Egypt Arrests Muslim Brotherhood Leader

In the long-running conflict between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the government made another move against the MB this morning, preventing Essam El-Erian, chief of the Brotherhood’s political department, from traveling to Turkey as part of a doctors group, Reuters reports.

Now comes news in our email inbox, courtesy of one-time WPR contributor Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, a Muslim Brotherhood member and columnist for, the MB’s English-language Web site, that El-Erian has now been arrested by the Egyptian government. El-Houdaiby wrote the following in an email dispatch sent to multiple recipients:

I just received the news of the arrest (or re-arrest) of Essam El Erian, Chief of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political bureau, who was banned from travelling to Turkey this morning. A number of leaders were also arrested, including Mahmoud Hussien, a member of the Executive Council.

El Erian spent most of his lifetime in prison, being arrested one time after the other. I fail to comprehend the logic of his arrest, especially that he is a well -known leader who appears on media outlets all the time, and is well known for his moderate stances, and tolerance. He enjoys the love and support of all political activists in the country, including his political opponents. In fact, some observers make distinctions between his discourse and that of other Brotherhood leaders, and claim that El Erian presents a moderate façade for a group which is not that moderate.

El Erian was elected to parliament in 1987, and was arrested several times. I could not count them now of course, but he was arrested in 1978, 1981, 1995 ( and was sentenced to five years in prison by a military tribunal), 2002, 2005, 2006, and was last released in December 2006, only 4 days before the arrest of Khayrat el Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy chairman.

The arrest of El Erian is a clear attempt by the regime to crackdown on the moderate leaders of the Brotherhood who could push the group towards more moderate stances. With El Shater and El Erian being behind bars, the Brotherhood’s political leadership is being deprived of two of its most influential and moderate faces. The question remains: who does that serve?

The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has renounced violence in the past, and Egypt-watchers argue over whether the Brotherhood is really a moderate organization, or whether its members’ professed belief in moderation and liberal values is a façade that is useful to them only as a tool against the authoritarian, but secular, Mubarak regime. (Our friend Joshua Muravchik, for example, points out that the MB professes belief in democracy, but doesn’t practice it in its ranks.) Whatever the reality of the MB’s intentions, however, the email above from El-Houdaiby shows why the moderate and liberal line of criticism against the regime is so effective.

In his piece for WPR. El-Houdaiby called the MB “moderate Islamist” and said the Egyptian government, not the MB, is the true practitioner of political triangulation in the service of maintaining power:

Somehow over the years the Egyptian establishment has developed a two-faced nature. It has a secular facade, which is uses to justify to the international community its crackdowns on the Islamist opposition, after tarnishing the image of the opposition and presenting it as anti-democratic, terrorist and discriminatory. But it also has a radical Islamist face, which is utilizes when necessary to defame its secular political opponents, paralyze their movement, and put them behind bars whenever necessary.

Surprisingly, the regime does not assume a moderate Islamist facade like its opponents, but rather chooses radical Islamist and secular posturing instead. This way, the regime can exclude its Islamist and secular opponents, and undermine their right of existence and political engagement.

So El-Houdaiby’s email quoted above echoes the critique in his piece, and suggests the Egyptian government is cracking down on the moderates, like El Erian, in the Muslim Brotherhood because it serves the regime better if the MB is in fact radicalized rather than moderate.

As the editor’s note at the top of El-Houdaiby’s column indicates, we had hoped to run a response to his column penned by someone from the secular wing of the Egyptian opposition — from a figure active in the Kifaya movement, for example. We had one such contributor lined up, but the contribution never materialized. We’ll make a renewed effort to make that response happen.

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