A reformer behind bars

I feel the need to write about a great reformer and a sincere advocate of democracy and human rights who is currently behind bars. The Egyptian Khayrat El Shater is currently held in custody, facing money laundry and terrorism charges by a military tribunal after being acquitted four times for the same charges by Egyptian civilian courts.
El Shater, the deputy chairman of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested last December, only a few days before the regime presented the notorious constitutional amendments. From the very first day, he knew he would stay behind bars till the amendment are ratified, the Shura Council elections are conducted, and the different components of the devilish inheritance plan (but which Gamal Mubarak is expected to take over his father’s presidential seat) are completed.
This is why he was not surprised when he was rearrested from inside the courtroom, immediately after his first, second and third acquittals by courts that said all charges against him are groundless and politically motivated. He did not attend the fourth acquittal decision in court; never left prison in the first place.
 El Shater was arrested for three main reasons, the first is his moderation. Over the years he has taken clearly moderate stances on several issues, including human rights and minority rights, democracy and civil freedoms in Egypt. In his article entitled “No Need to be Afraid of Us,” published in The Guardian, he illustrated a high level of openness and tolerance.
In a later interview with Ikhwan Web, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Official English Website, he illustrated a high level of acceptance and appreciation of diversity, and presented a moderate stance towards the West, making clear distinctions between different countries, and different institutions within the same country.
For the Egyptian regime, “Islamist reformers” getting their voices through is a redline, simply because that would undermine the regime’s internal legitimacy, and external propagated image as the safeguard of civil liberties against “radicals.”
Therefore, and right after the article was published, there was a decision to put El Shater behind bars. The implementation was delayed for almost a year because the political context was different, with the US pressuring for a democratic façade for the Egyptian regime. This pressure was reversed after the rise of Hamas in Palestine, leaving democratic activists in the region in despair.
The other reason for El Shater’s arrest and referral to a military tribunal is his ability to shift the Brotherhood towards more moderate and powerful stances. Over the years, El Shater has illustrated extraordinary managerial abilities, influence and power. He successfully engaged the Brotherhood in several fields, and has provided practical proof for the ability of the group to take moderate stances.
El Shater is a big opponent of confrontations, and is well known to be the Brotherhood’s strategist. He is an advocate of peaceful change through social mobilization and widening the base of support through flexibility, dynamism and moderation. Being himself a leftist activist before becoming an Islamist, El Shater could clearly see things through different perspectives, and therefore accept more views and integrate more people into the reformist project that aims at overcoming the deteriorating economic, social and political conditions in Egypt, and bringing justice, peace, mercy and equality to the country and dignity and freedom to its people.
It is this strength and determination that threatens a tarnished totalitarian regime that could no longer hide its scandal, but now openly defends corrupt business cronies, forges elections and undermines judicial supervision, monopolizes local media, and supports policemen torturing political opponents and depoliticized citizens in police stations.
Such organizational strength and influence within the Brotherhood along with openness and the ability to build alliances and bridge the gap between different political group could not be tolerated by the regime, which is challenged by eroding internal popularity, and threatened by the lack of acceptable figures to take over presidency from the 79-year-old Mubarak.
The third reason behind El Shater’s arrest and detention is his success as an independent businessman who was able to function outside the regime’s circles and sustain his business despite the severe pressure from the regime, which cracked down on his business 15 years ago and froze all his assets. El Shater’s success, and that of other MB detained businessmen, sets an example of independent, uncorrupt businessmen, who wish to play business, and not dirty politics. They stand as strong independent economic forces which are not necessarily loyal to the regime, and are capable of challenging its corrupt demands.
Having a strong, independent business class could be a step towards democracy, as this economic power will be expected to push for more transparency, accountability and political openness to create a sustainable equal-opportunity business atmosphere. Therefore, the existence of such class is not welcomed by the tyrannical authoritarian corrupt Egyptian regime. The economic need forces the regime to open the gate for the private sector, but it needs to make sure they won’t be influential. Therefore, they have to be regime-allied, or else they are pressured and fought be the regime, especially if they have an opposition political agenda.
It is a shame that such a reformer is now behind bars while the entire world is witnessing his unjust trial, where no journalists, human rights organizations’ representatives or any observers are allowed access. El Shater is behind bars at a time when his openness to dialogue and acceptance of diversity on the international level are of crucial importance to overcome tensions between different civilizations. He is behind bars at a time when Egypt needs his tolerant inclusive sentiment which advocates equality, freedom and justice.