To many analysts President Obama's appointment of a special US envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) was only another item of window-dressing. On the burning issues that affect Muslim peoples worldwide the administration remains evasive at best and in denial at worst. While the just concluded "Doha Forum on US-Islamic relations" offered a perfect platform to demonstrate American goodwill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to discuss the maltreatment and arrests sweeping the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt when challenged to do so by Saad Eddin Ibrahim. According to the New York Times, the Egyptian human rights advocate asked Mrs. Clinton "to take a tougher line with the Egyptian government over its repressive tactics", prompting a "nervous chuckle from Qatar's prime minister" on the stage with Clinton who said simply, "We [the US] will take responsibility". And, since the Americans showed no inclination to speak out it comes as no surprise that Europe remains dutifully silent. Equally, most of the Western media appears culpable by burying its collective head in the sand. Passing references such as that noted above are the exception not the rule.
Despite the presence of reporters in most regional capitals, not one British Middle East correspondent newspaper or television has covered the latest security forces crack-down against the Brotherhood. Last week, 16 members of the movement's leadership were detained, among them the Deputy Supreme Guide, Dr Mahmud Izzet. The virtual news blackout of this unfortunate development raises the question as to whether the official and media silence is because of the historic stand of the Brotherhood on the Palestine issue.
Since its founding in 1928 the Brotherhood has grown into the largest Islamic Movement world-wide with sister branches in most Arab countries. They enjoy recognition and the freedom to engage in the political life of several countries, notably Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan and Palestine. With the exception of the Occupied West Bank, where Hamas an off-shoot of the Brotherhood is subject to similar detentions by the Palestinian Authority, they operate with relative ease.
In 2005, 88 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were elected to the Egyptian parliament. Nevertheless, between 1995 and the end of 2009, more than 30,000 members of the Brotherhood were detained in Egypt and tried before military courts. Some were arrested several times while others were held in administrative detention for months without trial. In 2009, more than 5,000 were arrested for their support of the besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, either for demonstrating or sending relief supplies to them.
At the height of that crack-down the arrests extended to investors and officials in relief agencies; prominent among them was Dr Abdul Munem Abul Fatuh, the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Doctors, and Dr Jamal Abdus Salam, the officer in charge of emergency relief in the Union at the time.
During last week's arrests four members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Guidance Council were detained. They included Dr Essam al Eryan, who is also treasurer of the Union of Medical Doctors in Egypt which has a membership of over 200,000 and Shaykh Abdur Rahman al Bir of Al Azhar University. Twelve of the 16 member Guidance Council, the highest administrative body of the movement, are university lecturers.
Two days after the arrest of the senior leaders the authorities in Gharbeya, the home town of the new Supreme Guide Dr Mohamed Badie, arrested nine members of the movement. This took place after Badie had attended his uncle's funeral and was met by a large number of supporters who had come to offer their condolences.
The detentions have come against the backdrop of impending parliamentary elections in Egypt this year and presidential elections next year, 2011. But, equally, there is no doubt the issue of Palestine has been at the fore. From the time Imam Hasan al Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt the movement has played a pivotal role in championing the Palestinian cause. On numerous occasions he affirmed that "the Palestinian cause is the cause of every Muslim". He drew a link between service to Islam and the defence of Palestine. Indifference and negligence towards Palestine was, in Imam Al Banna's view, a disregard of Islam itself.
The Muslim Brotherhood's newspaper Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun [6/6/1936] quoted al Banna thus: "The Palestinian people are our brethren; those stopping short of helping Palestine, are actually stopping short of defending Allah and His Messenger, and didn't defend Islam; those who helped it and exerted efforts and money for it, defended Allah and His Messenger and defended Islam."
Regionally, several human rights organizations have condemned the crack-down. The Arab Network for Information and Human Rights, a human rights body with representation in 20 countries, has called for the swift release of the detainees. The organization regards the detainees as "prisoners of conscience" as they were arrested simply because they belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Similarly, the Egyptian Human Rights Organization condemned the arrests. Significantly, a former police inspector general, Mahmud Qutri, said the detentions confirmed the extent to which the Egyptian authorities are prepared to use the state apparatus to crush political opposition, adding that the charges are 99 percent fabricated.
In certain ways, the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood reflects a broader campaign to silence and marginalize all voices which stand up for justice in Palestine. This is not a new policy, it goes back many decades. Given its deeply entrenched roots in Egyptian society the Brotherhood will not go away, so how long will the campaign last? Where are the western commentators and politicians who had a field day during the crisis that followed the Iranian elections? From Washington to London to Paris, they condemned with one voice the detention of opposition figures and demonstrators in Iran, demanding freedom and democracy for the Iranians. Are the Egyptian people less deserving of democracy? Or must they give up support for Palestine in order to win the backing of western politicians and journalists? If ever anyone had any doubts, they must now be convinced that Obama's Cairo address one year ago was no more than a public relations exercise, despite Hillary Clinton's plea in Doha for "patience".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.