The Islamic organization's new chairman Dr. Badie, and another top Brotherhood official, tell La Stampa that Mubarak's ouster must be followed by a government finally chosen by the people. And if they choose an Islamic state?
CAIRO - "My husband would have been very happy to speak to you, but he's in jail." The wife of Essam El Erian, the spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, sounds distraught on the phone, but not desperate. Banned by the government, the Brotherhood and their families have gotten used to roundups by the authorities. "They took him on Friday, after prayers. I haven't heard from him since. If you want to speak to Mohammed Badie, the best thing is to go to the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in person."
We take El Erian's advice and head straight for the Manial district, and a beautiful residential street along the river, called El Malek El Saleh. Waiting for us at the top of the marbled front steps are two security guards dressed in black. We explain that we have an appointment, but they already know: a quick security search, and we find ourselves in the waiting room on the first floor. In a gentle Arabic cadence, a secretary lets us know that Dr. Badie, the new Muslim Brotherhood General Guide, is expected at a meeting of opposition leaders and will only be able to offer us a few minutes of his time. We head up to the second floor, where a carved wooden door leads to his dark offices. This organization is officially banned in Egypt, as President Hosni Mubarak's regime has equated them with Al Qaeda, thanks in part to their old links with Osama Bin Laden's deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri. Still, the nameplate on the door does not try to hide who they are: first in Arabic and then in English, it reads "Muslim Brotherhood."
Badie, 67, a trained veterinarian, who last year became the eighth supreme leader in the history of the organization founded in 1929, is said to want to focus the Brotherhood on more social activities. He hails from the more traditionalist wing of the organization. Bearded and wearing a traditional fez, he lays out their view on the unprecedented challenge to the Egyptian president's 30-year reign: "Our line is clear: the regime has failed and is now collapsing. There is only one way out: Mubarak must listen to the people and resign. Then the people will decide how they want to be guided."
We ask if the sudden swell of the protest has caught him off guard. "It does not matter. What counts is that it's happening and that we support it." Will the revolution be used to create an Islamic state? "This is something the people must decide." Before leaving for his meeting, Badie introduces us to Sherif Abul Magd, an engineering professor at Helwan University, who led the Muslim Brotherhood in Giza: "He speaks for me."
Abul Magd wastes no time, and in perfect English goes on the attack: "Mubarak is stupid, or he is getting bad advice. The regime is finished. The people on the streets are demanding his resignation, and what does he do? He names (Omar) Suleiman as Vice-President and (Ahmed) Shafiq as Prime Minister, two men from the military. Is this the message he wants to send? Doesn't he understand that to salvage the situation he should at least have chosen civilians? Anyway, these are his problems. For us, he's finished. "
For now, however, Mubarak is still in place. But as he shifts on the couch that faces out the window toward the river, Abul Magd explains the strategy: "Continue the protest until he resigns." The tanks worry him, but ultimately he believes that "the army will line up with the people, and against the dictator. In any case, the protest should not challenge the military: we do not want a bloodbath. The protesters should peacefully demonstrate every day to repeat their demands: the government will not hold on for long. What can he do? If tomorrow Mubarak blocks access to Tahrir Square, we'll go elsewhere. Stopping the demonstrations is easy, all he has to do is resign."
If this happens, the Muslim Brotherhood already has a plan in place. Abul Magd explains: "The Constitution states that in such cases the leader of the Parliament assumes the interim presidency. In our opinion, it is not enough. He should be surrounded by five highly respected judges from different backgrounds, to create a presidential committee. This committee should make changes to the Constitution in favor of more democracy, and then hold parliamentary and presidential elections within two months. At that point the power will be back in the hands of the people."
Before being arrested, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam El Erian had told us that the protests had caught the organization by surprise, a sign that it is not all-powerful in Egypt. "This should reassure the West," Abul Magd says.
But do they have the power to create an Islamic state? "We are convinced that Islam is the best model of life. Just look at our laws, 80% of which are inspired by Muslim principles," Abul Magd says. "The Islamic state is not in conflict with democracy, but it must be up to the people to choose it." And if you are chosen, will the peace process with Israel continue? "Why a peace process? Israel only wants to impose its will, with the help of the Americans and (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas. The PLO no longer represents the Palestinian people. Peace is impossible without an agreement with Hamas."
Abul Magd shrugs off the suspicion that the Muslim Brotherhood is an offshoot of Al Qaeda: "Al Qaeda no longer exists. Maybe it existed years ago, but now is just an invention of the CIA to justify the war on terrorism. "
It is time to leave, for Abul Magd to join Badie at the summit of opposition leaders, and he offers to accompany us in his car. On the way, we encounter a roadblock of vigilantes, who block the road with sandbags, "You see? This is the fault of the police, who have disappeared," he says. "They've also opened the doors of the prisons to send the criminals in the city. It is part of a plan of the Ministry of the Interior to terrorize the people, and give Mubarak an excuse for his crackdown."
Abul Magd says the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters will not be intimidated. "These leaders are traitors who deserve to face a court-martial. But meanwhile, our people already controls the streets."
Read the original article in Italian
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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