CAIRO: The latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) culminated in the arrest of 140 members, including financier and chief strategist of the group Mohammed Khayrat Al Shater on Thursday is an unjustifiable aggravation by the state, Deputy Supreme Guide of the MB Mohammed Habib told The Daily Star Egypt.
Habib added that this act will “increase tensions and complications in light of Egypt’s current circumstances and this will intensify things on all levels, be they political, economic or social.
The arrests took place after MB-affiliated students staged a mock military routine in a demonstration at Al Azhar University, wearing black balaclavas. Following their martial arts demonstrations, the government arrested members to investigate whether the Brotherhood was setting up a military wing.
Habib however denied this and claimed that a premeditated media campaign was set in motion as a precursor to the arrests. “There was a media offensive because of the students’ actions, tying these individual actions to the group. This campaign was an indication that the arrests would occur, he said.
Students at Al Azhar University staged a sit-in Dec. 10 to protest the suspension for a month of 16 of their colleagues for setting up a parallel, unofficial students union – The Free Union – in November.
Habib distanced the Brotherhood from the military style actions of the students. He said “We agree the students were wrong, there are ways to express your objections and we reject their way. We assure you that as a group we are peaceful and civilized and aim for reform and change only through constitutional channels.
The crackdown stems from the state’s attitude to the Brotherhood as one of exclusion, according to Dr Moatez Billah Abdel-Fatah, professor of Political Science at Cairo University.
He told The Daily Star Egypt “This is unlike Turkey where there is inclusion of Islamic factions in government. Any modern society will assimilate these groups into the political process. For example, in Tunisia there is full inclusion of such groups.
Abdel-Fatah said that the government will tolerate a portion of visibility for the Brotherhood, but too much is unacceptable. “Every once in a while, the state will lower the ceiling of political tolerance if the Brotherhood are perceived to step over their turf, he said.
The reason for this, he claimed, was because “they shouldn’t constitute a legitimate alternative to the state or reach a point where they pose a threat.
Abdel-Fatah believes the state believes the Brotherhood is over-stepping their boundaries in three distinct ways: Firstly, by fielding candidates in elections, whether in parliament, professional unions or student unions which the regime considers to be off limits; secondly, if their actions seem to pose a menace to Western interests in the region, and finally, if the Brotherhood cooperate on any level with other Islamic groups in the region.
Abdel-Fatah added “Recently, the Muslim Brotherhood have been outspoken on many issues, be it the veil or student and labor elections. So the state perceived them as stepping out of line and these arrests are punishment so they wouldn’t step out of line again.
He stated that this is the policy of the government vis-à-vis the banned-but-tolerated Brotherhood under the rule of incumbent president Hosni Mubarak. “Mubarak doesn’t try to eradicate them like [former Egyptian president Gamal] Abdel-Nasser, he tolerates them within certain parameters, Abdel-Fatah he said.
Habib stated that the latest crackdown will not discourage their opposition group. “We will not waver, we will continue to agitate for change and reform through constitutional channels, he told The Daily Star Egypt.