Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 August - 5 September 2007
Issue No. 860
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Stand off escalates

The confrontation between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood has reached new levels, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Click to view caption
Brotherhood MPs plan to use the next parliamentary session to attack Nazif's government

The Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc will use the next session of the People's Assembly to launch a scathing attack on the record of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. Saad El-Katatni, the bloc's parliamentary spokesman, said the Brotherhood's 88 deputies would join forces with 22 independent MPs to form a coalition of 100 deputies against the government. Their campaign, planned for November, will use all of parliament's supervisory tools in an attempt to embarrass cabinet ministers over a range of sensitive issues including torture in police stations and prison cells, the privatisation of Banque du Caire and the phasing out of energy subsidies. The Brotherhood will also seek to use the forthcoming parliamentary session to express their solidarity with the Islamist movement Hamas in Palestine.

Sayed Askar, an Al-Azhar cleric and Brotherhood MP, says the bloc will also oppose any law that might aim at banning female mutilation. "Cutting must be upheld because it is an Islamic practice," he said.

El-Katatni also indicated that "the Brotherhood will take a stand against television programmes during the holy month of Ramadan." "These programmes disseminate immorality and help distract people from performing their duties during the holy month," said Brotherhood MP Mohamed Abdel-Rahman.

The Brotherhood's announcement of its plans follows last week's government crackdown against the group which has upped the ante in the year-long standoff between security forces and the Brotherhood.

The crackdown began with the arrest of 16 Brotherhood leaders, including Essam El-Erian, Mahmoud Hussein, Ahmed Omar and businessman Nabil Moqbil, whose son is married to film star Adel Imam's daughter. El-Erian has been arrested five times in recent years, and had been released just three months ago. Police forces accused El-Erian and other Brotherhood leaders of belonging to an outlawed organisation and plotting to overthrow the regime. A few hours before the arrests the police had also detained mid-ranking Brotherhood leaders in Alexandria and Sharqiya governorates. In the meantime, former Brotherhood MP Gamal Heshmat was barred from travelling to Sudan.

The biggest blow, however, came on 22 August when Sabri Amer and Ragab Abu Zeid, two Brotherhood MPs from the Delta governorate of Menoufiya, were arrested. Amer and Abu Zeid were stripped of parliamentary immunity last May so that they could be interrogated on charges of attempting to revive the activities of an outlawed group. Meanwhile, President Hosni Mubarak warned that "some religious movements aim to turn the clock back."

"The state will show no mercy to a handful of people who are doing their best to tarnish the image and the achievements of the Egyptian people," Mubarak told the weekly Akhbar Al-Yom. "Freedom does not mean chaos or allowing illegal practices."

Mubarak's warnings were echoed by Interior Minister Habib El-Adli who accused the Brotherhood of doing its best to tarnish the image of policemen.

"Recently they have tried their best to propagate the notion that torture is rampant in police stations, thus inciting people against the government and spreading sedition," said El-Adli.

The daily Al-Ahram reported on 25 August that the Brotherhood had reached a deal with four independent daily papers to publish "their allegations and lies against the government and the regime".

"Under the deal," wrote Ahmed Moussa, Al-Ahram 's Interior Ministry correspondent, "the dailies will spearhead the Brotherhood's malicious campaign against the government and Interior Ministry and in return the Brothers have agreed to take out advertising and guaranteed their members will buy more than 100,000 copies daily." The Brotherhood's ultimate objective, wrote Moussa, is to overthrow the regime and turn Egypt into a theocratic state.

Although Amer and Abu Zeid were released a few hours after their arrest, the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc quickly mobilised in their defence. Following their release a press conference was held at which Brotherhood MPs argued the arrest of the two men was intended as "an insult to the People's Assembly". They said police forces searched the two MPs' homes, showing no respect for their position as parliamentary deputies. The bloc urged parliamentary speaker Fathi Sorour to protect MPs against police violations. "Speaker Sorour should take a stand against the ghoulish powers of the executive authority and its repeated assaults on the legislative authority," said El-Katatni.

The Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc vowed that a delegation would soon head to Geneva to file a complaint with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. "We will also appeal to the African and Euro-Mediterranean parliaments to take a stand against the violation of the rights of Egyptian MPs," said El-Katatni.

El-Katatni believes, "the main goal of the recent anti-Brotherhood crackdown is to force the Brotherhood's MPs to resign from parliament."

"We will never help the regime achieve this goal," said El-Katatni. "Instead we will use the next parliamentary session to embarrass the regime and expose how it has failed the Egyptian people."

"The Brotherhood is in favour of political stability in Egypt and does not have plans to incite the people on the street against the regime... the Egyptian street is boiling and still we prefer using parliament as a legal window for expressing our ideas," said El-Katatni.

Independent observers believe the recent escalation of the clampdown against the Brothers was sparked when it unveiled plans to establish a party programme. The programme, published three weeks ago by one of the four independent dailies, calls for a democratic state to be set up within an Islamic framework. Amr Elshobaki, of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), argues that the crackdown is a pre-emptive strike aimed at preventing the Brotherhood from further disseminating its programme.

El-Katatni suggests a link between the crackdown and current internal elections within the NDP.

"NDP leaders believe that the announcement of the Brotherhood's party programme was aimed at sidelining their own elections and party congress due next November."

El-Katatni also sees a connection between the renewed attack against the Brotherhood and the recommendation two weeks ago by the UK House of Commons that the British government open a dialogue with Islamist movements including Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

"By launching this crackdown the government wants to send a message to other governments that it will not cave in to foreign pressure and will never condone the activities of the Brotherhood," said El-Katatni.

The Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef believes that after failing to tackle several recent crises, most notably inadequate supplies of potable water, the government is now seeking to deflect attention from its failures.

"They want to channel popular anger at their poor performance towards the Brotherhood," said Akef. "We do not have red lines but we urge the people to take a stand against all these police practices."

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