Children for Freedom, the Muslim Brothers’ youngest wing – Feature

Children for Freedom, the Muslim Brothers’ youngest wing – Feature

The court acquitted my father. Why didn”t he come home?” read a statement printed on T-Shirts often worn by the sons, daughters and grandchildren of a group of court-martialed top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt”s largest opposition group. The children and grandchildren of imprisoned leaders have formed a league of their own, backed by their parents.

“It is an exercise on channeling their anger through peaceful means of protest,” explained Zahraa, the daughter of Khairat el- Shater, the number one defendant in the Brotherhood case and second deputy of the group”s leader.

Zahraa says that she is worried about her children”s future “in a world where there is chaos and no rule of law.”

Relatives wore the T-shirts as they watched their parents behind bars during military court sessions. Although the families of the 40 tried Brotherhood leaders say that the trial did not break their faith, they said that President Hosni Mubarak”s jail experience has tormented their children and left them confused.

Nine-year-old Aisha, daughter of Hassan Malek, remembers running to the defendant”s cage in the court room, waving at her father and asking if he could see her through the wire cage where the defendants are kept.

Her father, not unlike the other high-profile Brothers, is a civilian who is being tried in a military court for charges of money laundering, belonging to and financing a banned group “that uses terrorism to achieve its ends,” disrupting public peace and endangering civil liberties.

The Brothers” chief attorney Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud claims that the court does not possess any admissible evidence to prove these allegations.

The lawyer says the trial is politically motivated.

The Brothers and their zealous supporters have been deemed a growing threat to the hegemony of the ruling National Democratic Party, according to independent observers.

The Islamic group, which draws on significant support through charity work and civil service, scored a sweeping victory in 2005 parliamentary elections, defying an official ban to form the biggest opposition bloc.

Most of the defendants in the much-criticized trial were arrested last November.

Acquitted three times by different Cairo courts, the leaders were kept in custody and transferred to a military court upon a presidential decree. The decree was revoked by Cairo”s Supreme Administrative Court, but the decision was soon reversed when the state appealed.

“This is the worst sights ever; a parent behind bars,” whispered a daughter of one the defendants as she gave her caged father a feeble smile.

She stays strong for the sake of her parents, she said. “But my baby brothers and sisters cannot do the same, simply because they don”t understand what”s happening. They are angry,” she adds.

“My daughter Aisha wants us to leave Egypt after the trial is over and live abroad,” said Malek”s wife. “My children saw a sad reality, it doesn”t make sense to them and I have failed to explain it.”

More often than not, the Brotherhood leaders were rounded-up as their families watched. Currently, 34 leaders of the accused group of 40 are incarcerated, while the rest reside outside the country.

Most of the imprisoned were arrested from their own houses in rowdy, overnight raids.

“I feel insecure when I go to sleep at night,” said el-Shater”s daughter. She is also the wife of another defendant. In addition to being top members of the Brotherhood”s politburo, her father and her husband are businessmen and engineers.

Her father was arrested four times, while her husband was detained five times. She remembers that as a child her father used to tell her that “police arrests (of political activists) are like death, they come suddenly and without reason.”

“The police pound on the door knocking it off its hinges, they scare the children,” said el-Shater”s daughter, who has four children. “Everytime it is more frightening. My children wake up to the sight of machine guns.”

Zahraa said her tragedy is due to the regime”s fierce clampdown on the Brotherhood”s rank – a crackdown that was partially linked to the Brotherhood”s radical Islamic identity.

Though she was brought up to be a “peaceful Islamist” and in turn wanted to instil the idea of non-violent resistance in her children, Zahraa is finding it difficult to do so under the circumstances.

“I have trouble explaining to them that the (police) officer who takes their father away should be a source of protection, hard to explain why we are reacting non-violently to (the arrests).

“We are against 9/11 attacks or any violent attacks. But this treatment could give rise to a generation who believes in terrorism,” said the young mother.

Nodding her on, Malek”s wife added that her children often ask her “why don”t we beat-up the officers who take our father away, or even kill them?”

“When they saw their father being arrested aggressively for the first time, the children (wrongfully) thought that the police officers will kill their father,” says the tearful mother, who insisted on being referred to as “Malek”s wife” and not by her own name.

The families” message is clear – they want justice and wish they wouldn”t be viewed solely as Brothers.

“The criminals get more rights than Islamists in a political trial,” says el-Shater”s daughter, “Why not treat us the same way they treat criminals. My daughter says she wishes her father was a thief.”

During a long, controversial court session held on Sunday, the children in the courtroom were getting impatient and weary, they did not understand the legal jargon.

Lawyers, who contested the competency of the military court to deal with this case, were no less exhausted.

Abdel-Maksoud, the Brotherhood”s lawyer for many years, insisted that despite the unconstitutionality of the procedure, the defence team will not boycott the trial as they “cannot abandon people in need, even if we anticipate the worst.”