Middle East


Bloodied Brothers

In the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for October and November of this year, the Egyptian government launched a wide-scale offensive against the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group. According to local and regional press reports, several dozen members of the group have been arrested by security forces since May in what is being described as an effort to disable the organization before the fall 2000 elections.

Prior to Egypt’s last parliamentary elections in 1995, authorities embarked on a similar sweep, putting some 81 leading Brotherhood cadre on trial at the Supreme Military Court. Fifty-four men were convicted of membership in an illegal organization and sentenced to three to five years in prison.

In an attempt to minimize the damage from the latest crackdown, the Brotherhood has attempted to moderate its course. Muhammad Saleh, writing in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat of London (Aug. 21), noted that the group recently backed down from an earlier pledge to bring suit against the government to challenge a ban against many of its prospective candidates.

Leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam al-Aryan, who is one of the many barred from running in the current elections, told Al-Hayat that “the Brothers are being careful not to provoke the government or clash with it.”

In the semi-official Al-Ahram Weekly of Cairo, Amira Haweidi added that “although they represent the Brotherhood’s most sophisticated cadres politically and professionally, it is highly unlikely that they will risk their newly regained freedom by running in the November poll.” Consequently, the Brotherhood will put forward substantially fewer candidates than in the previous election—75 by Howeidi’s count—and they will run as individuals rather than under the Brotherhood’s banner.

In what is being seen as an attempt by the organization to present a positive image of openness and tolerance, the Saudi-owned weekly magazine Al-Wasat of London (Aug. 28-Sept. 3) reported that, for the first time in its history, the Brotherhood will field a woman candidate.

The group’s Alexandria bureau recently released a list of contenders that included the name of Jihan al-Halafawi, the wife of prominent Brotherhood figure Ibrahim Zafrani. She will be joined by another surprise Brotherhood selection: Samir Mansour, a Coptic Christian. The candidate choices are surprising from a group not traditionally known for its progressive views on women or the country’s Christian minority.

Aside from the crackdown on opposition forces, the prospects for free and fair elections in the 2000 vote, once again, seem remote. Cairo-based reporter Andrew Hammond, writing in the London-based newsmagazine Middle East International (Sept. 20), observed that the authorities have already scuttled the election-monitoring initiative planned by researcher Saad Eddine Ibrahim, who was preemptively arrested during the summer and held for a month on charges of receiving unauthorized foreign funding.

Hammond also cited other ominous signs, such as vote-rigging. Recently, a member of the opposition Wafd Party discovered an extra 4,000 registered voters in his district and, after some digging, found out that the voter names belonged to workers in a factory owned by a security officer whose wife is running against him in the election.

In addition, complaints have been registered, claiming that the names of deceased voters have been replaced by new names but under the same registration numbers in some districts.

There have also been reports that the registration numbers of deceased voters are being used with new names—an irregularity that indicates unscrupulous individuals are trying to pad their voting districts with the names of supporters.