Egyptian opposition branded “terrorist”

CAIRO (IPS) - The Egyptian government is now accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of links to Palestinian resistance groups and of establishing “global networks.” Recent months have seen a host of government accusations — which critics say are fabricated — against opposition groups it claims have ties with Hamas, Hizballah, and the ever-elusive al-Qaeda.

“The government is making up so many charges of ‘terror networks’ and ‘Islamist cells’ that it’s hard to keep track of them all,” Islamist lawyer Montasser al-Zayat told IPS.

Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and secretary-general of the Arab Doctors’ Union, was arrested 28 June along with seven leading Brotherhood members. They face charges of setting up an illegal “committee for communications abroad” and of “conspiring with foreign organizations.”

According to official claims, Abul-Fotouh received instructions from Lebanese resistance group Hizballah during Israel’s January assault on the Gaza Strip to organize anti-government street demonstrations in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. He was also allegedly mandated with recruiting “jihadist cells” to be sent to Gaza to receive paramilitary training from Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

Spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood deny all charges. According to al-Zayat, the case against the group is “entirely political.”

“The regime wants the Brotherhood’s support for its plan, which many say is imminent, to transfer presidential authority from President [Hosni] Mubarak to his son Gamal,” he said. “So it’s twisting the group’s arm by cracking down on its middle and upper level echelons.”

Although officially banned, the Muslim Brotherhood represents Egypt’s largest opposition movement, with roughly one-fifth of seats in parliament. The rest of the National Assembly is held by the National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Mubarak.

Al-Zayat says that linking Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to Palestinian groups Hamas and Hizballah accomplishes two government objectives.

“First, it will hinder dialogue between the West and the Brotherhood since the US and most of the EU consider Hamas and Hizballah terrorist organizations rather than legitimate resistance groups. Secondly, it will deter Egyptians at home from supporting the Brotherhood by unjustly associating it with terrorism.”

Ibrahim Mansour, executive editor of independent daily al-Dustour says the campaign specifically targets Brotherhood members who have been outspoken critics of Egypt’s position during Israel’s recent assault on the Gaza Strip.

Over the course of the three-week assault from December 2008 into January this year, Egypt kept its border with the Hamas-run territory tightly sealed, effectively preventing the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. According to critics, the decision amounted to tacit support for Israel’s war on Hamas.

“All the Brotherhood leaders that had been vocal critics of Egypt’s closed-border policy at the time have since been arrested or charged,” Mansour told IPS. “Those arrested had also been active in organizing humanitarian aid donations to Gaza’s besieged population during and after the assault.”

In a closely related case, 26 men were referred to a state emergency court in late July on charges of spying for Hizballah and plotting “terrorist activity” on Egyptian territory. Members of the group were first arrested in April, and accused of planning attacks on tourist destinations and on ships passing through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

At the time, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah admitted to having dispatched a single agent to Egypt on a “logistical” mission to assist the besieged Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip. He denied all accusations of plotting violent operations on Egyptian soil or of spying on the Egyptian state.

But in recent weeks headlines in the official press have been peppered with phrases like “Islamist cell,” “global terror network” and “links to al-Qaeda.”

“All these Islamist ‘cells’ supposedly being uncovered, with links to al-Qaeda or otherwise, are obvious fabrications with little or no basis in reality,” says Mansour.

The recent spate of al-Qaeda claims is “strange in the extreme,” says Mansour. “During the 1990s, the regime constantly reiterated that local Islamist groups had absolutely no links with al-Qaeda, whose presence in Afghanistan at the time was well-established,” he said. “So why are they making all these claims now, when there is no evidence whatsoever that al-Qaeda even exists?”

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