10 - 16 August 2000
Issue No. 494
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Campaigning carefullyBy Amira Howeidy
Despite the arrest of more than 550 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, including 20 leading activists who are being tried by a military court, the group says it will run in the November parliamentary elections. This time, however, it will field fewer candidates than it did in the past, and they will run individually -- not as a group united by a single strategy.
"The political climate is reason for pessimism," said leading Brotherhood figure Essam El-Eryan, former assistant secretary-general of the Doctors' Syndicate. "How can anyone draw up strategies?" he asked.
With only three months to go before the elections -- the nation's most important political event -- political parties and groups have begun to publicise their platforms.
But the outlawed group is a special case. The mere fact of its intention to compete in the elections, some analysts believe, has triggered the major security crack-down on its members that started last October. The charges are usually: propagating the ideology of an illegal group, endangering security and attempting to infiltrate and control various professional syndicates, political organisations and sectors of the population.
The arrests aside, the Brotherhood has lost its major electoral ally for over a decade, the Islamist-oriented Labour Party, which had its activities suspended in May by the Political Parties Committee and faces the possibility of being dissolved.
As a result, the banned group will not participate in the coming elections in large numbers. Last week, the Brotherhood announced that this year it will field less than half the number of candidates it put forth for the 1995 elections. After a security dragnet that preceded the last elections, only 150 Brotherhood candidates nationwide ran for seats in 1995. This year, approximately 75 are expected to run.
Those who were arrested and put on trial in 1995 were released earlier this year. Although they represent the Brotherhood's most sophisticated cadres politically and professionally, it is highly unlikely that they will risk losing their newly-regained freedom by running in the November poll.
"It's a very difficult decision to make," El-Eryan, a former member of parliament, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Even if they decide to run, they could be legally prevented from participating in the elections. El-Eryan explained that if the government enforces the second article of the law regulating the exercise of political rights -- which denies these to people convicted in criminal cases -- "this leaves people like me with no rights at all."
Ma'moun El-Hodeibi, the deputy of the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide, will run for the third time in the Cairo constituency of Doqqi.
Predictably, he objected to the government's action in rounding up over 550 members of the group.
"The security forces are arresting people apparently as a pre-emptive measure," he said.
Twenty Brotherhood figures, who are prominent members of several professional syndicates, are standing trial before a military court which is expected to hand down verdicts on 3 September. These activists are charged with planning to revive the group's activities and infiltrate and gain control of syndicates.
Asked if the sentencing of those on trial might affect the organisation's strategy or plans for the parliamentary elections, El-Hodeibi replied, "We don't see why we should link the trial with anything else. Arrests happen all the time and anyone can be arrested."
"We have failed to comprehend the reason for the government's clamp-down. Is it related to the parliamentary elections or the Bar Association elections or the elections of the other professional syndicates? Or is it due to entirely different reasons of which we are unaware?" he asked.
Interestingly, the waves of arrests, whether those which preceded the 1995 elections or those conducted since have spared the top leadership of the Brotherhood. El-Hodeibi was neither arrested nor directly harassed in the elections of 1995. Eager to dispel any intimation that he received special treatment, El-Hodeibi said, "I can't think of a reason why I am perhaps considered a special case. I can be arrested any time."
He ruled out the possibility that the Brotherhood might revoke its decision to participate in the elections to avoid police harassment and arrests. "We would never do that," he said. "We will not be passive because if we want fair elections we have to fight for them. That's what other nations did and they finally achieved them."
So despite statements such as "we have no strategy for the elections and we're not running as a group," the Brotherhood will definitely not miss the coming elections, whether for the People's Assembly or professional syndicates. Says El-Hodeibi: "Why should we withdraw? To leave the stage for the government? Isn't this what they want?"
If El-Eryan decides to seek a parliamentary seat, he'll run in a Giza constituency. But he refuses to announce whether or not he will take the plunge. However, he stressed the "right" of the Brotherhood to "stand for the parliamentary elections because in this nation we are partners."