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Attempts to Marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood's Role in Egyptian Political Life - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Egyptian parliamentary elections that took place in late 2005 resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood winning 88 seats, representing 20 percent of total seats in parliament.

The brotherhood’s victory was unexpected to many people and furthermore it was a shock to the ruling party and other political parties, especially when you consider that the ruling party, before merging with the independents, won only 145 seats, that is, 33 percent of the seats despite the excesses and violations it perpetrated during the elections. Other political parties got only 12 seats.

This result provoked great fear and anxiety in the ruling party’s circles, causing it to adopt a strategy of taking media, political, security, legal, and constitutional steps to sideline the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s political life.

This was followed by the unexpected results of the Palestinian legislative elections on 25 January 2006. Despite the occupation and the harsh circumstances under which the Palestinian people were living, Hamas won a sweeping victory that gave it the right to form a government. This development provoked additional fear among the region’s governments and countries worldwide.

Consequently some political observers and analysts imagined that if free, transparent, and honest elections were held in any Arab or Islamic country, and the voters enjoyed political resolve meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood would win sufficient seats in all those countries to enable them to alter the political realities in those countries to various degrees. This increased the fears in Egypt and among the other Arab regimes.

The aforementioned strategy was put into effect by occasionally launching painful and focused strikes against the brotherhood. Its influential officials were placed in detention. The aim was clear, namely, to deprive the brotherhood of the chance to exploit its electoral successes, hamper its plans, and reduce its political activity. This strategy was important to the Egyptian ruling party because it was determined to push through certain constitutional amendments by any means and without brooking any opposition, especially as it had a previous experience with massive demonstrations that accompanied the amendment of Article 76 of the Constitution in May 2005.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral success was followed by a parade on Al-Azhar University’s campus, which the security services and some of their loyal newspapers portrayed as a parade by a paramilitary militia.

The ruling party began a fierce media campaign against the brotherhood that sought to distort its image and turn public opinion against it. This was a like the smokescreen that precedes a military incursion. The security services began by arresting Khayrat al-Shatir, second deputy of the brotherhood’s general guide and some of his associates. It was a government message to the brotherhood, a message of unprecedented escalation.

The Egyptian public was surprised to hear that the assets, property, companies, and legitimate economic establishments belonging to those persons were frozen under the claim that they were involved in money laundering operations. The aim this time was to slander the brotherhood’s reputation by giving the public the false impression that those people involved in illegal activities.

On the 26th of January of this year the courts naturally ordered the immediate release of the defendants and rescinded all decisions pertaining to their preventive detention. The Interior Ministry, however, gave orders to arrest them again on the same day, clearly flouting the courts’ orders.

This was immediately followed by a presidential decision on 02/05/2007 to refer those persons to a military tribunal in a move calculated to forestall the civilian courts’ role. By doing this the ruling party amply demonstrated its stubbornness and exaggerated hostility against the Muslim Brotherhood despite the opposition and criticism directed against the government by civil society organizations and Amnesty International, which expressed their concern regarding the government’s use of the Emergency Law, which it had previously promised the People’s Assembly not to use except in narcotics and terrorism cases.

This was the sixth occasion on which Muslim Brothers were referred to military courts. There were two cases in 1995, a third in 1996, a fourth in 1999, and a fifth in 2001.

It barely needs repeating that military tribunals are not part of the independent judiciary. They come under the Defense Ministry’s purview, that is, the executive branch. These courts do not guarantee a due process of law and their verdicts cannot be challenged. They were originally established to try military personnel, not civilians.

The Muslim Brotherhood challenged the president’s decision to refer the brotherhood’s members to a military tribunal before the Administrative Court.

This court issued a historic ruling halting the implementation of the president’s decision and abolishing it. In the opinion it released, the court stated that the individualism question had not perpetrated any violent acts or used weapons to terrify the citizens, which are the cases on the strength of which the president was originally given the power to refer defendants to a military court. It added that some of the claimants had been previously tried before a military court in Case Number 8/1995 and were punished by imprisonment for varying terms, which were actually served. They were subsequently arrested again, an act that violated Article 66 of the Constitution. It said that some claimants had previously challenged the constitutionality of Article 6, Paragraph 2 of Military Law No. 25/1996 and that this challenge had not been settled yet.

The ruling party, accustomed as it was to flouting dozens, if not hundreds, of court rulings, refused to implement the Administrative Court’s ruling, which by the way was a binding ruling, and challenged this verdict before the Higher Administrative Court/Challenges Review Section. The higher court ordered a halt in implementing the Administrative Court’s ruling. It also rejected a petition for trial before a different court, which was submitted by the wives and children of Khayrat al-Shatir and Ahmad Shushah. The petition said that the members of the court that tried the two suspects were employed as legal advisers in government departments and as such were unqualified to make a decision regarding the challenge.

The case we have before us is primarily political, in which the ruling party uses all the means and tools at its disposal. In view of the government’s hegemony, the legal and judicial process will not be decided in our favor despite the frivolity of the charges, the flimsiness of the evidence used against the suspects, and weakness of the legal procedures. Still we will not abandon the legal course. At the same time we need to continue our current media and political efforts in the hope of winning over public opinion, which shows complete sympathy for our position and realizes the injustice that is being done to us.

Muhammad Al-Sayyid Habib

Muhammad Al-Sayyid Habib is the first deputy general guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

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