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What talks?

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(source:Al-Ahram Weekly)

Muslim Brotherhood claims that it is seeking dialogue with the NDP have provoked a rush of rumour. Gamal Essam El-Din sifts through fact and fiction

Security forces in Alexandria arrested seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday as well as confiscating computers and documents. On the same day State Security Prosecutor Hisham Badawi ordered that Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a leading member of Brotherhood’s Executive Guidance Bureau and Secretary-General of the Union of Arab Doctors, remain in custody for 15 more days pending investigations. The prosecution authorities agreed that Aboul-Fotouh could remain in El-Kasr El-Aini hospital, where he is receiving medical treatment.

Since May almost 40 senior members of the Brotherhood have been arrested. Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adli, addressing a Police Academy graduation ceremony attended by President Hosni Mubarak three weeks ago, launched a scathing attack on the Brotherhood, affirming that the "police will never relent in directing an iron fist at the criminal activities of a group that has placed undermining legitimacy and spreading chaos at the top of its agenda".

Aboul-Fotouh faces charges of money laundering, seeking to revive the group's international wing and spying for foreign organisations, including the Lebanese-based Shia party of Hizbullah. Police have accused Aboul- Fotouh and Osama Suleiman, another Brotherhood leader and owner of the Sabah Money Exchange Company, of receiving 2.7 million euros in funding from Hizbullah.

"The money was transferred from Syria, via Europe, to the Arab International Bank (AIB) whose anti-money laundering unit informed the authorities," said a police statement on Sunday. The authorities also say the group received four million pounds sterling to finance its activities in Egypt in a single month and laundered LE8 million in four hours.

Meanwhile, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered the release of the Brotherhood's Executive Guidance Bureau member Osama Nasreddin, along with twelve other members of the group, following a ruling that there was no evidence that Nasreddin and his colleagues had played a role in reviving the Brotherhood's international wing.

The confrontation between the Brotherhood and security forces expanded last week to include senior officials of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) who used summer camp meetings with young leaders in Alexandria to deny rumours that some elements within the party were in favour of dialogue with the Brotherhood. Mahdi Akef, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, was quoted on the group's website two weeks ago as saying that the NDP and government contained "wise men" who were seeking dialogue with what is generally regarded as Egypt's largest opposition group. Akef claims that Brotherhood historian Ahmed Raef told him some months ago that senior members of the government and the NDP were seeking a deal with the Brotherhood under which the group would refrain from fielding candidates in the 2010 parliamentary elections in return for dialogue and the release of some of its members.

"I approved in principle but said the deal must include comprehensive dialogue, the release of all members detained, guarantees that members will no longer be referred to military courts, and moves towards recognizing the Brotherhood as a legitimate political party," says Akef, adding that he "never heard back from Raef."

Saad El-Katatni, the Brotherhood's parliamentary spokesman, claims that Al-Adli's attack on the group in the presence of President Mubarak "was an attempt to silence voices within the NDP calling for dialogue". He now hopes that an open meeting with President Mubarak can be arranged to allow the group's leaders to display their loyalty.

"The Brotherhood asks for dialogue in order to gain legitimacy but we reject any negotiations with outlawed groups," said NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif. "It would be better for the Brotherhood to abide by the laws and the constitution than seek to come to power by illegal means."  El-Sherif urged Brotherhood leaders not to mix religion with politics or attempt to hijack civil society organisations to spearhead their calls for a religious state and give cover to their attempts to undermine the constitution and the multi-party system. "I also warn them not to try to drive a wedge between the government and the party. We are fully aware of their attempts to sow the seeds of division among NDP ranks."

In 1994, El-Sherif recalled, the Brotherhood and other Islamic groups made a similar offer of dialogue. "The offer was rejected by the NDP then, just as we reject it now. We refuse to talk with groups that seek to exploit religion to achieve political ends."  The then Minister of Interior, Abdel-Halim Moussa, was subsequently sacked, allegedly because he was in favour of talks. Addressing young NDP members in Alexandria, El-Sherif advised them "not to be taken in by the poisonous calls of outlawed groups, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood." "As NDP secretary-general," he continued, "I have no authority to strike a deal with an illegal group. You must be aware that Islamist groups constitute the greatest threat to the future of a civil state in Egypt." Alieddin Hilal, NDP secretary for media affairs, insists "the NDP will never accept to deal with illegal groups like the Muslim Brotherhood".

Hilal took the Brotherhood to task for spreading rumours about "a secret dialogue".  "The outlawed group is trying to distract public attention from their violation of law."  "NDP leaders seem to believe that their position is so strong they do not need to confer with anyone," says El-Katatni. "They do not appear to realise that the Brotherhood serves as a safety valve against radicalism. When dialogue with those representing the most moderate vision of Islam is rejected the only alternative is extremism and violence."

El-Katatni insists, "the Brotherhood fully intends to contest the 2010 elections" and "will continue to push for the democratic succession of power in Egypt".


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