Charges and accusations mark turbulent year for Muslim Brotherhood
|Sunday, December 30,2007 19:02|
If 2005 was a landmark year for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as they succeeded in becoming the biggest opposition bloc in parliament, 2007 is a year the group might like to forget in a hurry.
The MB end the year in much the same way they started it, with senior members facing numerous charges before a military tribunal after having been subjected to a series of mass arrests along with the freezing of many members’ assets.
What raised the government’s ire against the Brotherhood was an event that took place on the eve of 2007, when in December, a group of Al-Azhar university students affiliated with the group held a military-style demonstration replete with uniforms and combat maneuvers.
Although senior members of the group distanced themselves from the act, it was seen by many as an aggressive statement of intent.
The students in question were immediately detained, to be released the following February. By then it was open season on the group.
Immediately after that came the arrest of three businessmen and two owners of publishing houses with ties to the Brotherhood. Additionally, that same month the MB had declared their wish to turn into a political party — albeit without going through the legal procedure required by the government — triggering speculations and debates about the group’s stance on internal and external political concerns including the use of violence, Coptic rights and the role of women in society.
By the end of 2006, 40 members of the group had been arrested on numerous charges, including terrorism, belonging to a banned group and money laundering charges. One of those arrested was the group’s chief financier and third in command Mohammed Khayrat Al-Shater.
The arrests continued and the charges piled up, with the government seizing up to LE 1.5 billion in MB members’ personal assets. A military trial for 40 of the senior members began in April.
The crackdown continued however, with 14 members arrested in May in Sharqiya governorate for allegedly holding a secret organizational meeting, according to the security sources.
By the middle of 2007, talk had begun to emerge of divisions within the group between older members and the younger generation which was seeking a different approach. The rumors were denied by the group’s deputy head Mohamed Habib in June, but still they persisted.
A move which further inflamed the government took place in June when the leader of the MB opposition bloc in parliament met with an American congressional delegation visiting Egypt. The government accused the US of double standards towards outlawed Islamic groups by freezing out completely Hamas in Palestine but meeting with the Egypt’s Brotherhood.
The military trial rolled on, despite heightened health concerns, especially for Al-Shater, who is a diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems and whose family complained was being denied adequate treatment while incarcerated.
In August the trial was briefly adjourned due to missing evidence, but was resumed and that month saw the detention of another prominent MB leader Essam El-Erian. The case against the 40 members had been previously dismissed in a civil court but had been transferred to a military by presidential decree.
A further 13 members were arrested in December for holding another meeting, this time in the province of Sohag.
However in mid-December, the court trying the 40 senior members announced it was dropping some of the charges against the group, such as terrorism and money laundering but still faced charges of belonging to a banned group and running businesses on its behalf.
Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad had repeatedly condemned Egypt’s policy of trying civilians before military courts, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts with no possibility of appeal — except for asking the president for clemency. Throughout the year, local and foreign observers, including Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and the media have been denied access to the court sessions.
As 2007 draws to a close, the trial is still ongoing, the MB ends the year as it started it: in the dock.