Friday, May 06, 2005


Egyptian Special Operations have arrested four leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. According to the Washington Post:

Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a senior Brotherhood member, said police arrested Essam el-Erian, one of the organization's most senior members, and three other leaders during raids on several homes in Cairo. "They took them to police cars waiting outside surrounded by masked members of the Egyptian special operations forces," Mahmoud said. Police also detained more than 130 Brotherhood members in Cairo and outside the capital, said Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, editor of the group's Web site. ... Although banned since 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood is probably Egypt's largest opposition movement and the government tolerates some of its activities. Fifteen Brotherhood members hold seats in parliament, having been elected as independents.

The question is why. Ha'aretz suggests the arrests are not necessarily extraordinary: just a roundup of the usual suspects over the occasional political difference.

The Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 and banned since 1954, is used to intermittent government crackdowns. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an interview with Egyptian television last month that he would not allow any religious group to become a political party but added that he would not object to Muslim Brotherhood members joining political parties.

But News24 and the BBC are more specific: they suggest that Mubarak is eliminating any roadblocks to an uncontested Presidential election. 

The banned Muslim Brotherhood has been in open confrontation with Egyptian authorities for the first time in 24 years with its wave of protests demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's "dictatorship". ... Under growing domestic and international pressure, the 77-year-old Mubarak agreed last February to amend the constitution to allow multi-candidate elections for the first time in Egypt's history. The amendment is to be discussed in a parliament plenary session on May 10, but Mubarak has yet to announce whether he will run for a fifth six-year term in presidential elections in September. Under the proposed changes, a candidate would need the support of 10% of lawmakers and other members of regional and local councils, all bodies which are dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). "The Muslim Brotherhood is using foreign pressure on the Egyptian regime to improve its own political and legal standing," said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

The BBC reports that it will be hard for the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other opposition party, to get the 10% support to field a candidate to run against Mubarak, though perhaps the Egyptian leader is not taking any chances.

Under the planned law an independent candidate would need to be endorsed by 65 of the 444 members of parliament. Correspondents say an independent is unlikely to get such backing as the ruling party has an overwhelming majority in parliament. Independents - including supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood - make up the most vigorous opposition in Egypt, but number fewer than the 65 needed to endorse an independent candidate.

But at any rate, the opposition may see this as their chance to unseat Mubarak. If so, the Muslim Brotherhood is ironically banking on the US-driven "Arab Spring" to obtain its share of power. Fouad Adjami in his recent Foreign Affairs article, The Autumn of the Autocrats argues that in general, the Arab dictators can no longer hold the line. (Hat tip: DL) The powerlessness of the Middle Eastern President's Club was ironically established first in Iraq and then Lebanon, when no one rode to Saddam's rescue or to Assad's. Who then will ride to Mubarak's?

Cairo will not intercede on behalf of Damascus. If the Egyptians attempt it, their intervention will come without conviction. U.S. policy owes no deference to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. If anything, the Bush administration's new emphasis on reform and liberty only highlights the inadequacy of Mubarak's own regime. ...

But suddenly it seems like the autumn of the dictators. Something different has been injected into this fight. The United States -- a great foreign power that once upheld the Arab autocrats, fearing what mass politics would bring -- now braves the storm. It has signaled its willingness to gamble on the young, the new, and the unknown. Autocracy was once deemed tolerable, but terrorists, nurtured in the shadow of such rule, attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Now the Arabs, grasping for a new world, and the Americans, who have helped usher in this unprecedented moment, together ride this storm wave of freedom.

The price of reaching for the prize of liberating the Middle East is the acceptance of the attendant dangers. That does not mean the goal is not worth striving for, only that in advancing, the sword and shield must be held at guard. The American wave that swept Saddam from power will logically shake the foundations in Cairo and Riyadh. In more ways than one, Iraq was a surprisingly decisive campaign; though what the decision will be, history has yet to reveal.