Monday, August 31, 2009

The Egyptian Government and the Muslim Brotherhood: More than an Iftar

Sun, 30 August 2009
Mohammad Salah
Dar Al Hayat

What were the reasons behind the Egyptian government’s decision to allow the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that it firmly bans, to organize an annual Ramadan Iftar dinner? How does this take place when this Iftar brings together hundreds of Brotherhood members, along with their guests, including public figures, leaders from the various political parties, as well as those who belong to the ruling National Democratic Party itself? Usually and every year, this Iftar takes place in a huge hall in a big hotel, and after the attendees have their meal, the speeches begin. These begin with an address by the group’s spiritual leader, who expresses his gratitude to those in attendance, then talks about the harassments against the group, and criticizes the government and its policies. After others deliver speeches, full of appreciation for the Brotherhood and criticism of the government, the event concludes with the distribution of paper sacks containing some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s literature, or publications that reflect its principles and opinions on certain public issues. The Iftar is then over, usually without any incidents, while quite often, police officers can be seen in and around the hotel, and near the hall where the Brotherhood is celebrating themselves and their Ramadan guests. No clashes or fights usually break out, and greetings are usually exchanged between the police officers and certain well-known Brotherhood figures.

However, and for the second time this year, the Egyptian government has objected to the Brotherhood’s annual Iftar, despite the group’s promises to reduce the number of guests, and dispense with the after-meal speeches, but to no avail. A question thus arises: when does the government permit the Brotherhood to organize a Ramadan iftar, and when does it refuse that? Does this have to do with legal conditions and situations, or is it in fact about political convenience? This has nothing to do with the law, where the government affirms that it does not recognize the Brotherhood as a legitimate group or organization, but rather prohibits dealing with its members. Otherwise, giving the permission for many activities carried out by the Brotherhood, including Iftar events, with everything that takes place within those, is a legal violation by the government itself. Furthermore, the government is often found to be guarding such events, and providing security for the organization’s members and guests, as well as those delivering the speeches in the big hall and those listening to them.

However, if this has to do with political convenience, then it is clear that the relationship between the government and the Brotherhood has not been at all well in recent months, and what was permitted in the past, is no longer possible today.

Meanwhile, some might see the arrest of many Brotherhood figures, including the deputy supreme guide, Mohammed Kheirat Shater, in addition to the leading figure Dr. Abdel-Monem Abul-Foutouh, as representing a new policy by the government concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. However, those who have followed the relationship between the two sides for years, have realized that even at a time in which the military trials of Muslim Brotherhood members were taking place, the government permitted the attendance of the Ramadan Iftar. This is because some officials believe in leaving “some windows open” to the Brotherhood for them to breathe through, so that they do not “explode” when they are under siege. It appears that these convictions have now changed however: The issue today is more than just an Iftar event; it has to do with profound changes in the Egyptian state’s policy of dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in the coming years, which is believed to become a vital policy in Egypt’s history, constituting the very future of this important, or the most important Arab country.

In this vein, some might believe that a return to the climate of the 1950s and 1960s is unlikely; this is correct because the current situation, as well as domestic, regional and international conditions, have changed. Also, the regime today in Egypt is not that of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, while the Brotherhood is not that of Sayyed Qotb. It is true to say, on the other hand, that over the next two years, Egypt, which will ready itself to receive a new president or extend the term of Hosni Mubarak, is aware that the Brotherhood is insisting on being a part of the regime’s “formula” in the future, and that the Brotherhood is attempting this, trying to benefit from surrounding conditions, even when “disasters”, no less, might be inflicted upon them.

It appears then, that the conflict between the two sides in the next two years will escalate, in different ways, while each side will be using all available means at their disposal to produce an impact, while at the same time trying to negate the influence of the other side.

It is thus about more than an Iftar during Ramadan; it is about the future of Egypt…in all months, and years

Comment: The time of Mubarak is soon over-the explosion is soon to follow and this does not bode well for Israel.

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