On June 28, several senior members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood were arrested, including Dr. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, member of the the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, Executive Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood and Secretary-General of the Arab Medical Union.
The clampdown on Brotherhood members (including arrests three young reformist Islamist bloggers on July 22) is widely perceived to be a precursor to changing political dynamics in Egypt, particularly with regard to presidential succession. President Hosni Mubarak is considered to be grooming his son Gamal for the post. Predictions are widespread that the clampdown is an attempt to weaken the Brotherhood before Mubarak potentially dissolves parliament and calls for early elections. The government and NDP ruling party have dismissed such predictions as conjecture.
The Brotherhood has been targeted before parliamentary elections in the past, yet in 2000 and 2005, it nevertheless increased its number of seats in parliament. The group is banned, but members are allowed to run as independent candidates.
Fotouh’s arrest followed security investigations accusing him of using his leadership in the Arab Medical Union and Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate to garner international support and foreign financing for the Muslim Brotherhood. There are also accusations of Muslim Brotherhood ties to Hamas and Hizbullah. He has not responded to questioning, saying that necessary information is disclosed in his statements from an investigation in 1995, which led to a five year sentence beginning a year later. He was first arrested in 1981 before a military tribunal.
Before being detained last month, Fotouh was banned from international travel. Calls to release Fotouh early on medical grounds came from many camps recently. Moreover, he is reported to need access to a UK hospital.
Al-Ahram surveys the political maneuvering behind his arrest, citing that Fotouh is a potential candidate to replace the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, who is expected to step down soon. Moreover, Fotouh is a consistent critic of Gamal Mubarak and has vocalized opposition to the inheritance of power.
Considered a reformist-minded moderate within the Brotherhood, Fotouh’s arrest surprised some in the international community. In the past, he has declared that the Brotherhood is at the forefront of reform, calling for a democratic Egypt based on human rights and sustainable development. He claims that the Egyptian government’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, however, risks provoking extremism rather than moderation. In 2007, he wrote:
“Stability cannot be achieved by depriving social and political leaders of civil justice. Nor can it be achieved by resisting democracy and excluding the largest political force in the country from political life. By closing the doors to dialogue, the state is opening a door to chaos and extremism. The consequences will be severe, not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East.” (Guardian, 16 March 2007)
Citing a “misunderstanding within the media with regards the debate between extremist and secularists,” in a recent interview, Fotouh rejects suggestions that the Brotherhood will lean Egypt toward conservative Islam. Rather, he argues that the group’s calls for reform are rooted in widespread graft and state militancy. He sees a place for the Brotherhood in promoting freedom, justice and development through a democratic multiparty system: “In the end, we all agree that the choice is to the people. If you want to nominate anyone, go ahead and the people can choose whom they please.”
With regard to the United States, Fotouh commends President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world. He is optimistic, yet like many observers, is waiting for U.S. action. Fotouh maintains that American policies should reflect its own values and standards. Obama’s relations with the Muslim world means reaching out the Brotherhood, he insists, yet he expects no special treatment. This, and relations with every people and continent, should focus on three principles: freedom, justice and development. Such a strategy, he maintains, will enhance global stability because insecurity is caused by “ignorance, poverty and lack of freedom and justice.”