Monday,19 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Monday,19 March, 2018
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Two years on

How will the Muslim Brotherhood seek to mark the anniversary of the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda sit-ins? Amany Maged investigates

Al-Ahram Weekly

As the Muslim Brotherhood prepares to mark the second anniversary of the breakup of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in tomorrow analysts are unsure how it will play out. Some predict that the Muslim Brothers will make gains while others dismiss the possibility.

Some commentators believe the death of Essam Derbala, head of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s shura council, in a high security prison last week may work in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. They argue suspicions about his death and the alleged neglect of his state of health could fuel the anger of young Islamists who are already disgruntled by the government’s decision to rename Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square after the assassinated prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat.

Following Derbala’s death many young members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya took to social networking sites to demand revenge. Some said peaceful protests had led nowhere and threatened acts of violence.

Derbala’s history with Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya dates back 44 years. He took part in the storming of the Assiut security directorate in 1981, following which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Among the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders who initially opposed the group’s renunciation of violence in 1997, he later became one of its staunchest advocates, defending the initiative in numerous books. He was released from prison in 2005 after serving a 24-year sentence behind bars.

Although Derbala renounced public activity on his release he resumed a leading role in the organisation in 2011 when the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya held internal elections. Many of the group’s shura council members were ousted and Derbala was elected new head of the council. In May 2011, following the 25 January Revolution, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya formed the Construction and Development Party.

Derbala was arrested on 13 May 2015 and accused of belonging to an illegal organisation. He was detained for 15 days pending investigations. The detention period was renewed for the last time the day before his death, by which point his health had seriously deteriorated. Essam is the brother of Counsellor Mohamed Nagi Derbala, a member of the Judges for the Sake of Egypt who was forced to retire after signing a statement in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

   During his last meeting with Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders in Aqrab prison, Derbala is reported to have argued for the continued renunciation of violence. One source present at the meeting says “Sheikh Essam Derbala impressed on us the need to republish his writings under the title ‘No to Killing, No to Bombing’.” During the meeting, which took place in June, Derbala asked those present to work to safeguard the unity of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and forestall attempts to sow division in the group.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya sources say the group is now divided over how to respond to the recent deaths of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders, with some members advocating a return to violence.

Sheikh Osama Hafez, who had been serving as acting chair of the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s shura council, has now been designated as its head. While Hafez has said that Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya will not take any legal action over Derbala’s death, the group has issued an official statement calling on international human rights organisations to launch an investigation.

Hafez has confirmed that Derbala was suffering from diabetes. When his health suddenly deteriorated he was transferred to Tora Hospital where he died a few hours later. Derbala’s body was examined by the deputy public prosecutor. The corpse was then released and buried in Minya, Derbala’s birthplace.

Following Derbala’s death Youssef Al-Qaradawi, head of the Federation of Muslim Ulema, released a statement saying: “The elimination of the leaders of the moderate Islamist movement and their systematic murder inside prisons will open the doors to radical militant trends and extremist thought.”

Tarek Al-Zomor, head of the Construction and Development Party, proclaimed that the death of Derbala would not deter “free men in this country” from following the path they have marked for themselves.

Analysts say changing the name of Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square delivered a slap in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood. When mass protests erupted against the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Tahrir Square and in front of the Al-Ittihadiya Presidential Palace, the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters began to stage counter demonstrations at the intersection of two main streets in front of Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City.

While the Muslim Brotherhood has remained silent over the name change, judicial circles welcomed the Council of Ministers’ decision to change the name in honour of Hisham Barakat. The Judges’ Club had been pressing for some form of commemoration of the late prosecutor general. A number of senior judges had argued that his name should be given to a place associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The government has erased the memory of the terrorism of Rabaa Square by changing its name to Hisham Barakat, a heroic judicial figure cherished in the hearts of all the Egyptian people,” said one judge.

The pro-Muslim Brotherhood National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) is seeking to capitalise on the deaths of Islamist leaders in prison in advance of the anniversary of the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda Square sit-ins. NASL and Muslim Brotherhood propaganda sites have posted photographs and profiles of  members who have died in prison. Among the most prominent are Farid Ismail, member of the executive bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP); Mohamed Al-Falahgi, another FJP member; Ezzat Al-Salamouni, one of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders and, most recently, Essam Derbala. Three of the dead were being held in Aqrab prison.

   NASL and Muslim Brotherhood propagandists have launched publicity campaigns in an attempt to drum up support for demonstrations. Some of the campaigns appear determined to incite violence.

The international Muslim Brotherhood has announced an international campaign that promises to tell “the story of Rabaa”. The International Federation of Muslim Ulema has said it will take part in the campaign alongside the Turkish-based, Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Revolutionary Council.

Former Muslim Brotherhood member Tarek Al-Bashbishi believes the group is too mired in internal disputes to mount an effective commemoration of the Rabaa and Al-Nahda breakups. He predicts any commemoration of the dispersal of the sit-ins will be restricted to Turkey, the group’s foreign stronghold, though he warns that in Egypt “there may be a spike in acts of violence on the part of Muslim Brotherhood supporters who espouse terrorist acts.”

Mohamed Al-Demouki, coordinator of the pro-Brotherhood Movement 18, insists plans to mark the dispersals are in place. He has appealed to brotherhood leaders to adhere to calls for “retribution” so that “demonstrators do not succumb to despair”.

Ahead of the anniversary brotherhood leaders have been lobbying members of the EU parliament and international rights organisations to press for the overturning of the death sentences handed down to Mohamed Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders.

Eighty-five international organisations and public figures have joined the campaign, Rescue Egypt, which is promoting the slogan “Stop the execution of democracy. Stop the execution of Morsi.” The campaign was launched in New York with a conference attended by former US Ramsey Clark, international affairs specialist at George Washington University Dr. Anne Schroder, international human rights activist and lawyer Susanne Adli, political science professor Emad Shahin and political activist Mohamed Shobeir. The campaign will sponsor a series of solidarity meetings in Paris, London and Turkey and plans to launch a petition calling for the rescinding of the death sentence against Morsi.

Meanwhile, Al-Azhar has moved to implement strict measures against members of groups or organisations that use religion as a guise to incite violence and disrupt stability and security.

Al-Azhar deputy rector Abbas Shouman has issued a memo to all Al-Azhar employees demanding they prove they have no affiliation with any organisation that “incites against the regime or threatens national security and stability”. Staff members are also required to submit a statement to the effect that they reject the activities of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the International Federation of Muslim Ulema, the Al-Azhar Ulema Front, the League of Sunni Ulema and the Ulema against the Coup Front.

Shouman has warned Al-Azhar staff not to create any organisation without first obtaining the approval of Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and has threatened to take legal action against any employees who tarnish Al-Azhar’s reputation.

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