Mubarak regime, shaken by terrorism, lashes out at opponents at home
By Nadia Abou El-Magd
1:55 p.m. April 30, 2006
CAIRO, Egypt - The Egyptian government - shaken again by terrorist bombs -
appears to be lashing out in all directions to prevent chaos from growing
out of anger over the economy, its treatment of opponents, and broken
promises of political reform.
On Sunday, President Hosni Mubarak, as expected, got parliament's approval
to renew the emergency law he imposed when he took power in 1981 from the
assassinated Anwar Sadat. authorities broad powers of arrest and detention
that the government says are needed to combat terrorism. Human rights groups
have said it is widely abused.
For example, the government has conducted a rash of arrests since March,
jailing about 90 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the
fundamentalist Islamic organization that poses the greatest challenge to
Mubarak's continued rule.
"The government has no intention of launching real political reforms. It
aims to tighten its grip," deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad
At least 35 arrests were made in recent days, mainly of Brotherhood members
who were hanging posters against renewal of the emergency law.
Last week, about 50 people were arrested, journalists included, at a
demonstration in support of judges who are apparently being punished for
criticizing Mubarak's handling of last year's parliamentary elections in
which at least 14 people were killed.
The regime fielded thousands of security agents to crush the pro-judge
demonstration in Cairo, more than it did at the scene of the triple bombing
in Dahab last week, where at least 21 people were killed.
Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hesham el-Bastawisy, both members of the Court of
Cassation - the country's highest appellate court - said disciplinary
proceedings against them were ordered because of their loud protests against
what they saw as a deeply flawed and dishonest election.
The judges also accused some pro-government judges of allowing or
participating in vote-rigging.
The government never investigated the violence surrounding the vote, nor
were those responsible for the killings arrested or charged.
Most of the 14 victims were supporters of the Brotherhood who died as
security officials violently blocked polling places in a bid to keep the
organization's candidates from making even greater inroads in parliament.
Some insiders are making comparisons to the final days of Sadat's rule, now
known as "black September" because the former president had swept 1,500
opposition figures into custody.
Negad el-Borai, director of the Group for Democratic Development, said he
was reminded of that time.
As in 1981, he told The Associated Press, the Mubarak regime "has made
enemies of all other political forces, judges, journalists, professional
organizations, NGOs, small businessmen, the army of unemployed. Muslims and
Christians are unhappy, nobody is happy in Egypt these days."
El-Borai's organization was one of six nongovernment groups that has been
vilified by pro-government newspapers for having taken U.S. aid.
"We are waiting for a big surprise," Suleiman Gouda wrote in the independent
daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. "You feel that Egypt is pregnant with something,
it's up to you to imagine the looks of the baby that will be born after 25
years (of Mubarak's rule)."
Mubarak - under domestic and international pressure, especially from
Washington - surprised the country in February 2005 by saying he would allow
the first multi-candidate presidential elections in Egypt, a top U.S. ally.
The election was held in September and Mubarak outdistanced nine
Ayman Nour, who finished a distant second, has subsequently been sentenced
to five years in prison on forgery charges that he says were trumped up to
eliminate him from politics.
In February, Mubarak postponed elections for local councils for two years,
apparently to block another strong showing by the Brotherhood. The roundup
of Brotherhood members began shortly afterward.
Mubarak walks a tightrope, trying to balance the interests of the United
States, which has given Egypt $2 billion each year since Sadat made peace
with Israel in 1979, against a growing anger with Washington among his
fellow Arab leaders.
Of late, on virtually every issue of importance to the United States - with
the one exception of Israel - Mubarak has taken positions that have riled
The Bush administration showed its frustration by putting off negotiations
on a free-trade agreement and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's most
recent visit was deeply marred by public disagreement with her Egyptian
Mubarak, who will turn 78 on Thursday, was re-elected in September for six
more years, issuing promises to reform the economy and politics. Many
complain the vows were not serious.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV on April 8, Mubarak said "he is very
comfortable" with how things are going.
"I feel people understand that we are working on constant reforms, and there
is ongoing political movement, so of course I'm very comforted," said the
Egyptian leader, a Soviet-trained fighter pilot.
But in a sign of the regime's concern over what its own people know about
events in their country, the government arrested Al-Jazeera television's
Cairo bureau chief Hussein Abdel-Ghani in Dahab where he was reporting on
last week's attacks. He was held for 29 hours, accused of false reporting
and released on bail.
The Mubarak government is at pains to blame the attacks on local extremists
in an attempt to deflect concerns about al-Qaeda, which could damage the
vital tourist industry.
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