Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Diversionary tactics or a hint at reconciliation?

Opinions are divided on the significance of the release from prison of Al-Wasat Party leader Abul-Ela Madi, Khaled Dawoud investigates

Diversionary tactics or a hint at reconciliation?
Diversionary tactics or a hint at reconciliation?
Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Wasat Party leader Abul-Ela Madi, arrested shortly after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, long topped the list of people whose release has been demanded, even by critics of political Islamic groups. After two years behind bars Madi was finally released from Giza Police Station on 12 August.

Commentators differ over the implications of his release. Was it simply a question of due legal process? Existing laws set a maximum of two years in pre-trial detention. Is it a sign of some impending possible reconciliation between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, or an attempt to absorb discontent among Islamist groups following the sudden death of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Essam Derbala, in prison earlier this month?

With a permanent smile on his face, and a long history of political activism as a university student or then an elected member of the Engineers’ Syndicate, Madi, 57, was viewed as a pragmatist even though he chose to side with the Brotherhood, dubbed Morsi’s removal a military coup, and his party, Al-Wasat, joined an alliance of Islamist groups which demanded the restoration of “legitimacy” and an end the rule of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Madi’s was arrested with his deputy, Essam Sultan, in August 2013. Al-Wasat then suffered a major split. Leaders like Fateh Azzam, who is resident abroad, maintained a hardline against the current regime while a majority of those inside Egypt decided to leave the Brotherhood-led National Alliance In Support of Legitimacy and Rejecting the Coup. They insisted Al-Wasat Party should formulate its own positions and not become embroiled in the confrontation between security forces and the Brotherhood.

Madi and Sultan had themselves split with the Brotherhood when, in 1996, they insisted on forming a political party — Al-Wasat — against the wishes of the group’s leaders.
The Mubarak regime repeatedly refused to license Al-Wasat Party, despite lengthy legal procedures of appeals and counter appeals.

It was only recognised officially after the 25 January 2011 Revolution. When Morsi became president it seemed that Madi’s star was also on the rise. He and the party sided with the Brotherhood in all their battles with secular political parties. In return Mohamed Mahsoub, an Al-Wasat leader, received a ministerial position and Madi’s name was circulated as a possible prime minister.

Following his release Madi said he would refrain from making any statements until he became au fait with the current situation. He said he had been “relatively isolated” during the last months of his imprisonment, with no access to newspapers or outside information. Yet two days after his release Madi was holding meetings at Al-Wasat’s office with leaders of Islamist groups, including Al-Gamaa

Al-Islamiya, which had also opposed Morsi’s removal but were not necessarily happy with what they describe as the group’s monopoly over decision making in the pro-Morsi alliance.
Some observers expect Madi will now begin to work on an initiative to end daily Brotherhood demonstrations and the increasing number of attacks targeting policemen and public installations in return for a review of the cases of thousands of Brotherhood prisoners.

He enjoys good relations with Brotherhood leaders, with whom he had more than enough time to mingle during his two years at Tora Prison, says Sameh Eid, an expert on Islamist groups and himself a former member of the Brotherhood. And he has a reputation as a supporter of dialogue with the regime. There is no better candidate for a mediator than Madi.

Eid, like other analysts, links Madi’s release to the release earlier this year of two prominent Muslim

Brotherhood leaders, Helmi Al-Gazzar and Ali Bateekh, both of whom were allowed to leave the country for Turkey to negotiate with the group’s leadership abroad.

Eid believes several states are involved in efforts to end ongoing violence in Egypt, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and, among individuals, Rashed Al-Ghanoushi, leader of Tunisia’s Annahda Party.

“Following the recent visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Egypt, we’ve been reading statements by Brotherhood leaders on their readiness to compromise and to take part in a dialogue with the government. The release of Madi could push these efforts forward,” says Eid.

Omar Farouk, secretary-general of Al-Wasat Party, denies Madi’s release has any political implications or is related to an initiative to mediate between the government and the Brotherhood.

“It was simply a legal issue. Engineer Madi should not have spent all this time in prison in the first place without being referred to trial,” says Farouk.

Asked whether the Al-Wasat leader would seek to launch an initiative to end the ongoing confrontation between the security apparatus and the Brotherhood, Farouk said: “We call upon all parties, the state and the Brotherhood, to sit together and start a dialogue on the future and how we can end the current state of conflict and political division. This is the only hope to build a state in which justice prevails. If there is any effort we can exert towards this end, I’m certain that Engineer Madi will support it.”

Kamal Helbawi, a onetime prominent Brotherhood member, does not believe either the government or the Brotherhood are ready to compromise.

“Following the assassination of prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat we’ve seen a major reversal. Talk of compromise has ended, replaced by calls to carry out death sentences against Brotherhood leaders.”

“There are also demands for escalation of action against the regime coming from younger members of the Brotherhood. No one seems to be in a mood to compromise.”

Helbawi believes Madi’s release was an attempt to send a message that the door remains open for moderate Islamists to take part in politics as long as they reject all violence.

Mamdouh Ismail, a leading member of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and former member of parliament, agrees with Helbawi that speculation on a possible compromise between the government and the Brotherhood is wishful thinking. He links Madi’s release to the recent death of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Derbala in prison. The Interior Ministry says Derbala died of natural causes. His family and

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya insist he was denied medical care that could have saved his life.

“Thank God Engineer Abul-Ela Madi was released. But this is a well-known security tactic. Within the last three days we’ve seen 18 death sentences issued and eight life sentences given to lawyers. There was a need to divert attention and give people something else to talk about,” says Ismail.

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