Egypt: In a radical dictatorship who is a moderate?
Daikha Dridi - 17/09/2008
When we mark the cell number of Abdelmonem Mahmoud, it’s Abdul Halim’s voice, the most revered crooner of the Arab world, that answers. Today, personalizing ringtones on the cell phone, as well as on the holding line, with the last hits of Oriental pop, recovered songs from the 60’s, rock or reggae music, religious chants or even the call to prayer, is trendy. It’s widely used as a signature, to outline a personal feature that we like to show to the others. It may seem surprising that this young member of the Muslim Brothers, one of the most notorious presences on the media, chooses a hymn to a legendary love among the Arabs rather than an ode to the Prophet.
Actually, Abdelmonem Mahmoud is also known for his “radical moderate” views in the society and political debates that cross the brotherhood of the Muslim Brothers. He is part, as he states himself, of the “reforming voices” within the most important and popular political opposition organisation in Egypt. When, several months ago, the leaders of the Muslim Brothers, including their supreme guide, declared in public that Egypt could not be governed by a Copt or a woman, Abdelmonem Mahmoud was part of those who openly disagreed, stating that such positions were “not religiously justifiable and antidemocratic”.
This young man, who meets us in the office of one of the largest independent newspapers, El Doustour , where he works as general sub-editor, is no exception within Egypt’s world of political Islamism and what’s more he is no young blood of the Muslim Brothers, as some detractors like to say, entered to meet the needs of a positive mediatisation of the brotherhood. In fact, Abdelmonem Mahmoud fell in the pot of the Muslim Brothers as a child, and started to drink the potion at six, that is when young boys start going to the mosque. “My father and mother were not members of the Muslim Brothers, in fact no one in my family is up to this date. I became a member while growing up in my native city Alexandria, which is known for its conservatism, and by attending the mosque of my neighbourhood which, belonged to the Brotherhood”, says Abdelmonem Mahmoud with a calm voice and controlled gestures, sitting like a Buddha in the midst of a noisy writing room that is hysterically finishing off its articles. The son of a factory employee and of a housewife, Abdelmonem Mahmoud grew up in parallel with the Muslim Brothers, “to me the Brothers do not merely represent a partisan activity; they belong to my framework of life”. However, this young man who graduated in Law to then obtain his Journalism diploma, could never imagine his professional life within a partisan framework: “as a journalist I’m not interested in writing or working to represent the Muslim Brothers in the media. Here at El Doustour, I’m a journalist and not a Muslim Brother”.
Aged barely 28, Abdelmonem Mahmoud can already boast a heavy militant career: arrested several times, he was imprisoned and tortured three times. The first time in 2003, when he was 24, he was imprisoned for four months. The second time in 2006, imprisoned for six months. The third imprisonment in 2007 lasted two months. Since then he is forbidden to travel abroad and has been sent back from the airport of Cairo on several occasions. He cannot attend meetings of journalists outside of Egypt for the defence of the freedom of press or to participate to activities against torture. He talks about it his experience of torture extensively on his blog, "Ana Ikhwan (I am a Brother)” sub-titled “Mementos of torture of prisoner 25”. It is interesting to note here that Mahmoud was not tortured because he was preparing an attack, was caught in a terrorist network or because he possessed weapons. No, he was tortured because he was part of the Egyptian students that tried to organise a protest march against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. During 13 days, thrown in underground cells, hands tied to his back and blindfolded, he was beaten, together with another 15 students, by jailers who wanted to know the names of the other students involved in the anti-American protests.
Nothing too original in Egypt, where the Muslim Brothers are tortured by the regimes that have followed up, now for almost 60 years. Although the difference was that in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, the Muslim Brothers were a political movement with an armed wing that aimed at overthrowing the power through violence and political assassination. They murdered judges, police officers and even prime ministers. In 1954, one of them tried to kill the President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the midst of a public meeting but he failed. When they were atrociously tortured by Nasser, the Muslim Brothers paid the price decided by a blood thirsty dictator who was furious at having been their target. Their definitive renunciation of violence goes up to those years. Today, no serious person could accuse them of the contrary. Many steps have been taken towards the path of a sustainable and visible political moderation by the Brothers since the time of Nasser to today’s Brothers under Hosni Moubarak. Nevertheless, the police machine of the regime cheerfully keeps on imprisoning and torturing people. When there’s a lack of political opponents, it picks on the ordinary people, the poor more precisely. The blog of Abdelmonem Mahmoud, shows a video where he gives witness to anti-torture militants. An interesting detail, next to him, the other victims that came to witness have never been into politics.
This article is published in the framework of the Dar-Med Project
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