CAIRO, (AFP) – A television series being broadcast throughout the Muslim month of Ramadan has drawn the ire of Egypt’s Islamist opposition, who view it as additional pressure ahead of a November parliamentary election.
“The Group” focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most influential Islamist movements in the world.
Critics say the pro-government leanings of scriptwriter Waheed Hamed are blatant, and that the timing of the series, just three months before the election, is no coincidence.
The son of the Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna, who was assassinated in 1949, plans to sue. His father, who founded the group in 1928, has not yet been depicted in the series, but it is not expected to be a reverent portrayal.
Indeed the group, which controls a fifth of parliament in Cairo and eschews violence, is portrayed in the series as an organisation of cynical, violent Islamists.
And in a departure from human rights reports that allege torture is routine in Egypt, “The Group” features only abuse-free prisons and courteous interrogations.
“This is a security production, not an artistic production,” charged Brotherhood MP Hamdi Hassan.
The Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie, called the series an “attack against the Brotherhood.” Others in the group say its timing was meant to undermine the Brotherhood ahead of the election.
Hamed, who says Islamists have threatened him, dismissed such accusations.
“Preparations for this series began in 2006 and filming started in January this year. The plan was not to show it during Ramadan but it was ready to air,” he said.
“What members of the Muslim Brotherhood brigade say has no basis in truth. The series is not against them nor any institution, the series is about the truth,” he told AFP.
“It has nothing to do with elections,” he said, adding that elections are in any case decided by “lies and bribes.”
But the Islamist group views the television series as propaganda to accompany a crackdown against its members.
Several of its leaders are facing trial for allegedly organising terrorist groups or laundering money.
In the last election in 2005, Muslim Brotherhood supporters were arrested in the second and third rounds of the vote as the group increased the number of its seats.
The series also dredges up a past that the Brotherhood now tries to underplay — it had a military wing that was blamed for the assassination of an Egyptian prime minister, an event which was followed by Banna’s own murder.
One of the group’s leading ideologues, Sayid Qutb, also advocated all-out war against Arab and Muslim governments that did not rule by Islamic law.
He was executed on the orders of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966 and is thought to have greatly influenced militants such as Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Analysts say the Brotherhood has sincerely renounced violence and shown restraint in the face of the routine arrests and harassment of its members.
But “The Group” could still plant lingering doubts among viewers on whether the Islamists have truly reformed.
In its first episodes, it focused on a scandalous demonstration staged in 2006 by masked Brotherhood students at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, in which they displayed martial arts moves outside the dean’s office.
It was amateurish, with the students performing karate kicks that earned them the nickname the “Kung Fu Militia.”
But it was also redolent of the masked parades of the militant Palestinian Hamas organisation — a Brotherhood offshoot — and other armed groups, and led to renewed accusations that the group has a shadowy secret military arm.