The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) hosted a panel discussion as part of its Ibn Rushd Salon entitled : “ Militias…The State, The Rule of Law, and Double Standards between Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq,” on Wednesday the 20th of December 2006. Participating in the proceedings of the panel discussion were Hafez Abu Sa’da, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, General Fouad Allam, former deputy director of Egyptian State Security Police, Dr. Muhammad Al Beltagy, Professor at Al Azhar University and Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, and Negad Al Boraei director of the Committee for the Development of Democracy. The discussion was moderated by Bahey Edin Hassan, Director of CIHRS.
Bahey Edin Hassan initiated the discussion with a briefing on the events witnessed at Al Azhar University recently in the course of which a group of students belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood held a pseudo military performance in protest against what they called the injustice they faced during and after the last student union elections.
The lead was then taken by Negad Al Boaraei the director of the Committee for the Development of Democracy who stressed that the issue with the Azhar events transcended the military performance which the Brotherhood students held, to the renewal of genuine suspicions and misgivings about the intentions of the Brotherhood, adding that the statements made by the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood over the course of last year have not been encouraging and that the performance of the Brotherhood’s deputies in parliament has been weak and does not allow for trusting the group if they come to power in the country.
Al Boraei called for an apology by the Supreme Guide for the Azhar events and said that what emanated from the Brotherhood students has given a negative impression about the development of political life in Egypt. He said that the apologies which have come from the Brotherhood’s leadership have been uglier than the sin itself they committed. He also criticised the attempt of the Brotherhood to send a message of terror to the state through the students’ military performance and underlined that even if the state was tyrannical and unjust, it is not appropriate to try to terrorize it as the nature of any state includes that it holds a monopoly of power even if it is unjust, pointing to the consensus between Muslim scholars that strife is worse and more dangerous than a corrupt ruler remaining in power.
He emphasised that the positions of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc have significantly harmed the freedom of opinion and expression, pointing to their positions on various broadcasting, television, cinematic and creative material including those on the movies “The Yacoubian Building” and “The Da Vinci Code” as examples. He also mentioned the demand, made by one of their deputies, of the flogging of journalists instead of imprisoning them during discussions of the press laws. He stated that these positions renew questions about the stance of the Muslim Brotherhood on Copts and the freedom of thought and belief.
Al Boraei accentuated that the current uncertain situation of the Muslim Brotherhood must be ended either by the group itself or by the government, calling on the group to hasten into dialogue with all political forces including “reasonable” elements from the ruling National Democratic Party in order to erase the misunderstandings surrounding the Azhar events.
Hafez Abu Sa’da the secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights indicated that the use of violence in politics has been part of the Muslim Brotherhood since its formation in 1928 substantiating this by referring to assassinations carried out before the revolution, and the attempt to assassinate late president Gamal Abd El Nasser, followed by the emergence of violent organizations from the womb of the Brotherhood. He also pointed to the irony present in the fact that at the time that these organisations have been revising their thought and admitting the mistake of pursuing the path of violence in past years, the beginnings of a new wave of violence in society appears in the Brotherhood itself.
Abu Sa’da warned of the danger to the stability and cohesiveness of the state of the creation of parallel militias and entities, stating that what the Muslim Brotherhood did in Al Azhar gives the state a chance to crackdown on rights and liberties, demonstrating this with the example of the violent events which took place in Algeria. He called for dialogue between the Brotherhood and national forces about the positions of the Brotherhood and the Islamic movement on the subjects of the civil state, the freedom of thought and belief, the rejection of violence, the acceptance of the other, as well as their positions on women and Copts respectively.
Abu Sa’da defended the position of the human rights organizations saying that just as they condemned what the Brotherhood did in Al Azhar they had also previously condemned the state’s harassment of female journalists and opposition figures during what came to be known as the referendum day events, pointing towards the fact that these same organisations issued numerous reports against the arbitrary arrests and other practices which members of the Muslim Brotherhood have suffered.
He stated that the forces of civil society would not allow the replacement of the current political tyranny with a form of religious tyranny and that if the Brotherhood’s thought is based on force and subjugation, then the remaining of the current dictatorship is better, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood students being held in custody because of the Azhar events are victims and must be released and replaced with whomever gave them the orders to carry out what they did.
Abu Sa’da held that the Azhar events and the Brotherhoods reactions to its critics begs the question of the group’s demands of its right for a license to create a political party if this is what it wants, calling on the group to accept the conditions of a legal political organisation. At the forefront of these is the acceptance of the sovereignty of the civil state and the rule of law, where legitimacy is for institutions and elections are the method to get to power as well as the rejection of violence. He further added that the creation of parallel entities and militias threatens the collapse of the state demonstrating this with what is currently happening in Iraq and Somalia, and that the struggle should be for guiding the state’s use of power.
On his part, Bahiyy El Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute, rejected the accusations made against the human rights organisations of being selective in their work saying that the human rights organisations have condemned and still condemn all governmental violations of human rights. He stressed that the military performance carried out by the Brotherhood students at Al Azhar University has revealed that the Brotherhood has decided to return to the same way they practiced politics in their beginnings, that being the show of power, a way which they had abandoned since the mid seventies. He pointed towards the fact that this performance shocked public opinion which saw a political force engaged in this type of show of power for the first time. This is despite the Brotherhood’s attempts to recall counter images of ruling party hired thugs during the referendum and elections or in the Ain Shams University events, as this has come to be seen as an excuse for the Brotherhood to resort to violence.
Hassan called upon the state to avoid clashes with the Brotherhood and to immediately release the Azhar students which are only victims of their leaders’ mistakes and called upon the Brotherhood, at the same time, to closely read the various reactions to the Azhar events indicating that a large segment of intellectuals who have supported in previous years the right of the Brotherhood to have an officially sanctioned and legitimate presence are now reviewing their stances. He expressed his fear that if the Brotherhood do not realise the immensity and danger of what they have done, they may return to square zero, or find themselves as just another element confronting the regime without the support any other actors.
On his part, Dr. Mohammed El Beltagy, secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc likened the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood to a form of Islamophobia, saying that there are attempts to exploit the Azhar events to create a state of social panic about the Muslim Brotherhood. He said that the group is with presenting all genuine and rational fears but not through summoning the enemy and fortifying the whole Egyptian climate to take a stance against the Brotherhood, wondering about the fate of the incidents of harassment against female journalists and demonstrators on the day of the constitutional amendments referendum and the incidents of assault with white weapons and Molotov grenades on students and professors at Ain Shams university under the noses and with the collaboration of state security apparatuses.
He restated that the group’s leadership, represented by its deputy supreme guide Mohammed Habib, declared from the first moment its complete denunciation of what happened at Al Azhar University. This was accompanied by an apology from the students for what they did, which was intentionally ignored in favour of focusing the spotlight on the mistake which happened. He declared that his group totally rejects violence and flaunting and demonstrating force, describing what followed the Azhar events as an attempt to terrorize the general cultural climate from the Brotherhood. He also specified that the Brotherhood did not call for the flogging of journalists but only compared between imprisoning journalists who question citizen’s financial integrity without proof with the punishment of flogging those who question people’s honour and veracity in Islam. He added that the issue of the movie “The Yacoubian Building” was raised in parliament by Deputy Mustafa Bakry, not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that what happened in Palestine and Algeria was an overthrow of democracy and the elections in which Islamists won in both countries.
He also remarked that the Muslim Brotherhood wholly rejects a state of chaos because it knows that only those who call for “constructive chaos” and whoever deals with them will benefit from such a state. He also pointed to the Brotherhood’s strong faith in the freedom of thought and belief as well as the rights of Copts, accusing the state, after having failed to decisively end its political contentions with the Brotherhood in universities, of trying to enforce its control over everything and exploiting the administrative structures of universities to decide its rivalry with the Muslim Brotherhood.
El Beltagy justified the Brotherhood’s refusal to come forward with an official application to form a political party by the existence of the political parties law that puts the state which knows that the Muslim Brotherhood are its main political contender-as he put it- in a position of control over the creation or refusal of parties.
He also highlighted the fact that the Brotherhood do not claim a monopoly of speaking in the name of Islam, and if they had wanted to send a message through the military demonstration-as it has been rumoured- at al Azhar they would not have staged a performance so weak in numbers especially since it is well known that the Brotherhood is a very large organization
On the other hand, General Fouad Allam, former Deputy Director of state security police stated that the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood is, up to this moment, illegal, accusing the group of lacking democracy. He pointed out that there are no “former supreme guides” of the Brotherhood, or a woman elected to the Guidance Office of the group or any Copts within the ranks of the group. He also said that the group rejects any criticism and accuses its critics of lying, and tries to enforce its existence through force and intellectual terrorism, which is unacceptable.
Allam also emphasised that there exists a struggle within the Brotherhood between those who believe in the necessity of continuing covert organisation and those who believe in functioning overtly. He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to denounce secrecy, violence and militias and to take the correct path towards political legitimacy by applying for a license to form a political party and not using the Political Parties Committee as an excuse, because when the Muslim Brotherhood make it to power through legitimate means, everyone will applaud them.
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