President Husni Mubarak stepped up his assault on the Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Egypt earlier this month by issuing a presidential decree transferring the cases of 20 of the movement’s most senior and prominent members, who were arrested last month, from the civil court system to military courts. He also authorised the military prosecutor to add more names to the list of those arrested, giving rise to fears that more members may be targeted.
The current crackdown, the most severe since 1995, began on October 15, when 20 of the Ikhwan’s most senior and prominent members were arrested under emergency laws in force since 1981, when president Anwar Sadat was assassinated. The move has alarmed even the Ikhwan’s political opponents, who have condemned the moves and demanded that the prisoners be granted their full constitutional rights.
The arrests themselves constituted a serious violation of the constitutional rights of the men and their organizations. They include a former member of parliament, Mukhtar Nooh, and senior officials of the doctors’, veterinarians’ and engineers’ unions ( known as syndicates). Sixteen of them were arrested when security police raided a lawful meeting at the head office of the engineers’ union on October 15 and confiscated documents. The other four were arrested at their homes. All of them were then accused 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’.
Although some of the charges carry the death sentence, it was initially thought the reason for the arrests had more to do with preventing the men from standing for the approaching parliamentary and syndicate elections - the idea being to break the Ikhwan’s grip on the professional unions - than destroying the organization or hanging the men.
But now that the case has been put under military jurisdiction, and the green light has been given to military prosecutors to arrest more Ikhwan members as they see fit, the ruthlessness of the move has alarmed a wide circle of Egyptian politicians. Even members of the Nasserite Arab Democratic Party (ADP), who are opposed to the Ikhwan, have now spoken out against an unnecessary crackdown that may eventually be extended to them.
Ahmad Abdul Hafeez, a lawyer and member of the ADP’s political committee, called in a statement published on November 7 for solidarity with the Ikhwan, despite their ‘opportunism and suspect roles’.
“Anyone following the investigations relating to the security campaign knows that there are no signs of guilt based on acceptable evidence, and that the matter merely represents the authorities’ desire to deprive them of their constitutional right to contest elections and to stand for the professional unions’ elections, which the government has finally allowed to be held’, the statement said.
But Abdul Hafeez also strongly criticized the Ikhwan, accusing them of resorting to unfair means to secure their grip on the professional unions, and of being opportunistic to the extent of maintaining secret ties with government officials. It is clear that he cannot openly criticize the government without attacking its victims, although he is anxious to defend his right to stand for elections.
In fact, by attacking the Ikhwan’s grip on the professional; unions, he appears to justify Mubarak’s attempt to end it. It was after all Jamal Abdul Nasser who banned the Ikhwan in 1954 and executed its chief scholar, Syed Qutb.
But if Mubarak, by stepping up his crackdown, was hoping to goad the Ikhwan into open revolt, he must be very disappointed. Mustapha Mashhur, the organization’s murshid (guide), has flatly said in newspaper interview that the Ikhwan are not planning any counteraction outside the law, while strongly defending the innocence of the leaders under arrest.
In an interview with the Asharq al-Awsat Arabic daily, on November 4, the murshid said: ‘On our side we do not want any escalation and, of course, we do not have the means to deter them. All I want to say is that we will not take any counteraction against that decision’.
The growing suspicion now is that Mubarak, having declared the defeat of Egypt’s ‘Islamic terrorists’ earlier in the year, is now looking to create a new bogeyman in order to justify his continued suppression of all opposition in the country, even if that bogeyman is in fact nothing more dangerous than a moderate political movement committed to working within the system. The Ikhwan has a record of opposing revolutionary activism, and Mubarak may well one day regret not treating it more gently.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999