Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Lethal blow to the Brotherhood

The arrest of seven senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood will undermine the group’s organisational capacities in Egypt for the foreseeable future

Mahmoud Ezzat
Mahmoud Ezzat

Last week security forces arrested Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, the man in charge of the organisation’s activities in Egypt, together with six of his aides — Galal Mustafa, Mohamed Amer, Amar Al-Sarwi, Ahmed Gaballah, Ezzat Al-Sayed Abdel-Fattah, and Hamdi Al-Dahshan.

The detainees formed the right arm in Egypt for acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat, in hiding since the break-up of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in. Early reports that Ezzat had also been arrested proved false. Ezzat issued a statement himself, denying the rumours. “Security forces arrested Brotherhood Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Abdel-Rahman and others,” read the statement. It went on to explain that Abdel-Rahman had been responsible for managing the group’s operations in Egypt and that, prior to his arrest, he had been charged with rebuilding the organisation’s structure.

“In my capacity as charge d’affaires for the supreme guide I am studying several other names from the leadership to choose from [as replacements],” said Ezzat.

In his statement Ezzat claimed the Brotherhood would not be affected by the arrests, pointing out that all the members of the administrative board were abroad. They include Deputy Supreme Guide Ibrahim Mounir, Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein and the group’s spokesman Talaat Fahmi.

A number of figures close to the Brotherhood say Ezzat’s claim is wishful thinking. Former Deputy Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib says Abdel-Rahman’s detention is “a powerful blow” to the group and could lead to uncovering the hideout of Ezzat himself.

“Mohamed Abdel-Rahman is the most senior figure under Ezzat,” Habib said. “He obtains Ezzat’s approval before taking any action and therefore must have been in constant contact with him.”

“The arrest of Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, head of the Supreme Administrative Board that supervised the Brotherhood’s work in Egypt, will greatly affect the organisation and marks a turning point in the activities of the group in Egypt and in its contacts abroad.”

Habib stressed, however, that Ezzat may be capable of “remaining underground for years”. “He may be able to stay in hiding, contacting others from unregistered telephone and mobile numbers of which he has hundreds.”

Former Brotherhood official Khaled Al-Zaafrani says Ezzat and his clique had adopted a strategy of not provoking the government in any way, avoiding all types of conflict until the group was in a position to rebuild itself. In one recent newspaper interview Al-Zaafrani said Ezzat believed regional changes and developments would lead to a situation in which the government finds itself in need of the Muslim Brotherhood and that Riyadh’s dependence on the group’s branches in Yemen and in Syria might lead Saudi Arabia to pressure Cairo to be more accommodating towards the Brotherhood.

Al-Zaafrani argues that disputes between the “old guard” lead by Mahmoud Ezzat and sections of more militant Brotherhood youth, combined with “major successes the government has achieved against the organisation, has it to focus exclusively on the group’s survival”.

Some observers interpreted Mahmoud Ezzat’s statement as a “coded message” instructing other group members in Egypt to find new hiding places. Other sources close to the Brotherhood think leaders such as Ayman Abdel-Ghani, son-in-law of the Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat Al-Shater, and Medhat Al-Haddad, brother of former Guidance Bureau member Essam Al-Haddad, will be forced to form a committee to manage the Brotherhood’s affairs in Egypt for the foreseeable future. The committee, they say, will take over communicating with the organisation’s administrative bureaus and other activities involved in overseeing the organisation’s operations in Egypt from Abdel-Rahman.

Ahmed Atta, a researcher in Islamist affairs, believes the organisation will appoint one of its leaders in exile to take over Abdel-Rahman’s duties. He argues the most likely candidate for this is Al-Shater’s son-in-law Ayman Abdel-Ghani. According to Ata, the International Muslim Brotherhood will now review how best to manage members in Egypt and will appoint one of the group’s leaders in exile to take on the role. He points out that security agencies’ targeting of the Brotherhood’s administrative structures in Egypt makes it difficult for the group to hold any meetings because of the risks involved.

Ayman Abdel-Ghani currently heads the Brotherhood’s Cairo operations room from Istanbul. The Cairo operations room, says Ata, is charged with gathering information on the political, economic, social and security situation in Egypt and gauging public reaction to government decisions.

The arrest of Abdel-Rahman and his henchmen during an organisational meeting held in Madinet Nasr in Cairo will have been like “an electric shock” to the international organisation and exiled members of the Guidance Bureau, says Ata. Abdel-Rahman assumed some of the authorities of the Supreme Guide and worked directly with Ezzat and Mahmoud Hussein. One of his responsibilities was to organise support for the families of arrested Brotherhood leaders.

Ata claims Mahmoud Hussein “wept” when he learned of the arrest Abdel-Rahman’s group, knowing it would lead to the total paralysis of the Brotherhood’s organisational structures in Egypt. Abdel-Rahman, says Ata, was the channel through which instructions from abroad were conveyed and controlled the financial network that supported the group’s organisational structures and the families of arrested leaders.

“There remain many questions over how the organisation will act and how instructions from abroad will be carried out. This security blow is the most severe that the organisation has received since the 30 June Revolution,” concludes Ata.

Tarek Al-Bashbishi, a former Brotherhood leader, describes Abdel-Rahman’s arrest as “a painful blow” to the organisation in Egypt and an example of “the success that Egyptian security agencies are enjoying in curbing the activities the group and in getting close to its most senior and dangerous leaders”.

“The Brotherhood will be unable to find a substitute for Mohamed Abdel-Rahman in Cairo. The Brotherhood abroad will now have to take complete responsibility for the group in Egypt. The arrest of Abdel-Rahman also comes as a riposte to rumours about some kind of reconciliation between the Brotherhood and the state. It weakens what remains of Brotherhood activities in Egypt and shows the government is forging forward in its plans to dismantle and defang the organisation and bring its members to justice.

Al-Bashbishi supports the argument that Ezzat’s statement was a coded message instructing the organisation’s leaders in Egypt to flee from their current hiding places.

Another former Brotherhood leader says Abdel-Rahman’s arrest was not only a blow to the wing of the organisation led by Mahmoud Ezzat but also to the “parallel front” led by Mohamed Kamal which espouses the use of arms and has given rise to the Hasm and Popular Resistance groups both of which will now be deprived of funding and other material support. The source also believes the arrests will now lead to the detention of Ezzat himself.

Many analysts argue Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House put paid to any possibility of any reconciliation between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian government. The new president’s hatred of Islamists and the support of members of his administration for new legislation classifying the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation have been taken by the Egyptian authorities as a green light to sever the last remaining channels for negotiating a truce.

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