Mubarak's Power Plays
Hosni Mubarak's government recently detained blogger Kareem Soliman, sentencing him to a four year prison term in spite of international protests, covered on NP and elsewhere. The charge was dual disrespect, to Islam and to the president himself. Recent detentions of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization banned but tolerated in Egypt, indicate which of the two charges concerned Mubarak most. The BBC and other news outlets are reporting a new wave of detentions following opposition votes in Parliament against constitutional amendments slated to be voted on in April.
The most high-profile detainee was Mahmoud Ghozlan, of group's executive council. Reports say nine activists were seized in Cairo and the Delta.
The Brotherhood fields candidates as independents for Parliament, and controls about 25% of the seats. The amendments would undermine judicial oversight of Egyptian elections, give police increased power to monitor communications, and most importantly, would
ban political activity based on 'any religious reference or basis' and would quash the group's hopes of acquiring legal standing as a recognised political party.
Mubarak is walking a high wire here, trying at the same time to undermine the cause of Islamic parties in his country and to fend off any serious challenge from them by making it more difficult for them to organize and conduct meetings. At the same time, he is throwing a sop to the cause of Islam, at the expense of a 22 year old university student and other advocates of free speech.
And clearly, he is piqued by any hint of disrespect shown toward his transparent political ploys. If there is a rationale here, it is certainly a self-serving one.