Egypt jails Brotherhood’s top leadership

Egypt jails Brotherhood’s top leadership

The Muslim Brotherhood is facing its most difficult test in recent times after a controversial ruling by a military court in Egypt on Wednesday sentenced 25 of its leading members to prison sentences.

Fifteen others were acquitted in the judgment while seven were charged in absentia, including Yussif Nada, an Egyptian-born Swiss businessman whose company is on the U.S. list of terrorism supporters.

Among the others handed jail terms of between three and 10 years are Hassan Malek, who owns an IT company, and Khairat al-Shater, a main financier for the Islamic group and leading successor to Supreme Guide Mehdi Akef.

The battle between government and opposition can be clearly seen by the tribunals, Muhammad Habib, a deputy for the banned organization, thinks.

“We refuse these sentences and consider them to be political score-settling and a reaction to the success the Muslim Brotherhood achieved in the 2005 parliamentary elections,” Habib told the Middle East Times.

“These sentences are political to the first degree and their ruling was made in a military tribunal against civilians; and these rulings express force and violence from the regime in dealing with the Brotherhood.”

The deputy is not alone in his criticism of the manner in which the members were tried. Condemnation of the tribunals was widespread and continuous even before the final verdicts – which included money laundering and terrorism – were handed down.

In the weeks leading up to the April 8 municipal elections at least 800 members of the Brotherhood found themselves in police custody.

Amnesty International, which was following the case, called the tribunal a “perversion” and called on the government to change its policies on the opposition movement.

“The prison sentences handed down by an Egyptian military court against 25 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood are a perversion of justice,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“This trial appeared to be politically motivated from the start, when President Mubarak sent the defendants for trial before a military court despite an earlier civilian court ruling that some of them should be released,” the statement continued.

Analysts and observers are already questioning the future of the group. Commentaries have already begun speculating on whether the group has enough financial backing to continue their activities now that Shater, Malek and supermarket chain owner Abdel Rahman Saudi are in prison.

“How does their sentence affect the MB”s fundraising ability, since these are two of the wealthiest members who own a variety of IT and engineering companies?” the respected blog asked.

Habib was adamant that the court didn”t deliver a mortal blow to the organization.

“It does not change anything for us. We will continue on with our program despite their imprisonment,” he said.

The deputy outlined a broader picture to the Middle East Times of how the financial situation works. He said that the financiers, namely Shater and Malek, who were sentenced to prison, would not directly affect the group”s future.

The companies are “properties of the individuals and not the group,” he said, adding that the Brotherhood has “nothing to do with it.”

Succession always seems to be not far from Egyptian minds. Today the question is not raised in respect to Gamal Mubarak, son of current President Hosni Mubarak – who turns 80 on May 4 – but is directed at who is expected to take over after Akef leaves office. Akef, 80, plans to step down within one or two years.

Shater had been, by many observers, a favorite to replace Akef. He had already been referred to as the de-facto leader. But with him now behind bars, the Brotherhood will be looking anew.

Habib has been called the best face of the Brotherhood for his well-outlined arguments and media friendliness as a perfect fit for taking over the helm. But, the deputy did not give any hint that he had ambitions for the top.

“Whoever runs a meeting is the supreme guide [for the meeting], so if the guide is absent for any reason the deputy takes his place,” referring to the fact that Habib, himself, has led meetings.

When the military tribunals were set up by the government in 1981 – the first year of Mubarak”s rule – to try citizens, there were no means by which someone convicted could appeal the case.

But, a move by Mubarak has allowed for an appeal if made within 60 days of the court decision.

“Today”s sentences leave little doubt that the Egyptian authorities are determined to undermine what has become the main opposition group in the country,” Amnesty said.