognized as a pure nationalist, not yet affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood , and resuming his activities with the aim of putting an end to widespread oppression and political corruption. It was in this year that El-Shater experienced his first detention with Nasser’s police arresting him from inside the campus where he was leading a student sit in. Therefore he received a special treatment. He was dismissed from the faculty of engineering despite being a distinguished student, sentenced to four months in jail, and recruited in the army though he was under age.
But El-Shater was known for his resilience and his dauntless spirit. Imprisonment did not discourage him from continuing his education and holding a bachelors degree from the Faculty of Engineering, Alexandria University. Because of his high grades, he was appointed as an assistant teacher of Civil Engineering at Mansura University, where he was awarded a Master Degree in 1980.
However, he wasn’t less persecuted in Sadat’s reign. President Sadat ordered his immediate dismissal from his academic post in September 1981 because he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he had joined since 1974. In addition he was listed among the 1600 most-wanted suspects by President Sadat in an attempt to intimidate all political opponents at that time. Nevertheless, El-Shater was lucky to be outside the country performing Hajj. Consequently he began to move from one country to another until he settled down in London where he began his long and thriving business journey.
What friends and colleagues recall about his early political life is his deep interest in unity and his great detestation of national dissensions. For that reason he has made constant efforts to unite various Islamist trends that were extremely divided in ideologies and mechanisms. One of such efforts was a conference he organized in the year 1978 where he planned a gathering of conflicting Islamic movements in one place with the purpose of coordinating their powers and attitudes. Those who attended the conference admit that he was the only one capable of engaging different ideologies and political adversaries due to his unique character that can efficiently embrace the other.
When Mubarak came to power, El-Shater was a victim of the same policy that was adopted by Mubarak’s predecessors. In London, he set out his business career that was the major source of Mubarak’s worry. He inherited a reasonable deal of property from his father which provided him with enough capital to run his own business. As soon as he returned home, he established “Salsabeel” (one of the leading IT companies in the Middle East at that time specialized in importing computer spare parts to produce computers locally) with Hassan Malek as his partner. The project was a success and it began to develop rapidly, and immediately afterwards El-Shater was elected member of the board in several banks and other joint-stock companies.
Salsabeel was a turning point in El-Shater’s relationship with Mubarak’s regime as it marked his rise as a business tycoon who would be a landmark in Egypt’s economy, a fact which jeopardizes the NDP’s monopoly of economy as well as politics. In 1992, when a number of Salsabeel goods arrived at Alex seaport, the government ordered to confiscate all imported items and Khairat El-Shater was detained and his company was closed. He was referred to a military trial on charges of attempting to topple the regime, but they were dropped a year after and he was acquitted; yet his company remained closed and he hasn’t got his money back until today. He was rearrested in the years 1995 and 2001 on similar charges and he spent around 6 years in prison being part of the strongest opposition movement which constituted the greatest threat to the regime’s existence. Now, he and his Brothers are facing the same destiny and no one knows what Mubarak’s decision in his capacity as the military governor might be.
El-Shater’s charisma has been most visible within the Muslim Brotherhood. If the Muslim Brotherhood consists of a variety of thoughts and opinions, he represents their totality. You can find some Muslim Brothers who tend to work on the inward level, while some others advocate the open policy in dealing with national and international issues. Khairat El-Shater on his part managed to establish what can be called a “centralist” Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, he wanted for his movement to have balance in its relationship with external forces. He always sought compromises. For example, he was one of those who called for dialogue with the government in national issues, such as the parliamentary elections where the Muslim Brotherhood decided to field a limited number of candidates in order to avoid any clash with the government or other opposition parties. His objective was only “to end the monopoly of government by a single party and boost popular engagement in political activity” as he mentioned in a Gardian Daily article entitled “Don’t be afraid of us”. Moreover, El-Shater was completely against initiating talks with outside forces without the government’s consent, for he believed that Egypt’s foreign policy should be characterized by integrity.
The natural question here would be: why has the government waged its war on Khairat El-Shater although he is the one who adopted a policy of tolerance with the regime? In my opinion, there is only one answer: referring this figure to a military trial can be interpreted as an attempt to eradicate the peaceful voices of the Muslim Brotherhood and to put an end to all hopes of a future dialogue between the two sides. That is because he is the major proponent of a peaceful policy between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government as well as all national and international forces.
At the same time when the government has chosen clash as its policy, Khairat El-Shater was preoccupied with reform. El-Shater’s vision for reform is rooted in his balanced Islamist ideology. His ambition is to trigger a renaissance in Egypt, starting from basic institutions and free democratic elections and ending with wider political reform and economic development. A priority for El-Shater is, in his own words, “to revitalize political life so that citizens can join a real debate about the solutions to Egypt’s chronic problems and the sort of future we want for our country”. Such rationale was the basis of all El-Shater’s enterprises including Salsabeel whose mission had been to introduce IT production to Egypt and the Middle East. His projects are dedicated to modernizing Egypt and attracting foreign investments, thus flourishing our national economy.
The economic and political losses of such crackdown will have their negative repercussions in the near future. On the economic level, investment prospects are obviously threatened after tens of companies (the majority of which carry foreign brand names) have been closed. It is a pity to see the Egyptian government destroying investment opportunities while Egypt’s economy is struggling to survive. Simultaneously, unemployment rates increased as a result, for these companies and their associate factories had thousands of workers who are now without jobs. Politically, the detention of El-Shater and his peers is an attack on Egypt’s opposition which has recently come to life thanks to the Muslim Brotherhood’s performance, with Khairat El-Shater’s decisive role in trying to unite all forces under the banner of reform.
In a nutshell, arresting El-Shater is nothing but a stumbling block to peaceful dialogue among diverse Egyptian trends. Targeting peace-makers is a huge loss for the Egyptian people who are suffering under political tyranny seeking any viable alternative that can achieve their hopes. Khairat El-Shater’s only fault is his call for reform. He began with his own self, setting up developmental projects, providing thousands of job opportunities, attracting massive investments, and even welcoming any dialogue initiative with a despotic regime. Egypt will gain nothing from placing El-Shater behind bars and we can only expect further deterioration in our economic and political future.