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Cracking down on moderate Islamists

 

Me and detained MB blogger AbdelRahman Ayyesh in Cairo, October 2007

 I learned yesterday that three leading young Muslim Brotherhood bloggers , including AbdelRahman Ayyesh (pictured above), Ahmed Abu Khalil and Magdi Sa'ad, had been arrested at the Cairo airport and then transferred to state security facilities.  Ayyesh and Saad were both important parts of the youth MB bloggers movement which was pushing the organization towards greater internal transparency and more moderate, politically engaged positions within Egyptian politics.  Their detention is deeply troubling... but all too typical of the recent trends in an Egyptian regime consumed by questions about the transition of power from Hosni Mubarak and by its largely failed efforts to broker a Palestinian national unity government. 

 The detention of the three MB bloggers is part of a wider crackdown which has directly targeted the most moderate and pragmatic figures within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  That ongoing policy escalated dramatically with the arrest of several members of the MB's Guidance Council.  The arrested figures including Abdel Monem Abou al-Fattouh, a leading moderate and pragmatic figure within the Egyptian MB, on what appear to be trumped up charges related to his alleged activities with the Global Muslim Brotherhood Organization (about which I'm planning to write a longer piece soon). Abou el-Fattouh remains in prison, where his health is reportedly deteriorating.  

 This crackdown on the moderate elements of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood almost seems calculated to demoralize reformists and drive the MB towards more radical positions.  Amr Choukbi, a leading Egyptian analyst of Islamist movements, notes today that Abou el-Fattouh -- a true pragmatist and reformist -- faces a difficult position attempting to open up a largely conservative and closed MB organization, which is made even worse by such political crackdowns against the advocates of political moderation. Khalil el-Anani, another leading Egyptian analyst of Islamist movements, wrote an article the other day laying out the potential consequences:

Firstly, the stepped up crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood could increase the polarization within the Egyptian scene, which is already boiling over other many political, economic and social factors.

Secondly, the political and religious isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood could contribute to the emergence of either more superficial or stricter religious discourse.

Thirdly, the increased suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood could force some of the group’s grassroots to turn on their leaders and stage violent protests or call for civil disobedience.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the arrest of the group’s leading reformers, led by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, is tantamount to the execution of Sayyid Qutb in mid 1960s of the last century and its far-reaching repercussions on the Muslim Brotherhood’s young generation and the other young religious enthusiasts at the time.

It is enough to look at the Muslim Brotherhood discussion boards and blogs to find out the extent of resentment and tension among the Brotherhood grassroots after the arrest of Aboul Fotouh, and their appeals to the group’s leaders to move and to take firm positions against the regime.

Fourth, the arrest of the group’s reformists and moderates could throw the group into intolerance and conservatism. This could benefit the regime temporarily, but it could adversely affect the society on the long run.

Fifth, the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood could contribute to the emergence of radical religious movements seeking to fill the religious and political gap between the state and the society. 

Is that what the Egyptian government wants?  Does that serve American foreign policy interests?  Or would such interests be better served by the evolution of a more moderate, pragmatic and reformist Muslim Brotherhood participating in the political system? Perhaps such matters would make for a useful topic of conversation during Hosni Mubarak's reported August visit to Washington DC. 

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