Egypt targets Muslim Brotherhood moderates
President Hosni Mubarak's regime is clamping down on the banned opposition group ahead of next month's local elections.
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Brotherhood members and outside observers say the crackdown has weakened the influence of the movement's moderates and empowered its more conservative ideological elements.Skip to next paragraph
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Ibrahim El Houdaiby, an editor of IkhwanWeb, the group's English-language website, says the government is cracking down on moderate Islamists because they are more willing to engage with the international community and to work across party lines with opposition groups of different ideological stripes.
He points to the recent arrest of a senior IkhwanWeb editor, Khaled Hamza, who was detained on a busy street just hours after meeting with visitors from an international human rights group.
Moderates increasingly targeted
"People with a greater ability to reach out to those with different ideologies and backgrounds, like secular opposition groups in Egypt and the international community, are at a higher risk of being detained," he said.
That view is shared by Zahraa El Shater, the daughter of Khairat El Shater, the movement's No. 3 leader and a lead defendant in the case.
If the regime wanted to give them a fair trial, she says, it would abide by the multiple acquittals they received in civilian courts.
Instead, she thinks the regime wants to punish the men for their moderate views and openness to the West.
"My father was taken because he was moderate and liked to open dialogue with Western people, with American people," she says. "The government here hates that. It does not want the Muslim Brotherhood to talk to Western people.
The imprisonment of Mr. El Shater and other moderates has had "a tremendous effect on the internal workings of the group" by upsetting the balance between pragmatists and conservatives, says Joshua Stacher, a fellow at Syracuse University who specializes in Middle Eastern politics.
That is significant, he says, because it strikes a blow at the charitable activities that draw in many of its supporters, and also sends a warning to the movement's donors.
"If the government goes after its funding, then this stops the money used to fund these activities," says Shehata. "Now the government is not only jailing people, but also threatening their families' well-being."