Sheikh Mahdi Akef, the former General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, has died after spending over four years in Egyptian prisons since Al-Sisi’s 2013 coup. No charges were ever laid at his door, just like the rest of the political prisoners held by the regime.
The government showed no compassion or consideration towards Sheikh Akef, but treated him harshly and mercilessly, as a kind of revenge and humiliation. He was an elderly man suffering from cancer and they denied him medical treatment, so the disease spread through his weak body and affected his vital organs. The Akef family was denied visits for over a year. Despite Egyptian and international human rights organisations urging the authorities to release him due to his poor health and old age — he was nearly 90 years old — their calls fell on deaf ears. The government, meanwhile, felt able to offer a presidential pardon to businessman Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who killed the singer Suzanne Tamim.
The honourable Sheikh was told to ask, in writing, for the compassion and mercy of Al-Sisi in order to be released, thus recognising the legitimacy of the government. He refused to do this, pointing out that he refused to do it in his youth and during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, and he wouldn’t do it in his old age. He preferred to die with dignity in his prison cell than humiliated in his home.
Such dignity was demonstrated by 70-year-old Libyan freedom fighter Omar Al-Mukhtar in 1931, who stood tall on the scaffold and declared, “We are a nation who are either victorious or die as martyrs.” Sheikh Mahdi Akef chose to die in the way that he had wished for ever since he was a fighter with the Fedayeen battalion fighting against the Zionists as they created the state of Israel in Palestine.
Abdel Nasser staged the 1952 coup against President Muhammad Naguib; in 1954 he imprisoned Mahdi Akef in a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. He remained behind bars until Nasser’s death in 1970, after which he was released by President Anwar Sadat. The Brotherhood official was then imprisoned in the mid-nineties by the then President Hosni Mubarak. Akef spent decades in the military regime’s prisons but, despite this, he was never broken and did not accede to any government demands. Indeed, successive governments feared him for his firm positions, which never wavered.
Although he was supported by the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, he decided not to stand again for election as General Guide when his term in office ended, despite the fact that the rules allow this. He wanted to establish the tradition of circulating power within the movement. This was the first time that the Brotherhood had a former general guide still alive when his successor — in this case, Mohamed Badie — took the reins. Badie is also behind bars in a military prison at the moment, having been sentenced to death and “maximum security” imprisonment.
Even though he has passed away, Mahdi Akef is still feared by the Egyptian government. Officials refused to allow his family to view his body and buried him in a distant location without a formal funeral prayer, after taking his body away during the night. The Minister of Religious Endowments issued an order banning a funeral prayer in absentia; nevertheless, such prayers were performed all over the world.
A government that fears a corpse is a weak and fragile government, even if it claims otherwise. Sheikh Mohamed Mahdi Akef was stronger in death than in his later life, and he has become a legend in the struggle that echoes that of the nation that lived as heroes and died as martyrs. May God rest his soul. Ameen.
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