Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A legacy of violence

Unpublished documents from the 1940s show that the Muslim Brotherhood has always been unscrupulous in its use of espionage and violence, writes Sherif Aref

A legacy of violence
A legacy of violence
Al-Ahram Weekly

The level of Muslim Brotherhood involvement in the current acts of violence in Egypt is a matter of speculation. But there is no denying that the group Hassan Al-Banna created in Ismailia in 1928 has left an unmistakable trail of bloodshed in the country over the past nine decades or so.

Every single group espousing violence on the Egyptian scene, and often abroad, owes much of its doctrine to the Brotherhood and its ideologues. And the Brotherhood’s habit of attacking army and police stations was in full swing by the 1940s.

When it comes to recent attacks on members of the judiciary, one should also keep in mind that the first assassination of an Egyptian judge, Ahmed Al-Khazendar, was also the Brotherhood’s doing.

Since the 1940s, the group has been involved in many acts of violence against its opponents and critics, a legacy that it has passed on to like-minded outfits. Its vengeance has sometimes been called “armed struggle,” and its intimidation has often masqueraded as “jihad,” but the methods of brutality it has used have been the same: younger members of the Brotherhood have been brainwashed into killing enemies, real or imagined, and smashing the property of minorities and innocent civilians.

In what follows, four hitherto unpublished documents from the 1940s are presented in order to illustrate the pattern of conduct the Brotherhood has adopted and revived of late. These documents may shed light on the intelligence connections between the Brotherhood and foreign powers, as well as its methods of targeting the lives and property of government officials and unarmed civilians.

In my recent book, Al-Ikhwan Fi Malaffat Al-bolis Al-Siyassi (The Muslim Brotherhood in the Files of the Political Police), published by the Ministry of Culture, I argue that the Brotherhood had ties with British intelligence, mounted a campaign of sabotage to destabilise the government, and waged attacks on property owned by Jews and other civilians as part of this campaign.

In 1948 alone, the Brotherhood is believed to have attacked the property of Egyptian Jews, killed judge Ahmed Al-Khazendar, and murdered Prime Minister Mahmoud Al-Noqrashi. At the time of the latter’s murder on 28 December 1948, he was investigating the criminal activities of the Brotherhood. His assassin, a Brotherhood member named Abdel-Maguid Hassan, told investigators that Al-Noqrashi “deserved to die” because of his decision to disband the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tensions between the government and the Brotherhood had been growing for some years. In 1940, the Brotherhood formed an armed wing called Al-Tanzim Al-Khas, or the Special Outfit (SO). According to Mohamed Mahdi Akif, a former Brotherhood general guide, the aim of this was to “prepare a select group to carry out special missions and military operations against the external enemy, with a view to ending the military failures of the Egyptian people.”

Al-Noqrashi, who took office in 1946, ordered an investigation into the SO, the outcome of which led him to disband the group two years later on 8 December 1948.

FIRST DOCUMENT: Dated 28 February 1948, this document is a summary by officials from the political police of a report attributed to the Soviet “propaganda department.”

It says, in part: “Communist cells in Egypt are closely monitoring the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. Reports submitted by some cells indicate that Brotherhood units are starting to obtain arms from the local market in full view of members of the government.

 “Weapons are being stockpiled by members of these [Brotherhood] units who await the opportunity to act against government or non-government targets. Frequent contacts are reported between the Brotherhood Guidance Office and Brotherhood units all over the country, at the behest of the British embassy, to start disturbances among members of the nation against the current regime.

 “It is also known after surveying various areas and comparing them with other elements in terms of members’ sexual integration that the Communist elements have women’s propaganda activities that kick in in many cases where secret missions are needed. It can be said that the Brotherhood has turned into an organisation of internal Communist activities in all of the capitals and main urban centres of the region and that it cannot be matched by any other party.

 “The preacher Ahmad Abdel-Rahim Al-Shahhat has written a report indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood is disseminating anti-government propaganda. Brotherhood members … are writing reports on the level of strength of Egyptian general security in terms of per Al-Noqrashi sonnel and weapons in every police station across the country.

 “[Brotherhood general guide Hassan) Al-Banna … held a meeting with members of the Guidance Office and told them that the Communists were monitoring his movements and that he was taking secret steps towards getting rid of them through exchanges with the political police and the government. The propaganda department prepared a memo about the correspondence exchanged between Hassan Al-Banna and [police chief] Mohamed Bey Imam Ibrahim in this regard.”

Beneath the cloak-and-dagger language characteristic of the post-war political scene, there are important points in this report. One is that the Brotherhood seems to have been in touch with the British Embassy. Another is that it was stockpiling weapons and carrying out surveillance of police and army positions. A third is that it was having a correspondence with the political police on matters related to anti-Communist activities.

SECOND DOCUMENT: Dated 1 May 1948, this is a letter sent by a member of the political police to the chief of public security. The following is an abridged translation.

 “To His Excellency, the chief of the Public Security Department. It is my honour to tell Your Excellency that we have learned, in connection with what has been published in the press about the atrocities committed by the Zionists in Palestine against the Arabs, that the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Youth Society and Young Egypt are preparing to attack Jews living in Egypt, especially the rich, and their businesses, in retaliation for what has happened to the Arabs in Palestine. We have instructed our police teams to take precautions, observe the situation, and protect the lives and businesses of the Jews.”

This was a timely warning, as the Brotherhood — while claiming to be fighting the Zionists in Palestine — conducted frequent attacks on the Jewish community in Egypt. The community was mostly well-integrated into the country and had no visible affiliation with the Zionist movement fighting for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

THIRD DOCUMENT: This seven-page document disproves the Brotherhood claim that Egyptian Jews were generally supportive of the Zionist bid to create a Jewish state in Palestine. It lists the donations made by Jewish individuals and businesses to the Egyptian army during the 1948 war.

The document is entitled “List of the names of the dignitaries of the Israelite community in Cairo who made donations towards the welfare of the soldiers of the Egyptian army.”

According to the document, Dawud Ads, owner of a department store of the same name, and his sons donated LE2,000 (about $130,000 in today’s money). The owners of the Cicurel, Shemla, Gattegno and Benzion department stores also made significant donations.

On 19 July 1948, the Brotherhood reportedly bombed many of the commercial concerns of the Jewish community in Egypt, including several branches of the above-mentioned stores.

FOURTH DOCUMENT: Dated 22 May 1948, this is a report by Sherif Al-Abd, an Ismailia-based political police officer, to the Egyptian chief of public security. The following is an abridged translation.

 “To His Excellency, the director-general of the Department of Public Security. Acting on Your Excellency’s instructions to keep a close watch on the activities of Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna upon his expected arrival in Ismailia on 20 May and on any communication between Al-Banna and British intelligence officer Les [sic], I wish to inform Your Excellency that Major Les was transferred from Egypt in October 1947 and has joined the staff of the British embassy in Paris. The office of his replacement, Major Sommors, was put under surveillance as of the morning of the given date. Until 6 pm on the given date, no one had arrived.

 “I kept watch on Major Sommers and another intelligence officer from 7 pm till 12 midnight on the given date, having invited them to have dinner with me at the French Club in Ismailia. Helping me in this surveillance operation was the chief of the political police in Ismailia, who sent two detectives to keep watch on the places and houses that Al-Banna may frequent upon his arrival in Ismailia until 11 pm on the given date, but he didn’t show up.”

 “I didn’t observe anything out of the ordinary on the part of Major Sommers. I would like to take this opportunity to inform Your Excellency that we have noticed that Ismailia is becoming an area of great importance because of the concentration of British troops and the presence of major foreign communities there, and the fact that it is on the road to Palestine.

 “Our department, which is monitoring political and sectarian activities, has also been sorely tested by the excessive work and lacks adequate personnel and transportation.”

This correspondence indicates the level of concern the government had over potential communication between the Brotherhood and the British, and how its resources were stretched to the limit in an attempt to keep law and order in the Ismailia area just days after the army went to war in Palestine.

In July and August 1948, bombs went off in Cairo targeting mostly businesses owned by the Jewish community. The Cicurel, Benzion and Gattegno stores were among the targets.

Writing around that time, Deputy Interior Minister Abdel-Rahman Ammar said that the Brotherhood “aims to take power through the use of force and terror and is using criminal activities to achieve its goals.”

He added that the Brotherhood had “trained young members of an outfit called the Gawwala [or Scouts] … and is stockpiling weapons and bombs … now available because of the conditions created by the Palestine war.” (see editorial p.16)

The writer is author of Al-Ikhwan Fi Malaffat Al-Bolis Al-Siyassi, or “The MB in the Files of the Political Police”.

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