Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Egyptian government arrests opposition candidates

Reuters Africa (Apr 4 08) reports that Egyptian security forces have detained 30 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood just days ahead of Egypt's local council elections.

More than 300 members of Egypt's largest opposition group have been detained since last Tuesday (April 1, 2008) in the run up to elections on April 8.

According to Egyptian security forces, the men were accused of belonging to a banned group and possessing anti-government literature.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1924 by Hassan El-Banna, has officially been banned since 1954. Nevertheless, it operates openly and holds a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament through members elected as independents.

According to Amr Elshoubaki, a political analyst with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, the Brotherhood "seems determined to reach power by promoting itself as a peaceful political force aimed at bringing about reform through gaining public support." (Al-Ahram 28 Feb-5 Mar 08).

Mohamed Badia, one of the detainee who sits on the 15-member executive committee of the Brotherhood, says that the group seeks an Islamic state through non-violent and democratic means.

Seats on local councils are important because independent candidates for the presidency need endorsements from 140 members of local councils as well as support from members of both houses of parliament.

Elshoubaki says, "While the clampdown might have dealt a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood's hierarchy and disturbed its finances, the group has managed to utilise its ordeal to gain public support through its media campaigns."

Human Rights Watch, which has called the recent Brotherhood arrests a "shameless bid" to fix the upcoming elections, estimates that more than 800 members of the party have been detained without charge in recent weeks.

Amnesty International expressed concern that “many of those arrested and detained may be prisoners of conscience held for the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and association” (IHT Apr 4 08).

Egyptian courts have issued hundreds of rulings in recent weeks obliging the government to accept the candidacies of Brotherhood members, but authorities have ignored the rulings. Amnesty also criticized detention of supporters who protested against the authorities’ refusal to implement administrative court decisions

The Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to democracy and nonviolence has been challenged; the Islamic Action Front in Jordan and Hamas in Palestine are generally understood to have been created and to some extent staffed by Brotherhood members.

On the other hand, just two weeks ago, AFP reported that the Egyptian government released 33 members of Hamas who had been detained after crossing from the Gaza Strip. (AFP Mar 23 08)
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