Al-Ahram Weekly Online
15 - 21 November 2001
Issue No.560
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Brotherhood faces WTC fallout

The fallout of the 11 September attacks against the United States has begun to hit Egypt's largest political Islamist group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, reports Khaled Dawoud

Leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said they were "astonished" to find Al-Taqua Bank -- reportedly run by key Brotherhood figures -- on the US Treasury Department's list of banks suspected of being linked to Osama Bin Laden's financial network.

On 7 November, Swiss police, working alongside colleagues from the United States and Italy, questioned two businessmen -- an Egyptian and a Syrian -- for several hours over their alleged links to Bin Laden's Al-Qa'eda group which is suspected of carrying out the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington. The two men, Egyptian Youssef Nada and Syrian Ali Hemmat, were later released. They were named as managers of Nada Management, a financial transactions company which, Swiss authorities say, had recently changed its name from Al-Taqua Management Co.

Better known as Al-Taqua Bank, the organisation was established more than 10 years ago. It had a committee of prominent Muslim scholars to make sure that the bank's dealings conformed to Islamic teachings that prohibit interest, equating it with usury. The scholars were led by Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi, who has long been known to have close connections with the Brotherhood.

In statements to Al-Ahram Weekly, former Brotherhood MP Essam El-Eryan confirmed that Youssef Nada "had historic links with the Brotherhood." However, El- Eryan pointed out that "Nada is over 70 years old and left Egypt nearly 50 years ago. Since then, he has become a professional banker and a successful businessman." He did not believe that detaining Nada could serve any useful purpose. "You can't pursue everybody just because at one stage he had links with the Brotherhood," he said.

The London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat reported on Saturday that Nada had very strong links with the Brotherhood's leadership, including connections with Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhour and his deputy Mamoun El-Hodeibi. Nada chartered a special flight to Cairo "a few years ago" to fly key Brotherhood figures to Geneva to attend a wedding, according to the newspaper.

According to experts on Islamist groups, financial backing from expatriate followers has been a key factor in the Brotherhood's survival despite heavy government-dealt blows over past decades. After the falling- out between late President Gamal Abdel- Nasser and the Brotherhood in 1954, many of its figures sought refuge in Arab countries -- particularly Saudi Arabia -- and in Europe. Germany was a key centre of financial activities for the Brotherhood, and security sources claim that the so-called "international leadership" of the group is based there. Brotherhood members ran successful businesses in several countries, the proceeds from which helped support the group's activities in Egypt.

El-Eryan strongly condemned US actions in placing the Taqua Co. on its list of suspects. "It seems that the Americans have gone crazy and are running after anything Islamic," he said. "The failure of their attacks against Afghanistan has rendered them unable to think properly, and they are simply taking measures against everybody." El-Eryan added that Al- Taqua Bank has been defunct for more than two years, after suffering major losses during the South East Asian financial crisis.

El-Eryan also denied any link between the Brotherhood and Bin Laden, adding that the group strongly condemned the 11 September attacks immediately after they took place. The Brotherhood has several differences of opinion with the Saudi dissident, he said.

Meanwhile, Brotherhood sources did not exclude the possibility that there may be a link between the police crackdown against group members and developments in Afghanistan. Last week, police arrested 21 Brotherhood members, including doctors, engineers and university professors, in Cairo and the Nile Delta town of Zagazig.

In a swift move, President Hosni Mubarak decided on Monday that the 21 suspects would be tried by a military court. Sentences issued by military courts cannot be appealed, according to the Emergency Law, which has been in effect in Egypt since 1981. Muslim Brotherhood leaders now fear that more members of the groups who were arrested in earlier crackdowns will also be referred to military courts, known for their speedy procedures and harsh sentences. No date has yet been announced for the new trial.

Among those arrested on 6 November were Mahmoud Ghozlan, an agronomy professor at Zagazig University. Security sources claimed that Ghozlan was "Number three in the Brotherhood's leadership after Mashhour and El-Hodeibi." According to these sources, Ghozlan was the secretary- general of the Guidance Bureau (the Brotherhood's highest decision-making body) and he "knows many group secrets."

Prosecutors ordered the 21 Brotherhood members to be remanded in custody for 15 days pending investigation before Mubarak announced his decision to refer them to a military court on Monday. They were charged with seeking to "incite public opinion by exploiting the ongoing US military campaign against Afghanistan to criticise the government's foreign and internal policies."

Since the United States military campaign started on 7 October, the Brotherhood has organised several peaceful protest demonstrations at Al-Azhar Mosque. Experts believe the government's latest wave of arrests of Brotherhood figures was a "pre- emptive measure" to discourage further demonstrations.

In May, police arrested 36 Brotherhood members in Assiut. Their period of detention was prolonged several times under the Emergency Law . A similar crackdown took place in mid-July in Giza when police arrested 25 members of the group.

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