Do not Undermine Moderate Islamists: The Case of Muslim Brotherhood Leader, Khayrat El-Shater
Egyptian newspapers report that sources close to the ruling elite have asserted that Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Chairman, Khayrat El Shater, currently standing before a military tribunal, will be sentenced to five years in prison. The main reason, according to the same sources, is that El Shater’s popularity has been on the rise since his arrest, and could challenge Gamal Mubarak if they contested in any upcoming presidential elections. This is the same reason why Ayman Nour was imprisoned.
El Shater was previously sentenced to five years in prison by another military tribunal in 1995. Using military tribunals is one of the repressive tools used by Egyptian regime to silence its peaceful yet powerful political opposition. Mohamed Ali Beshr, another defendant standing before a military tribunal, is a Muslim Brotherhood Executive Bureau Member who was sentenced to three years in prison by another military tribunal in 2001. MP Talaat El Sadat, late President Sadat’s nephew, was sentenced to one year in prison by another military tribunal in 2006 and is still serving his sentence.
Needless to say, the trials El Shater and others are now facing are politically motivated. They were transferred to military tribunals after being acquitted by civilian courts which found the money laundering and terrorism charges they are facing “groundless and politically motivated, with no substantial evidence whatsoever.” Moreover, the courts’ verdict praised the detainees as “respectable businessmen, doctors, engineers and professionals who are well-known for their moderation and for working to serve their country.”
El Shater does not often appear on media. Whenever asked about this he has responded by saying that his role is to lay the intellectual and organizational infrastructure of a moderate democratic organization. In his few appearances during the last parliamentary elections, El Shater asserted the Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy, respect of civil freedoms, willingness to work with others for the benefit of the country. He asserted that no single group or movement could lead Egypt to democracy, and that Egypt’s progress requires collective efforts. He stressed that the Brotherhood’s main objective was not to rule, but to participate in developing Egypt and bringing freedom, justice and prosperity to its people.
Of all the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, El Shater is the most tolerant towards the West. He was the one behind the initiative of establishing an English-language website to voice the Muslim Brotherhood’s opinion to the West, and to act as a bridge between Brotherhood members and Western intellectuals and policymakers. He was quoted on the website asserting that the Brotherhood “does not promote an anti-Western agenda,” and that its primary focus is internal reform. He asserted that Islamists do not have any inherent hostility towards the West, and that they are willing to engage in dialogue whenever possible.
This assertion was manifested with El Shater’s keenness to overcome the regime’s siege of the MB by encouraging elected MPs to travel and participate in conferences, talks, seminars and dialogue everywhere.
El Shater is also a moderate leader who has very clear stances against radicalism and violence. During his earlier imprisonment in 1995, he went into extensive dialogue with prisoners belonging to radical and jihadist groups. He succeeded in convincing a large number of their leaders to renounce violence, and adopt more moderate paths of reform. His success was manifested when a group of these leaders issued statements with their revisions, renouncing violence and apologizing for their earlier crimes.
The impact of El Shater’s absence of the Islamist movement will be disastrous. With his extraordinary organizational and intellectual capabilities accompanied by his moderation and openness, El Shater is always able to move the MB towards dialogue. He is always able to attract more people to the Brotherhood’s moderate platform and therefore drag hundreds of young Islamists away from the lines of violence. It is for that specific reason that he is being imprisoned. The Egyptian regime could not tolerate having strong opposition leaders and movements, especially with inextricable economic and social problems facing Egypt, and the ongoing scheme of passing the presidency from the 79-year-old Mubarak to his younger son Gamal.
The extreme injustice taking place in the military tribunals’ sessions where journalists and human rights observers are not allowed access will have a dramatic effect on Islamism, and consequently on peace and security in the region. El Shater’s absence will leave room open for radicals to spread their hateful sentiment. His unjust imprisonment will empower the radicals and validate their arguments. It will undermine the possibilities of peaceful reform under the contemporary Middle Eastern regimes. If they do not exert pressure for his release or see that he is allowed to face a fair trial, Western governments and intellectuals will be in for a long search before finding other viable interlocutors, with the legitimacy, capabilities, and moderation of Khayrat El Shater.
Ibrahim El Houdaiby is a board member of Ikhwan Web, The Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan) Official English Website.