Islamists receive mixed signals from government
|Saturday, April 22,2006 00:00|
|By Pakinam Amer, Daily Star|
The government has been sending mixed signals to Islamist groups, with state security arresting members of the Muslim Brotherhood almost simultaneously with the release of hundreds of members of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya. With Islamists caught between random detentions, crackdowns and releases, the state of the emergency law has been vehemently debated, with the government strongly suggesting its extension and the opposition putting forth a united front to oppose the notion.
Earlier this month, security forces arrested around eight Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Essam El-Erian, Brotherhood spokesperson, told Al-Jazeera that the leaders were taken away as they sat eating in a restaurant in Alexandria. Among those arrested, according to El-Erian’s statement, was prominent Brotherhood leader Helmi Al-Gazzar; “a local leader in Cairo who was also picked up during a wave of demonstrations last year and jailed for five months.”
At least 43 students were rounded up in Assiut University for suspected affiliation with the Brotherhood, bringing the number of detained university students to 120.
According to Al-Jazeera’s Web site, another local Brotherhood leader, Hassan Al-Brens, was arrested in the latest sweep. Former crackdowns by security forces in January had included 70-year-old senior member and Cairo university professor Rashad Al-Bayoumi, among 30 others.
Around a month earlier, Abdul Munem Mahmoud, a Brotherhood official was quoted by Al-Jazeera as saying that some protest organizers were arrested during a raid on their Cairo apartments. According to Mahmoud, security forces broke into the apartment and arrested some young men who were taken to “an unknown destination." The youth were student activists who had participated in street protests over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a manner they deemed disrespectful.
In a recent unexpected move, shortly after they had been detained, all university students, including the newly rounded up Assiut students, were freed.
In another turnaround, this Wednesday the government arrested 22 militants suspected of masterminding bomb attacks on “tourist targets, a gas pipeline near Cairo and Muslim and Christian religious leaders,” said Reuters. The militants are reportedly members of a group calling itself The Victorious. According to the Reuters report, the detained include 10 students, an Islamic preacher and the owner of a computer shop.
In response, opposition voices – with the Muslim Brotherhood and Kefaya (Enough) movement topping the list – said the government uses incidents such as Islamic militancy and sectarian violence as an excuse to extend the emergency law, with some calling the proposed anti-terror bill “the emergency law with a new name.”
The Muslim Brotherhood has launched a campaign against the extension of the law, led by its supreme guide and leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef. During a press conference, Akef said that the afflictions the country is passing through are all a result of the lack of freedom. According to the leader, the emergency laws have aggravated the situation by creating and heightening tensions.
Reportedly 114 upper-house members have formed a formal front against the state of emergency, and the parliamentarians called on human rights groups to join them.
The emergency law was enacted in 1981 following the assassination of former President Anwar El-Sadat and has been renewed every three years ever since.
Under the emergency law, Egyptian security can carry out arrests without legal permits and hold detainees for as long as six months without trial. Detentions can be renewed every 45 days.
According to the government’s Web site, cases of terrorism and threats to national security are taken to military or state security emergency courts, “in which the accused do not receive all the constitutional protections of the civilian judicial system.” Under the same law, protests, sit-ins and gatherings without state security authorization are prohibited.
According to Ikhwanweb.com, the official Brotherhood Web site, the campaign against the emergency law kicked off on Thursday when 10,000 university students “marked the occasion through a series of coordinated angry demonstrations denouncing emergency laws and rejecting the security apparatus’ meddling in academic affairs.” The protests were reportedly organized by political and national forces from Cairo, Helwan, Alexandria, Assiut and several other governorates.
The Brotherhood has recently been more vocal about their demands in parliament, where they now constitute the bulk of opposition. Several leaders have announced the group’s need for legitimacy in order to be an authorized player in the political arena.
The group calls for a governmental system based on Islamic decree and, according to their published initiative, is “fair” to all members of society; Muslim or non-Muslim. Brotherhood-affiliated upper-house members have often been critical of National Democratic Party policies. In the latest upper-house sessions, movement representatives pressed for the elimination of the decades-long emergency law.
This week President Hosni Mubarak hinted to the press that an extension of the emergency law before it expires next June would be preferable. Mubarak was quoted by Reuters as saying that a nearly two-year gap between the expiration of the emergency laws and new anti-terror bill due to delays in legislation would be a “serious danger."
On another hand, last week, around 900 members of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, including leader Nageh Ibrahim, were released. Several press reports also predicted the release of the famous brothers Aboud El-Zommor and Tarek El-Zommor, indicted for masterminding and carrying out the assassination of former President Anwar El-Sadat in 1981.
According to Mamdouh Ismail, El-Zommor’s principal lawyer, the two brothers finished their 20-year prison sentence in 2001 and a court order has been issued for their release. However, they are still detained without further charges and their release is dependent on a direct order from the Ministry of Interior.
“It is a matter of time,” Ismail said. “I expect that Aboud and Tarek would be out soon… Hundreds of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya members are being released gradually.” The lawyer hinted that the government had been “more lenient” with members of Al-Jamaa as the latter has revised their doctrine. Ismail was previously quoted as saying that the release of the political detainees would be “an act of good will and send a positive message to Islamist groups.”
Nevertheless, around 2,000 Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya members are still behind bars. Families of the detained have protested many times claiming their loved ones were being held without charges or trial.
“It is true that some of the detainees are illegally imprisoned. Some were tried, were proven innocent but still remained in jail. Some were held for 10 or 15 years,” said Ismail.
“These people have renounced violence and use of arms… They do not want any more clashes with the government,” added Ismail.
Some detained members of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya have written books from jail. The Ministry of Interior published one of their books at their own expense (according to the principal Muslim Brotherhood lawyer).
One of the books called The Strategy of Al-Qaeda Bombings: The Mistakes and Dangers was co-written by eight of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya members as they served their sentences. In this book, the authors said that violence, bombings and killing innocents was abhorred by Islam.
“Is it beneficial to anyone to rage a religious war, while the Muslim nation is separated and regressed [in comparison to other nations]?” read one line in the book. “Doesn’t Islamic jurisprudence include more effective, yet less violent ways involving fewer clashes, for reformation and for facing challenges?”
Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya allegedly carried out the assassination of El-Sadat, after merging with the militant Al-Jihad Al-Islami group. The former group was also responsible for triggering terror in the 1990s, in one instance launching an attack against tourists in Luxor in 1997.