Chinese whispers

Chinese whispers

The widely debated step of dissolving parliament might prove unlikely despite the latest police crackdown on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.


The arrest of Abdel-Moneim Abul- Fotouh, together with seven other leading figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, in the early hours of 28 June heralds the most serious police crackdown on the outlawed group for two years. Abul-Fotouh is widely tipped to replace the Brotherhood”s Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, who indicated earlier in the year he intends to leave the post.


Abul-Fotouh, a senior member of the group”s Executive Guidance Bureau, faces a raft of accusations, from reviving the international wing of the Brotherhood, conspiring with foreign parties, including Hizbullah, and laundering money to fund the outlawed group”s activities.


The anti-Brotherhood campaign has also refuelled speculation that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will soon dissolve parliament and that the ground is being prepared for Gamal, the 46-year-old son of President Hosni Mubarak, to take over from his father.


The Brotherhood has often been targeted ahead of parliamentary elections. Ammar Ali Hassan, a researcher on Islamist movements, suggests “the new campaign could easily be a repetition of this scenario and makes it more likely that the 2010 elections will be called ahead of schedule.”


Amr Elshobky, a senior researcher with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), also believes the clampdown may be a precursor to dramatic political developments.


The arrest of senior Brotherhood leaders happened ahead of elections in 2000 and 2005 and before the amendment of 34 articles of the constitution in 2007,” points out Elshobky. Yet despite the police campaigns, the Brotherhood was able to raise its seats in parliament from 17 in 2000 to 88 in 2005.


Brotherhood leaders have seized the summer campaign against them to fan the rumour that among the campaign”s goals is to marginalise the group within the political arena so as to prepare the ground for Gamal Mubarak to be the next president of Egypt. They argue the campaign against them is a signal that elections will be held before 2010 in the hope they can be eliminated from a parliament that the NDP hopes will be stuffed with Gamal Mubarak”s supporters. Abul-Fotouh has always been a vociferous critic of Gamal Mubarak, and has repeatedly urged the group to campaign against the “inheritance of power“.


NDP leaders have been quite to refute Brotherhood suggestions of a plot. In an interview with Al-Mussawar magazine, NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif espoused what he called “the three nos”: “No to dissolving the People”s Assembly this autumn, no to holding parliamentary elections in 2009 instead of 2010 and no to bringing forward the presidential elections scheduled for 2011.”


El-Sherif attacked those “who are inflating the inheritance case“.


President Mubarak, and his son Gamal, denied allegations about inheritance of power a long time ago. The problem is that some people want to waste time by keeping this issue on the surface,” he said.


Alieddin Hilal, NDP secretary for information, joined the chorus of party officials, dismissing any suggestion President Mubarak would resign from office.


President Mubarak undertakes his responsibilities as usual and has no plans to cease doing so,” said Hilal.


Commenting on the growing role of Gamal Mubarak, the last instance of which was his reception of Egypt”s football team on their return from South Africa, Hilal said it reflected a personal interest in football rather than a drive to assume power. Rumours that President Mubarak will dissolve the People”s Assembly this year were, he said, no more than “lies and fabrications”. The schedule of the ruling NDP will continue as normal, he added. “In July the party will hold internal elections and high- level meetings will be held very soon to prepare the agenda of the sixth annual conference next November.”


Parliamentary speaker Fathi Sorour explained that Article 136 of the constitution clearly states that the president can dissolve the People”s Assembly only if it is deemed essential. “As far as I know President Mubarak does not think it necessary to dissolve the People”s Assembly,” said Sorour. “The word “necessary” in Article 139 of the constitution refers to a very particular case in which the president opts to dissolve parliament to prevent a clash between the People”s Assembly and the government from paralysing political life.”


Right now, said Sorour, the relationship between the assembly and the government is excellent.


Many NDP members have taken the Brotherhood to task for concocting stories about parliament being dissolved and for rumours regarding Gamal Mubarak”s supposed political ambitions.


They do this to create the impression that their rejection of inheritance scenarios rather than involvement in outlawed activities has made them the victim of police campaigns and repression,” Gamal Abdel-Gawad, another ACPSS researcher, told Al-Ahram Weekly.


Abdel-Gawad does not agree that the recent arrests herald any dramatic political moves.


As an outlawed group the security forces have always kept a close eye on the Brotherhood,” he says. “The anti-government positions adopted by Brotherhood leaders during the Gaza war made security forces more alert to their movements and relations with foreign forces like Lebanon”s Hizbullah.”


Some secular opposition figures agree with Abdel-Gawad. Rifaat El-Said, chairman of the leftist Tagammu Party, even questions the generally accepted view of the Brotherhood as the strongest opposition group in Egypt.


The performance of their MPs in parliament has hardly disturbed the regime. In many cases they opted to toe the government line. The Brothers are very weak. All they can do now is concoct rumours in a search for sympathy in the face of security campaigns.”


Despite the plethora of statements from senior NDP officials Hassan believes the inheritance scenario, and the question of whether or not parliament will be dissolved, will remain.


It does not matter how many times NDP leaders deny speculation on critical issues like inheritance of power. What matters is that the party moves to settle this issue very soon and in a way that convinces the Egyptian people,” says Hassan.


The Source