By Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh (THE GUARDIAN, 16/03/07):
Over the past couple of years Egypt has been undergoing a political transformation. The Muslim Brotherhood has sought to be at the forefront of those attempting to establish a democratic state founded on respect for human rights and a programme of sustainable development. So it was no surprise the Brotherhood won 88 seats in parliament in the 2005 elections, despite the widespread fraud reported by judges who supervised the process.The Brotherhood’s leaders, activists and MPs have played a central role in confronting corruption and championing reform. As a consequence, we have been accused of being theocratic or promoting terrorism. In fact, we reject the theocratic model of the state and believe in a peaceful transfer of power and we respect the people’s choice through the ballot box. Many of our female members and activists were candidates in the elections and all are encouraged to participate in the public sphere. We have repeatedly condemned all forms of terrorism in Egypt and around the world, and have endorsed fatwas forbidding the terrorising of innocent people.
However, since the end of last year, the regime has been conducting a campaign of repression against the Brotherhood. Not only has it rejected all calls to open a dialogue with us, it has continued to deny us a licence to be a legal political party. While champions of democratic reform are celebrated in other parts of the world, in Egypt they are harassed, persecuted and brought before special military courts to face a catalogue of false charges fabricated by the government and its police.
Meanwhile, the government is planning constitutional amendments aimed at restricting civil liberties and obstructing political participation. This week a broad coalition was launched, bringing together the Brotherhood and the main opposition parties, from left to right, to campaign against these undemocratic moves.
The crackdown on the Brotherhood – hundreds have been jailed, including national figures such as Khairat el-Shatir, our deputy leader, Dr Muhammad Ali Beshr, the general secretary of the Union of Egyptian Engineers, and Dr Khalid Awda, a geology professor – reflects a crisis in the very foundations of the regime. Our vision for Egypt, our services to society, and our roots among the people have made us the largest reformist political force in the country. The ruling minority seeks to maintain its control of power and wealth, but it faces a dilemma. While no credible conception of Egypt’s future can continue to ignore the country’s most powerful opposition force, for the governing clique any move to cede power to the people will certainly mean a fundamental change in the political landscape. Its answer to this rapidly developing crisis is oppression and persecution at home, underpinned by American and western silence abroad – secured by blind support for US policies in the Middle East.
Both history and geography have placed Egypt at the heart of the Arab world and made it a centre for promoting new ideas throughout the region. We are paying a heavy price for calling for reform and combating corruption. Nevertheless, we shall continue to demand democracy, freedom and the establishment of a modern civil state in Egypt.
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. Dr Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s executive council in Egypt.