Egypt queries new Muslim Brotherhood crackdown

Egypt queries new Muslim Brotherhood crackdown

With a fresh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt”s strongest opposition group, Egyptians are wondering if incarceration is enough to bring it to its knees. The group, which has weathered consecutive blows, said its members were accustomed to being prosecuted. “When they don”t like what I say, they take me away,” says the group”s political council head, Essam al-Erian.

Al-Erian, who was imprisoned in 1981, 1995, 2005 and again in 2006, is among 28 group members who were detained in a police swoop targeting its leaders this week.

The Brotherhood is a popular movement that adopts “Islam is the Solution” as its political motto. Eighty-eight members of Egypt”s People”s Assembly – the lower-house of parliament – are loyal to the outlawed group.

As its charismatic spokesperson, al-Erian has always been in the spotlight whenever the movement made significant announcements. Recently, al-Erian and some of his colleagues have floated the idea of launching a civil political party based on their publicized “reform programme.”

They reiterated their emphasis on Islamic principles as the basis for a civil state and a ban on all forms of economic activity that contradict Islamic sharia Law, according to Gamal Essam el-Din, a political analyst.

“No sooner had the programme been released than it came under attack,” said Essam el-Din.

The Muslim Brotherhood”s leaders were arrested on charges of “belonging to a banned group, possession of anti-government publications and holding a meeting where internal issues were exploited to justify attacks against the regime.”

State-owned newspapers predict that the hard blow that left four of the group”s leadership behind bars will send a tremor through its ranks.

But observers question if arrests will affect the pragmatic movement, whose members sometimes even meet the crackdowns with humour.

“Recent times have proved that the brotherhood is the only organized force in the political arena that is capable of confronting the ruling regime,” Amr Al-Shobaky, an Egyptian analyst, told the independent newspaper, al-Masri al-Yom.

According to al-Shobaky, every time the government attempts to introduce a modified reform programme, it finds itself head-to-head with the brotherhood – generally seen as receiving the lion”s share of the regime”s “harassment.”

The members” finger-in-the-eye and even humourous attitude towards imprisonment does not amuse the regime, say analysts.

“The fact that I land in prison for (defending) an idea gives me peace,” said al-Erian a few weeks before he was re-arrested. “That”s why prison will never break us.”

The group claims that, in total, 600 of its members are currently behind bars.

By confining their most powerful leaders, some analysts claim that the regime is trying to provoke the Muslim brothers into using violence in order to justify its own action.

“But the brothers will not be lured into clashes with the regime, they will pass this time too,” said Magdi Qarqar, the general secretary of Egypt”s Labour party.

The movement in lieu of aggression usually resort to a passionate war of words.

Abdel-Hamid al-Ghazali, an advisor to the group”s so-called Supreme Guide, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, was quick to call the crackdown a form of “state-terrorism.”

A young leader of the movement, Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, whose own grandfather once headed the group, wrote: “The arrest of al-Erian is a clear attempt by the regime to crackdown on the moderate leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who could push the group towards more moderate stances.

“The question remains: Who does that serve?”

Apparently in defiance of the regime, al-Erian”s daughter told al- Dostour newspaper that this time her father and his colleagues refused to answer questions in custody since they “said enough during previous questioning.”

The daughter also claimed the police broke into their house and seized cuttings of newspaper columns that her father had written as well as personal documents.

Such incidents, when put under the spotlight, quickly become human rights issues, prompting civil right groups to release statements condemning the regime”s abuses–another “score” for the movement.

In Egypt”s largely conservative society where forms of religiosity are increasing, group members are some of the few to associate their cause with strict Islamic concepts, giving their struggle a holy touch.

As the government fails to give itself the image of the “pious” or the “God-fearing,” people like el-Erian come out and say that imprisonment is a time where the Brotherhood “nurture their spiritual connection with God.”