• April 14, 2006

Egypt: Skepticism Over Govm’t. Release of Political Prisoners

Egyptian authorities announced the release of about 950 political detainees affiliated with Jamaa Islamya (The Islamic Group) who had renounced violence, in a step that human rights organizations and analysts have regarded as a cosmetic decision intended to alleviate pressures that the government faces, which aim at prompting it to carry out democratic reforms.

 The Ministry of the Interior’s decision to release detainees at a time when members of the Muslim Brotherhood are being detained routinely has given rise to different responses from the opposition.

 Mohamed Mahdi Akef, Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has affirmed that the release of any political detainees is a gratifying step for the MB and various national forces. It is surprising, however, to note that the number of those who are taken into detention is higher than those who are released. Akef pointed out that the Egyptian regime is trying to undermine MB after discovering the large extent of its popular support among the people.

 For his part, Abdel-Haleem Qandeel, spokesman for the Kefaya (Enough) movement, expressed hi conviction that all decisions taken at present were intended to prepare the ground for the forthcoming president: Gamal Mubarak. He said, “they (government) want to woo all parties concerned and for that reason they now release detainess from prison cells which still receive new comers. They want to convince Egyptians that the regime seeks to achieve their best interest and open the doors before those repenting so as to start a new page, although most of them have done nothing wrong- they were simply wronged because of a few among them.”

 Writer Gamal el-Banna admitted that “releasing hundreds of detainees of the Jamaa Islamiya at a time when MB members are being detained is really strange and suspicious. It reveals that the regime is now apprehensive of the rise of the influence of Muslim Brothers.”

 Chief of Cairo Human Rights Center, Bahey el-Deen Hassan, said that, “the decision to release those detainees is just a cosmetic measure designed to sweeten the image of the government which is subjected to severe criticism with regard to its human rights record”. He added that “the purpose of such decisions is to alleviate the pressures exerted on the government so as to carry out real democratic reforms.”

 That decision, he pointed out, comes only a few days after the statement issued by the European Parliament on April 6, 2006, inviting the Egyptian government to carry out a package of reform measures, including action to ensure more political openness, dialogue and reforming the legal framework regulating elections so as to align it with international standards and to allow the establishment of political formations. It also calls for the release of the president of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, Ayman Nour, who was sentenced to a five-year term at the end of 2005. It further called for the cancellation of the state of emergency that has been in force in Egypt for 25 years.

 Dia Rashwan, an expert at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, affirmed that there were at least eight thousand detainees in Egyptian prisons whereas human rights organizations put the number of political detainees in Egypt at about 15,000 people.

 Egyptian authorities, Rashwan added, have previously released other groups of the Jamaa Islamiya activists. What is new about the present group is the timing of their release which coincides with pressures from human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

 In Rashwan’s opinion, Egyptian authorities deal with the subject of political detainees from a security perspective and not from a political one. The security apparatus, he goes on, closely follows up those who are released and is therefore afraid of not having the necessary human resources to continue that follow-up in case of releasing large numbers of political prisoners.