Brothers up in arms

Relations between the government and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood took a turn for the worse in the People’s Assembly this week.

Reverberations from President Hosni Mubarak’s 6 February order that 39 senior members of the illegal Muslim Brotherhood, including the group’s number three Khairat El-Shater, be tried by a military tribunal dominated proceedings in the People’s Assembly this week. Brotherhood deputies had apparently calculated that last Friday’s clash between Israeli riot police and Palestinians protesting against excavation work at Al-Aqsa Mosque would allow them to regain the initiative. They arrived determined to be heard, only to be faced by Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour, who ordered Hamdi Hassan, the Brotherhood’s spokesman, to leave the chamber after what Sorour qualified as “unruly behaviour”. The Brotherhood’s remaining deputies walked in protest.

It was a frustrating outcome for the group. Hamdi Hassan told Al-Ahram Weekly that “after the wide-scale arrests of the group’s members and President Hosni Mubarak’s new position that the Brotherhood is a threat to national security, parliament has become the only stage available for the Brotherhood to give a vent to its grievances.”

Brotherhood deputies had arrived to Monday’s session with high hopes. Many submitted requests to Sorour, asking him to give them the floor to denounce Israel and the silence of Arab rulers and display solidarity with the Palestinians. They also wanted to use the hearing to condemn the Interior Ministry’s arrest of several demonstrators, most of them Brotherhood members, as they gathered in front of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque on Friday to protest against the Al-Aqsa dig works. The group’s hopes, however, were dashed when Sorour rejected their requests. Parliamentary precedent, said Sorour, dictates that public opinion issues cannot be debated when the government’s policy statement is under discussion. The rejection sparked a storm on the Brotherhood benches. “Why do you want to deny us voicing anything about the assault against Al-Aqsa,” Brotherhood MPs shouted as one.

“No group will ever be able to impose its will on me even if they number thousands,” Sorour responded. “I would still order them to leave the session out of respect for the assembly’s regulations.”

Sorour said the chairman of the assembly’s Arab Affairs Committee, Saad El-Gammal, had already been asked to prepare a response to Israeli digging in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa. “While I was in Tunis last week to attend the meetings of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Euro-Mediterranean parliament,” he added, “I made it clear that Egypt and Tunisia would withdraw from the committee unless the Euro-Med parliament ceases its support of Israel’s anti-Islamic acts. I have asked El-Gammal to ensure his statement registers my position in Tunis and as a consequence want to wait until El-Gammal has prepared his statement so that we can present a good picture of the international community on the position of the Egyptian parliament towards Al-Aqsa Mosque. Yet some deputies want to impose their will in a bid to convince people they are the only ones who care about Al-Aqsa.”

Uncowed by Sorour, Brotherhood MPs had a field day when they were finally given the floor. “All the government has been able to do is summon the Israeli ambassador and call upon him to urge his government to stop its assault on Al-Aqsa,” said Hussein Ibrahim, Brotherhood MP from Alexandria. “This is cosying up with the Israeli ambassador, not lashing out at him.” Ibrahim then charged the Egyptian government was no different from its Israeli counterpart “since both opted to prevent people from praying in Al-Aqsa and Al-Azhar mosques respectively.”

“In fact,” concluded Ibrahim, “the Israeli government was less aggressive since it allowed Palestinians over the age of 45 to pray at Al-Aqsa while our government’s security forces prevented all Egyptians from entering Al-Azhar Mosque by force.”

Mohamed El-Beltagui, Brotherhood MP from the Cairo district of Shubra Al-Kheima, demanded the Israeli ambassador to Cairo be expelled and Egypt’s ambassador to Tel Aviv recalled. “The government must also stop consorting with the Israeli enemy and revoke the QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zone) agreement and immediately end supplies of natural gas to Israel.” Opposition MPs, and some members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) also weighed in with their own criticisms. Mustafa El-Feki, the NDP chairman of the assembly’s International Affairs Committee, said America’s blind support allowed Israel to desecrate a site sacred to more than one and a half billion Muslims. Wafdist MP Mohamed Sherdi argued Egypt’s relations with the Jewish state should be comprehensively reviewed while Mustafa Bakri, a pan-Arabist journalist, insisted that, “expelling the Israeli ambassador from Egypt is hardly the end of the world” and might “compel America to intervene and face up to Israel’s acts”.

Ragab Hemeida, an independent MP, pointed to the irony of asking “the government not to consort with Israel when many cabinet ministers maintain business relations with Israelis.” Mohamed Amer, from the NDP, argued it was “time for Arab and Muslim peoples to go and fight Israel because Arab regimes are so weak” while his colleague, Mustafa El-Katatni, said “the only thing that can stop Israeli evil is to use a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel out of existence.” Brotherhood MP Mohamed Al-Adli suggested that, “instead of cracking down on the Brotherhood the government should let it lead a holy jihad against the Israelis and then the Brotherhood will show the world how it was able to obliterate Israel.”

The intemperate tone of MPs’ rhetoric prompted Minister of State for Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Mufid Shehab to intervene.

“The government sent a strong message to the Israeli ambassador, asking him to convey it to his government in person.”

“The international community is completely biased in favour of the Israelis,” Shehab continued, “and to counter this requires more than ranting and raving on the part of MPs.”

In a continuation of its parliamentary offensive against the government the Brotherhood issued a 48-page report criticising Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s 19 December policy statement.

The report, said spokesman Hassan, aimed to answer those who say the Brotherhood lacks a detailed platform for reform in Egypt. It attacked the decision to refer political opponents to military courts because it is “in violation of Article 68 of the constitution which states that civilians should be tried before civilian courts”. In a press conference on Saturday to launch the report, leading Brotherhood MPs argued that President Mubarak’s constitutional proposals aimed at obliterating the movement from political life.

“We will keep calm, remain self-disciplined and not let ourselves be provoked by the regime’s stepping up its fight against us,” said prominent Brotherhood MP Saad El-Katatni.

He urged political parties not to turn themselves a pawn in the regime’s hands. “They must realise the regime’s campaign against us is a sign of its bankruptcy,” said El-Katatni.

The report also charged that the regime’s long-term alliance with the United Stated had eroded Egypt’s influence in Arab, Muslim and African circles, alleging that “the regime sold Egypt’s regional role in favour of perpetuating American and Zionist hegemony in the Arab world”.

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