Egyptian president Husni Mubarak’s new regime has arrested 20 of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon’s most senior and prominent members this month, in the most severe crackdown since 1995. They include a former member of parliament, Mukhtar Nooh, and senior officials of the doctors’, veterinarians’ and engineers’ unions (known as syndicates).
The Ikhwan, Egypt’s oldest Islamic movement, is known to be ‘moderate’, and has no links with the militant Islamic organisations that the regime has been fighting. The arrests are probably designed to rob the movement of its most prominent candidates before the parliamentary elections later this month. As the movement is banned, members cannot stand for election in its name.
Most of the arrests were made when security police swooped on a meeting at the head office of the engineers’ union on October 15, arresting sixteen of those present, and confiscating documents. The other four were arrested at their homes.
Those arrestred include Muhammad Ali Bashr, secretary general of the engineers’ union; Dr Sa’ad Zaghlul, secretary general of the Cairo doctors’ union; Dr Muhammad Sa’ad of the Geza doctors’ union; and Dr Hasham al-Suli, member of the council of the engineers’ union in Ismailia.
The men were arrested under emergency laws in force since 1981, when president Anwar Sadat was assassinated. They are liable to be held for six months without trial, and face a further period of detention if the authorities see fit to extend their incarceration. Mubarak has ruled the country since 1981 under these emergency measures, which he shows no sign of repealing, even though he has committed himself to a programme of democratisation following his recent ‘election’ as president for a fourth term of office.
According to the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, more than 200 members of the Ikhwan have been arrested so far this year. But the authorities on the whole have avoided detaining prominent members since 1995, restricting their crackdown to the arrest of junior officials. The latest arrests have involved more senior members, who are accusedï absurdly ï of belonging to a ‘secret outlawed group’, ‘planning to overthrow the system of government’ and ‘infiltrating the professional syndicates to undermine security in the country’. If they are convicted, the men are liable to be executed.
In persecuting the Ikhwan, Mubarak is continuing a tradition started by Jamal Abdul-Nasser, who banned the Ikhwan in 1954 and executed its chief ideologue, Syed Qutb. The Ikhwan are routinely accused of being traitors and terrorists. However, most Egyptians regard them as respectable members of society who are willing to work within the political system in order to reform it.
Ikhwan members are not the only Islamic movement activists being persecuted, of course. Others recently arrested include three ‘Islamist’ journalists, Magdi Husain, the editor of Al-Shaab newspaper, and his colleagues Salah Badeiwi and Assam Hanfi. They were jailed two months ago after being convicted of criminal libel for criticising a government minister.
Magdi had accused Youssef Wali, agricultural and deputy prime minister, of being a ‘traitor’ for signing several agreements with Israel for the supply of seeds and agricultural technology. When Wali took Magdi and his two colleagues to court for libelling him, the judged ruled that their writings had nothing to do with freedom of expression, saying that even if what they had written was true, “their words are still libellous”. The three were sentenced to two years in jail each, and fined a total of some $16,000 between them.
The 20 members of the Ikhwan most recently arrested will face precisely this this sort of judge, who clearly believe that proof of innocence is not in itself enough for an acquittal.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999