Crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood
Those who believe that the ongoing crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian regime will cause a major setback for the country’s largest and most powerful civil opposition group are definitely mistaken. Brotherhood members are an integral living part of the Egyptian society who can never be marginalized. In fact, the only possible outcome for such crackdowns is increasing the group’s popularity and radicalizing political Islam.
It has been 15 months now since security forces arrested a large number of Brotherhood members, including Deputy Chairman Khayrat El Shater, a handful of top leaders and 140 university students on the dawn of December 14th, 2006. Arrests were largely portrayed as a response to massive students’ demonstrations, but later charges on money laundry and leading and financing an outlawed organization were added. All charges were dropped three times by civilian courts, which found them to be “fabricated, groundless and politically motivated, with no substantial evidence whatsoever.” The court ordered the immediate release of the detainees; students were released a few weeks later, while senior members and leaders were rearrested from inside the court room, and were sentenced to a military tribunal, the verdict of which is expected on Tuesday.
It is clear the regime is trying to impede the Brotherhood after the group’s manifest success in the 2005 parliamentary elections, when it secured 20% of the parliament’s seats although competing on only one third of them. The crackdown was part of the regime’s attempt to silence its opposition to secure a smooth transfer of power from the 80-year-old President Mubarak to his younger son Gamal.
The regime’s objectives of impeding the Brotherhood to secure the inheritance of the presidency came in line with US foreign policy, which shifted towards a policy of pursuing “stability” rather than democracy, after the ascent of several Islamic groups in the region between 2005 and 2006.
This crackdown also included the imprisonment of the members of parliament, Ayman Nour for five years and Talaat El Sadat for one year. It also included prison sentences for four independent newspapers’ editors.
As the 69-session-tribunal in complete absence of rights, observers and activists is about to reach a verdict, it is about time to assess its impact. Today, more Egyptians are becoming aware of the unjust measures taken by the regime against the Brotherhood, and more are expressing sympathy and solidarity with the group. Hundreds of intellectuals and politicians representing all different colors of the political spectrum have signed petitions against the unjustifiable transfer of civilians to a military tribunal, more people continue to join the group, and student union and syndicate elections illustrate the vividness and strong presence of the group.
Arrests have failed to silence the Brotherhood and have only caused more friction in its relations with the regime. Fifteen months after the arrests, 25 Brotherhood students of Al Azhar University were arrested, and the same scenes of thugs entering Ain Shams University campus to prevent MB student supporters from voting in the SU elections occurred again.
This should be enough to prove that crackdowns will not cause a major setback to the Brotherhood as desired, but will only facilitate the presidency’s inheritance. With their failure to impede the Brotherhood, the regime will find no way to justify the suppressive measures it uses against the MB. Therefore, it is keen to reflect a distorted image of what’s really taking place.
It insists on convincing local and international Brotherhood adversaries that the crackdown is undermining the Brotherhood’s popularity. Several measures have been taken to confirm this assumption; security forces harshly interfered in the Parliament’s Upper House elections and manipulated the results, not allowing a single Brotherhood member to win, while independent TV channels were pressured to as not to cover the elections. State-owned newspapers spoke about how the Brotherhood’s popularity started eroding after their manifest success in the parliamentary elections in 2005, while in reality it was the reverse of a democratic process and the direct intervention of state elements that prevented Brotherhood members from securing some seats in the Upper House. Finally, Khaled Salam, IkhwanWeb co-Editor in Chief was arrested.
The regime also propagated the idea that it has drained the Brotherhood’s financial resources when it froze the assets of its leading businessmen. This was also untrue, as the frozen assets were private property of their owners and had nothing to do with the group. To stress this image, state security banned the Brotherhood’s annual Iftar (Ramadan gala dinner), which costs hundreds of thousands of pounds; and again state-owned newspapers claimed that the reason for cancellation of the event was the Brotherhood’s inability to finance it.
The Muslim Brotherhood has survived harsher crackdowns without compromising on its moderate stances and gradual, peaceful orientation. Yet these crackdowns have had a negative impact on the Islamist movement at large as more people became convinced that peaceful reform is unfruitful. Under Nasser’s regime, it was only Islamists who were harassed and persecuted, and this gave birth to some radical Islamist groups that continue to threaten global peace and stability till today, including al Jihad and al Qaeda. With the harsh surroundings facing the Brotherhood at the time, it found it impossible to convince those radicals of the correctness of its moderate orientation and gradual, peaceful approach.
Today, the Mubarak regime’s crackdowns are not limited to Islamists. In fact, his regime and security forces target every voice of opposition in all different ways. Besides putting political opponents and independent journalists behind bars, intellectuals are marginalized and their articles are banned in mainstream state-owned newspapers, and even cultural events organized by opposition activists are sometimes banned. Over the past year, Egypt has witnessed a larger number of workers’ riots and torture scandals than in has witnessed in decades.
With all that, it can only be expected that more opposition activists, whether Islamists or non-Islamists, will lose faith in peaceful democratic reform. For them, the regime has shut down all possible alternatives for such reform, leaving coups, revolution and violence as the only alternatives of bringing life to the political scene. Of course the Brotherhood disagrees with this view, which could lead to catastrophic results, but with the harsh crackdowns, it – as well as other pro-democracy groups – has a hard time convincing people of the fruitfulness of peaceful democratic reforms.