Proof of political bankruptcy



 
Although a frequent critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mona Eltahawy takes up the defense of Khaled Hamza Salem, the co-editor of the movement's English news website who was arrested last week.
 
By MONA ELTAHAWY
 


I am not a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood. I have questioned their commitment to political reform in several opinion pieces I wrote and which were published in both English and Arabic newspapers.

To my surprise, and sometimes annoyance, they have republished my critical articles on Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood's English news website. My articles included open criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef as well as the general policies of the organization. They have also published articles I've written which were critical of the Egyptian regime and the obstacles it places on the way to democracy and reform.

So I was shocked and saddened to hear of the arrest by State Security in Cairo last week of Khaled Hamza Salam, the co-editor in chief of Ikhwanweb. Ironically, Hamza (as he is known) was arrested just after he met the director of the Arab Organization for Human Rights.

Hamza was one of at least 222 Brotherhood figures rounded up by Egyptian police in Cairo and five other provinces over the past two weeks. Analysts and Muslim Brotherhood leaders say the arrests were aimed at preventing the organization from fielding candidates in the April 8 municipal elections.

Those rounded up were either candidates in previous elections or members who could run campaigns. The Brotherhood's official website (ikhwanonline.com) listed doctors, teachers, civil servants and university professors among the most recent detainees.

I want to focus on Hamza's arrest because it clearly shows the political bankruptcy of the Egyptian regime. Here is a man who ran a website which was open to a diverse collection of views. Surely he is the kind of opposition figure that Egypt needs and not one who belongs behind bars?

About 400 others from the Brotherhood remain in prison from previous arrests, including 33 group officials and businessmen in custody since December 2006. They are being tried in a military court on money-laundering and terrorism charges. A verdict is expected on February 26.

Hamza's friends believe his arrest was connected to that expected verdict because the Brotherhood's English-language news website which he co-edits has prominently featured stories on the military trial, drawing international attention and condemnation for such a trial.

Imprisoning Hamza does not change the fact that military trials of civilians is a violation of human rights and it will not stop news coverage of the trial and it will surely not fail to stem the condemnation from the international community for the regime's behavior.

The Egyptian regime has long used the Muslim Brotherhood to whip up fear both domestically and among its western allies. It points to the organization and warns it will turn Egypt into an Islamist state unless its allies – internally and externally – continue to support the regime.

And yet it is responsible for that very situation of which it warns because the Egyptian regime has long stifled all opposition voices, particularly liberal ones which could represent an alternative to the Brotherhood. Remember liberal politician Ayman Nour who has been in jail for two years now as a result of a politically-motivated trial aimed at ending his political career.

For its own political advantage, the Egyptian regime chooses to turn a blind eye to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned since 1954. In 2005 it allowed the organization to openly campaign and run for seats in parliamentary elections.

When the Brotherhood performed too well – it is now the largest opposition bloc in parliament with 88 seats – the regime sent its security forces to use violence and intimidation to ruin the last round of voting in 2005 and it postponed elections for municipal councils which were supposed to take part in 2006.

And now to prevent the group from contesting the vote on April 8, police have rounded up Brotherhood figures, saying they were suspected of joining a banned group and trying to revive its activities. Remember this is the same banned group that the regime allowed to contest the 2005 elections.

The regime is panicking over a successful performance by the Brotherhood in the municipal council vote on April 8 because the importance of city councils has increased with 2005 constitutional amendments. Under that amendment, independent candidates for the presidency need endorsements from 65 elected members of the lower house of parliament, 25 elected members of the upper house (the Shura Council) and 140 members of local councils.

Although the movement has no seats in the Shura Council, the Muslim Brotherhood can already meet the first requirement because it holds 88 seats in parliament and if the April 8 local elections are free and fair it could meet the third requirement. That is unlikely now in light of the arrests of the past two weeks.

Whatever one's views of the Muslim Brotherhood, we must condemn the detention of opposition figures who are open to and who support the views of others. If we are to build a viable and diverse opposition in Egypt, all voices must speak out against the detention of Khaled Hamza Salam. His detention is the latest attempt to muzzle freedom of expression by a regime which has already been condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists for its crackdown on the media last year.

Those of us who want an Egypt which respects human rights must also speak out against the military trials of civilians and against mass arrests of opposition figures whose detentions are clearly politically motivated.

The Egyptian regime is wrong if it thinks it will force Egyptians to choose its side over that of the Muslim Brotherhood. That is a false choice. Egyptians deserve much more.


Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based Egyptian journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. Her opinion pieces have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper among others.