Alexandria four reappear
Serene Assir reports on the continued detention of four Muslim Brotherhood members accused of links with Al-Qaeda
Cairo-based observers have criticised accusations against four Alexandria- based students that they established links with Al-Qaeda. "The students are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. That cancels any possibility they intended to participate in violent activity since the Brotherhood renounced violence long ago," claimed Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies expert Amr Elshobky.
The four students, who disappeared in July, were brought before the Higher State Security prosecution for questioning last week, ending a month of speculation over their whereabouts. According to the defendants' lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, they are being held at Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo.
The prosecution charges that the men, all in their early 20s, are members of a terrorist cell. According to case documents leaked to the Egyptian independent daily Al-Masry Al-Yom, they are accused of contacting Al-Qaeda operatives in Algeria with the aim of helping forge passports that would allow operatives to Syria and then to Iraq to carry out combat operations against the US-led occupation. They have also been accused, according to Al-Masry Al-Yom, of declaring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak an apostate.
In addition to the four, five non- Egyptians stand accused of seeking to establish a terrorist cell in Egypt. They include Adel Farag Al-Darmali, a Libyan, two of his compatriots, and two Syrians.
All nine deny the charges. The four Alexandria-based students say only that they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"One of the Egyptian defendants, Mohamed Assem Mohamed, is Al-Darmali's cousin. It is probably because of suspicions connected to Al-Darmali that the four students have been dragged into the case and not because there is any evidence against them," says Abdel-Maqsoud.
Al-Masry Al-Yom reports that Al-Darmali attempted to use a forum held in the Alexandria area by Essam El-Erian who heads the group's political section as a platform to recruit extremists. El-Erian, who has been repeatedly detained, was arrested once again on 17 August.
"It is absurd to suggest that El-Erian, who has been outspoken in his criticism of violence, is somehow linked to Al-Qaeda. It is clearly a politically- motivated fabrication," insists Abdel-Maqsoud.
Ministry of Interior officials contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly declined to comment on the case.
The arrests occurred during the ongoing crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. According to international rights watchdog Amnesty International, 500 members of the banned organisation are now believed to be in state custody. A controversy is currently raging over the use of military tribunals to try 40 members of the organisation after a criminal court acquitted 17 of them of money laundering charges. Among the accused are two members of the People's Assembly.
The crackdown against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, says Elshobky, signals a deepening of the repression of political expression in Egypt. "The government doesn't need to look for excuses such as Al-Qaeda to undermine personal freedoms, it is already active enough in that field. Such cases do, though, help in the government's pursuit of campaigns against the opposition in general."
As for accusations that the four young men were preparing to travel to Iraq, Elshobky points out it is small, individually driven organisations, mostly based outside Egypt, that are preparing fighters, not large organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. "Non-Iraqis travelling to Iraq may sympathise with what we know about Al-Qaeda's ideas but I believe such decisions are more likely based on the initiative of the individual not any organisation."