|Saturday, August 25,2007 09:07|
|By Amira Howeidy|
In the lazy month of August when Egypt is slumbering away what remains of the long, hot summer and the local press has little to report on, an unexpected series of security clampdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a fifth of the seats in parliament, over the past week has had the effect of a rock thrown into still waters.
The first police operation started on the evening of 16 August and targeted 16 Brotherhood members, including leader Essam El-Erian who heads the groups political section and a number of academics and university professors.
The police raided an apartment in the middle- class district of Mohandessin where the men were present and also arrested their host Nabil Moqbel, an affluent businessman and in-law of film star Adel Imam.
The state security prosecutor remanded all 16 men in custody for 15 days pending investigations, accusing them of belonging to an illegal organisation and plotting to overthrow the regime.
Among the 16, the name of El-Erian has raised eyebrows because this would be his fifth detention under the countrys emergency law. In 1995, he was among a group of Brotherhood leaders referred to military courts and sentenced to five years of hard labour.
El-Erian was most recently arrested in 2006 while on his way to participate in a solidarity demonstration with judges demanding guarantees of an independent judiciary.
A member of the 1984 and 1987 parliaments, and assistant secretary-general of the Doctors Syndicate, El-Erian was a key player in the Brotherhoods brief political flourishing in the 1980s.
During his long period of imprisonment from 1995 onwards, El-Erian, who graduated from medical school and obtained an MS in clinical pathology and a degree in law, enrolled at Al-Azhars Faculty of Islamic Sharia and Law and the Faculty of Arts History Department.
Although not a member of the Guidance Council, the Brotherhoods highest body, El-Erian, an eloquent and savvy politician, enjoys great leverage within the group and is one of its more famous figures who is constantly sought by the media.
According to reports published in the state- run media, a team from the public prosecutors office which is investigating the case said that the Mohandessin gathering was part of a series of meetings the Brotherhood was holding to prepare for the groups internal elections.
These elections, said reports, were to be held within the Guidance Council. The group was holding organisational meetings, the reports said, in violation of the emergency law which bans meetings of more than five people.
An unidentified senior security source told the daily Arabic Al-Ahram on 19 August that El-Erian was planning to contest these elections because he felt his membership in the Guidance Council was overdue.
Two days after the Cairo raid, security forces arrested 18 more members and leaders of the group on 19 August in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and in Sharqiya governorate. On the same day a military court resumed its trial of 40 Brotherhood leaders, including the groups deputy supreme guide and wealthy businessman Khayrat El-Shater, who were arrested last December.
Facing charges of money laundering, belonging to an illegal organisation and attempting to revive the Brotherhoods paramilitary wing, the men were referred to a military tribunal. This was followed by a decision to freeze the assets of 29 of the 40 accused.
The military court held its fifth session on 19 August when it listened to the only witness in the case, Atef El-Husseini, a State Security Investigation (SSI) officer. Media representatives and representatives of local and international human rights groups, in addition to the defendants families, were prevented from attending the trial.
According to the Brotherhoods defence team, El-Husseini could not answer the courts questions without reading from a notebook he had with him. Following the defence teams protests, the court postponed the trial to 21 August.
These clampdowns on the group coincide with the Brotherhoods plans to release its platform for a political party for the first time since the groups establishment in 1938. A draft of the long-awaited programme was leaked to the media two weeks ago, triggering a wave of reactions from political pundits.
According to Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a member of the Brotherhoods Guidance Council, the arrests have not affected the groups plans, and the final copy of the programme should be released to the public within a month.
Brotherhood leaders say they will not present this platform to the Political Parties Committee to acquire the licence required to establish a state-recognised party because the committee turns down the vast majority of requests presented to it.
For Abul-Fotouh, the notion of devising a political party platform is a futile act because there is no political life or transition of power in Egypt, and what the Brotherhood is doing is simply an act which I dont agree with.
Asked if he saw a link between the recent clampdown and the Brotherhoods platform, Abul-Fotouh said the group is always the subject of security crackdowns aiming to weaken it.
There is never a real, valid or logical reason for the many arrests weve been subject to, and a political party platform isnt going to change that, he said.
Observers, however, find a link between the platform announcement and the arrests.
Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram Weekly that things will get much worse in the months to come.
The Brotherhoods platform in its draft form has already generated wide interest from across the political spectrum, he added. Just wait and see the international attention theyll be getting from hundreds of journalists and researchers interested in the group and in political Islam once the Brotherhood finalises its programme.
Then there is the question of timing. The ruling National Democratic Partys (NDP) annual convention, expected in November, could coincide with the Brotherhoods release of its platform.
The Brotherhood could easily steal the NDPs thunder, and the Brotherhood likes to be under the spotlight, said Rashwan.
But as with every security crackdown, or release of Brotherhood leaders and members, pundits are left guessing the reasons why such raids are carried out.
There is confusion within the establishment on how to deal with the Brotherhood, and there seem to be two wings in the regime with different views on how to handle them, argues Rashwan, which is why well continue to see more arrests, long trials and nothing much changing.
To Abul-Fotouh, the arrests are an unfair and unjust attempt to hit the Brotherhood, yet they make us appear bigger and more important than we really are.