Judgement day

Judgement day

Tuesday”s ruling by a military court sentencing 25 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to jail for up to 10 years while acquitting a further 15 is likely to deal a crippling blow to the group and drain it of financial resources. The year long trial has resulted, note analysts, in some of the harshest sentences ever dealt out by a military tribunal under the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Khayrat El-Shater, 58, the Brotherhood”s chief strategist and third highest ranking member of the group, received seven years in prison, as did millionaire Hassan Malek. In addition, assets and properties belonging to the defendants were confiscated. Five other members of the group received five- year sentences and 13 were imprisoned for three years.

Of the seven senior members and financiers tried in absentia, five received 10- year prison terms, including Youssef Nada, the Swiss-based, Egyptian-born businessman whose company has been listed by the US since 2001 as an organisation that helps fund terrorism. Among those acquitted were journalist Ahmed Ezzeddin and businessman Abdel-Rahman Saudi, owner of a supermarket chain.

The defendants faced charges of money laundering and promoting terrorism though it was not immediately clear if the 25 had been found guilty of both offences.

The ruling was issued inside the Haykstep military court without any prior notification to defence lawyers. Before the verdict was announced hundreds of Central Security forces in helmets and carrying batons set up a cordon to prevent both relatives and journalists from approaching the court building. Police set up checkpoints on the road leading to the court, searching vehicles and turning back reporters, family members and human rights activists who gathered inside a nearby mosque to await news of the verdict.

Defence lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud said the judge entered the courtroom, issued the ruling and left without notifying the opposition group”s lawyers who were standing outside. Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef expectedly condemned the judgement and voiced defiance. “Wait and see what the Brotherhood will do,” he told news agencies.

International human rights groups have slammed the conduct of the trial, with London-based Amnesty International calling the sentences “a perversion of justice” and demanding the men be released and retried in a civilian court.

The men were first detained in December 2006 after 50 students from Al-Azhar University staged a militia-style demonstration, sparking fears that the group was seeking to revive its military wing. The demonstrators wore masks similar to those of Hamas and Hizbullah, prompting a government investigation into whether the Brotherhood had resurrected its militia. The group repeatedly denied the march denoted a revival of paramilitary activities, claiming the students acted without prior consultation with Brotherhood leaders and that the protest was in response to the exclusion of candidates from Student Union elections.

Following the arrests the prosecutor- general ordered the confiscation of the property of the defendants while President Mubarak ordered that the 40 civilians be tried by a military tribunal. While Brotherhood members have routinely appeared before military courts, as is allowed under the 1981 emergency law, the year-long trial is the largest in several years.

The Brotherhood won 88 out of 454 People”s Assembly seats in the 2005 elections, with its candidates running as independents. Tuesday”s verdict is viewed by many as part of the regime”s ongoing reaction to the Brotherhood”s electoral success and an emboldened leadership that has increasingly voiced defiance and refuses to engage in politics away from a religious agenda.

The group issued the manifesto for the political party it is seeking to form. The agenda was replete with articles that were seen as discriminating against women and Christians, and placed great emphasis on how to turn Egypt into an Islamic state.

The popular unrest starting from calls for a 6 April strike and which resulted in riots in Mahala over rising food prices and stagnant wages is likely to have contributed to the regime”s decision to exercise zero tolerance towards the group though the Brotherhood had deliberately tried to distance itself from any industrial action.