EGYPT: Amid arrests, activists urge official recognition of Islamist group
CAIRO, 17 April 2006 (IRIN) - Activists renewed calls for official recognition of Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood after dozens of the banned-but-tolerated party’s members were arrested in recent weeks.
“We call for the government to recognise the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate political party,” said Nigad al-Borai, director of the Cairo-based Group for Democratic Development. “Only then will political disputes between the government and the brotherhood be resolved legally.”
Rights groups cited the Brotherhood’s considerable presence in parliament as sufficient grounds for formal recognition. “The current situation, whereby the Brotherhood deals with the government in parliament and yet remains outlawed, is untenable,” said al-Borai.
Of all the opposition forces operating in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood – fielding its candidates as nominal independents – garnered by far the most votes in last year’s parliamentary elections. While other, secular opposition groups, managed to secure a total of only nine of 444 contested seats in the People’s Assembly, the Brotherhood performed surprisingly well, capturing an unanticipated 88 seats.
Although sporadic detentions of the group’s members are by no means a new phenomenon, local observers agree that the rate of arrests has been stepped up in recent weeks. “In comparison with the relative lull of the post-parliamentary election phase, prior to which detentions were very common, there’s been an increase in the intensity of arrests,” said director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat. “It seems the government may be trying to convey a message that, just because the Brotherhood became the main opposition force in parliament, this doesn’t grant them de facto recognition.”
The numbers of Brotherhood detainees have swelled in recent days, according to leading member Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh. “Over 13 and 14 April, four Brotherhood members – who had been preparing a joint campaign with the [opposition bloc] National Front for Change calling for an end to the emergency law – were arrested,” he said. Then, according to the Brotherhood website, 100 university students were detained on the night of 16 April in Assiut province, 350 km south of Cairo.
According to Abul Futouh, one non-Brotherhood affiliated representative of the national front, which consists of a handful of small secular opposition parties, was likewise detained. Abul Futouh added that those arrested had been about to issue a booklet on the emergency law as well as a series of campaign posters.
Despite calls by rights groups, however, it appears unlikely that Cairo will seriously consider granting official party status to the outlawed group, which has been banned, practically, since its inception in1928. For one, observers note, party licensing is determined by a Political Parties Committee, which is ultimately controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party. “Under such circumstances,” said veteran local journalist Gamal Essam al-Din, “the Brotherhood is loath to apply for official status.”