Journalists stage protest in support of Muslim Brotherhood



 
Islamist and independent journalists joined forces in Cairo this week to protest attempts to arrest Abdel Gelil Sharnoubi, editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language website.
 
By JOHN EHAB
 
Cairo MB.jpg
(Photo courtesy of the author)

CAIRO, March 18, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Numerous members of the banned group the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and independent journalists took to the stairs of the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo on Sunday afternoon to protest against alleged attempts by Egyptian police to arrest Abdel Gelil Sharnoubi, Editor of the MB’s official English-language website Ikhwanweb.

Chanting, "Soldiers, soldiers, why soldiers? Are we in jail?," and "Oh, State Security, where is the security?"  the group displayed banners and Egyptian flags mocking the heavy roundup of security Sunday's event had attracted. 

Meanwhile, reports from the Brotherhood stress that the Egyptian security forces have detained up to 831 MB-affiliated potential candidates ahead of Egypt’s upcoming municipal elections that are scheduled for early April.

Nightly raids have reportedly taken place in the governorates of Monofiya, Sharqiya, Alexandria, Giza , and Damietta. The first incursion took place on Thursday February 14 in which more than 50 MB potential candidates, topped by Eng. Al Sayyed Hazin, a former member of parliament for the district of Abu Hammad, was detained. 

Sharnoubi himself claims to be under the constant radar of the security forces as well. Last week he received a phone call from his wife who warned him that state security had paid an unannounced visit to their house, confiscating several books and publications from their home. Sharnoubi said the incident was an attempted arrest. 

"I expected them to detain me, especially after what we have written on the upcoming municipal elections," Sharnoubi told MENASSAT at the rally. 

The incident comes only a few weeks following the arrest of Ikhwanweb's Managing Editor Khaled Hamza, who was detained off the street in a Cairo suburb. Hamza is in custody accused of "coordinating protests against the military tribunals" some of the Brotherhood’s members are currently standing before, as well as "hindering the constitution and possessing prints and publications that promotes the ideologies of the Islamist group."

In the case of Sharnoubi, the editor is currently spending his nights in Internet cafes around Cairo for fear of being arrested.

According to Sharnoubi, the Head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate has shown little concern for his recent hardships. Instead, he reportedly advised Sharnoubi to hand himself over to the police.

"When I put forth my complaints to the Head of the Journalists' Syndicate, he told me to simply hand myself over to them. ‘I can sympathize with you but I can't help you', he said."

Sunday's gathering attracted indeed few members of the Syndicate. Only one, Mohamed Abdel Kuddous, came to the demonstration carrying the red, white, and black Egyptian flag on his shoulder to show his support.

"Attacking the house of a journalist is an unacceptable act that we condemn," stated Kuddus, adding that, "We also don’t accept the Head of the Journalists Syndicate."

At the rally, Kuddus advised Sharnoubi to stay among the demonstrators at the Syndicate and to not step out on the street in fear that the police officers would arrest him. 

Several Islamist journalists also arrived at the scene despite the tight security to show their concern for Sharnoubi. 

"It's obvious that there is a campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood's media division," said Ahmad Ghanem, a contributor to the Brotherhoods newsletter Parliament Dot Com. "The authorities have been fighting us fiercely since the 2005 Parliamentary elections. They've tried to block our websites. They want to put an end to our media achievements," he added.

The Brotherhood's outreach and advocacy activities through mass-media appear to be a constant nail in the eye to the Egyptian authorities. Several of the group's media channels have been subject to censorship and have been shut down. 

Ikhwanweb remains inaccessible to users within Egypt at times. The site is usually discontinued temporarily following major news involving the Brotherhood or ahead of elections.

In 2006, the Egyptian authorities shut down the weekly newspaper Afaq Arabia (Arab Horizons), a pro-Muslim Brotherhood publication that existed for 12 years.

In February, Hamza was arrested. His close connection with international rights activists are said to be the underlying reasons for the arrest. 

Only a few weeks before his detainment, Hamza met with the prominent American peace activist Cindy Sheehan who urged the Egyptian authorities to free imprisoned members of the opposition group.

"Hamza was charged for coordinating events protesting the military courts," Mohamed Salman, an Ikhwanweb reporter told MENNASSAT. "The man is a media activist and they want to silence his efforts to reach out to international rights groups."

Law experts stress that the accusations go against the legal rights of the group.

"Joining a banned group is a void charge so if the case is raised before a civil court it will be dismissed," said Sayed Abul 'Ella, a lawyer from Sawaseya Center for Human Rights who also attended the state security court as a monitor. He added that the 86 laws against terrorism in Egypt focus on using violent means, "which does not pertain to the case of the Brotherhood."

“In general, the Brotherhood use peaceful means to exercise their power, such as participating in political elections; organizing events; and expressing their opinions," said Abul’ella.

Abul 'Ella also said that the new anti-terrorism law that is currently being drafted by the Egyptian government will label the Brotherhood "a conspiracy against the state."

The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Mofeid Shehab, is considered to be the master architect of the proposed legislation, which is expected to replace the country's current Emergency Law which has been in place since the assassination of President Sadat in 1981. Shehab also drafted a number of controversial amendments to the Egyptian constitution in 2005 and 2007 that are considered blows to Egypt's opposition. 

The Muslim Brotherhood, a group which started in the late 1920s,  seeks to establish an Islamic state through democratic means. Despite being banned since 1954 the group makes up to 88 seats of the current Egyptian 454-seats lower-chamber in the parliament.

(Editing by Alexandra Sandels)