After a quarter of a century in power, president Husni Mubarak of Egypt appears not to have learnt how to avoid making damaging decisions on sensitive occasions. Unleashing yet another crackdown on the popular and ‘moderate’ Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, he chose the month of Ramadan as the occasion for expressing his anger. The crackdown also occurred on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Hassan al-Banna, the Ikhwan’s founder. How insensitive Mubarak’s measures are is shown by the fact that they included the prevention of the Ikhwan’s leader and several officials from going to Makkah to perform ‘umrah. The fact that the measures were adopted at a time when Islam, Islamic groups and even ordinary Muslims are under attack throughout the world makes them inexcusable, especially when the assailants include Christian leaders such as the Pope and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, who has described Islam as “violent”.
The first of the recent arrests came on October 12, when the Egyptian security agency ordered the arrest of three members of the Ikhwan in Aswan District (in the south of the country). Muhammad Ashri Ahmed, Hassan Ahmed Yusuf and Muhammad Suleiman Ahmed were charged with being responsible for the establishment of a secret organisation in the district, to which leaders of the Ikhwan belong. At the same time, the state security prosecutors in Cairo rearrested two prominent members of the movement. Dr Issam al-Aryan and Dr Muhammad Mursi were rearrested for 15 days on an old charge. The three arrested in Aswan were charged with belonging to a secret group calling for attacks on the regime.
Two days later, eight Ikhwan activists were seized at dawn in their homes in the Manufia District and taken to secret prisons, Mubarak’s equivalent of president G. W. Bush’s secret ‘security’ jails. Those arrested were Dr Ahmed Zaki al-Khayad, Dr Ibrahim Assayid Ghunaym, Magdi Abdul-Aziz, Usamah Ummar, Ashraf Kamil Rizque, Salah Usman al-Nahrawi, Magdi Saad and Abubakr Saleh.
The Manufia district is the home district of two Egyptian presidents: the late Anwar al-Sadat and Husni Mubarak himself. It is also the location of more supporters of the Ikhwan than any other district. In fact, ten parliamentary seats there are held currently by the Ikhwan, while the ruling party holds only five. This fact may partly explain the zeal with which the security forces seized the eight activists. The Ikhwan is a banned organisation, and its representatives stand in elections as independent candidates. The voters know this and have given more votes to them than to any other candidates who represent permitted political parties. The ruling party owes its control of the People’s Assembly to fraud and victimisation of other contestants. Despite this the Ikhwan holds more seats in the assembly than any other political party, emerging in the process as the most powerful political organisation other than the ruling party.
But president Mubarak totally ignores the 1991 constitution, which provides for the exercise of executive, legislative and judicial powers in the country, although it is thoroughly secular. For instance, it abolished the Shari’ah courts, transferring their functions to the national court system. But the constitution guarantees independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and freedom of movement. But usually any journalist who criticises the president, his son Gamal or the regime is arrested, indicted and convicted, as are those politicians who are members of Islamic groups – and indeed other critics who dare offend Mubarak, particularly by opposing his plan to pass power to his son: as Muhammad Mahdi Akif, the spiritual leader of the Ikhwan and other officials have found to their cost, such as when they were prevented from going to Makkah for ‘umrah.
The authorities told Akif, his secretary Masud al-Subhi, and media advisor Ahmad Izzadin on October 10 that they could not proceed to Makkah. To make sure that they were prevented from travelling, their names were put on a list at Cairo international airport of those not allowed to travel. The move was not only an insult to Akif, a well-known and widely respected leader of the Ikhwan, but also to Islam. Akif condemned the move as unconstitutional and an insult to Islam, declaring that he would not accept the decision as final. Other Ikhwan officials explained that they would take the matter to parliament or the courts on constitutional grounds.
One thing is certain, whatever the decision of parliament or the courts might be. The damage is done and the enemies of Islam and Muslims are likely to exploit the action of the regime for anti-Islamic propaganda purposes. But the damage is also to Mubarak and his regime, as many Egyptians are certain to resent the government’s behaviour. Moreover, the Egyptian people’s sympathy for the Ikhwan is bound to increase as a result. Certainly many Egyptians will now be more critical of Mubarak’s plan to pass political power to Gamal, agreeing with Akif, who confirmed on October 13 that he was firmly opposed to the inheritance of political power.
Mubarak, however, is not likely to climb down, as he is convinced that the only way he can be protected against moves to indict him is to have his son entrenched as a powerful president. He should, however, take Akif’s advice that if Gamal is to become president then he should campaign constitutionally and openly, like any other candidate. But Mubarak is convinced that an open system will ensure the exclusion of any candidate related to him.
Clearly the confrontation between Mubarak and his supporters on the one hand, and the Ikhwan on the other, is bound to intensify. In this confrontation the Ikhwan is entitled not only to the Egyptian people’s support but also to wider Muslim backing. The issue has become more widely Islamic as a result of Mubarak’s recent behaviour, and will be exploited by the enemies of Islam and Muslims worldwide.