Washington Babylon — May 30, 2007, 2:33 pm

Blogger of the Brotherhood

Egyptian bloggers have received a fair mount of press attention lately for their calls for greater democracy under Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for the past quarter-century and now appears to be seeking to turn power over to his son. “Judges allied with the government have filed lawsuits against more than 50 bloggers, accusing them of blackmail and of defaming Egypt and demanding that their blogs be shut down,” Wael Abbas, one of the better known bloggers, wrote in a piece that ran Sunday in the Washington Post.“Meanwhile, security officials appear on television to claim that the bloggers are violating media and communications laws.”

One Egyptian blogger you don’t hear much about in the American press (though he was mentioned by Abbas), is Abd al-Menim Mahmoud. Mahmoud was jailed in April for being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful opposition party. American media outlets often express outrage over Mubarak’s jailing of secular opposition figures, but they hardly notice when he locks up Islamic activists, who make up the great majority of political prisoners in Egypt. “At a time when Islamists are a force at the ballot box, does Egypt, a peaceful, moderate oasis amid regional turmoil, really need more democracy?” Roger Cohen of the New York Times asked in an article last November. “No,” was his answer; he called on Mubarak to take only the most cautious steps toward reform, and suggested he release from prison some pro-Western oppositionists, but expressed no concerns about the wholesale jailing of Brotherhood members.

The Brotherhood has its share of Islamic hardliners, but it renounced violence decades ago and has pledged to support democracy. During a trip to Egypt last fall I met Mahmoud, a twenty-something law school graduate and movement organizer who represents a younger, more progressive wing of the movement. He’d already been arrested twice by then—both times for his participation in a group of students that opposed the war in Iraq—and on his blog has written about being tortured at the notorious Tora prison. “[H]e and others were forced to stand for 14 hours straight (those that fell over were beaten and then propped back up),” said an article in the Christian Science Monitor, the only major outlet that appears to have covered his most recent arrest. “When he removed his blindfold in solitary confinement, he wrote, he was beaten. Then he was forced to keep the blindfold on for 13 days straight as punishment.”

Because of his past troubles with security forces, Mahmoud asked to meet me in a public place, picking Groppi’s, a well-known cafe in downtown Cairo. There’s a general idea in the U.S. that Islamic movements are comprised of society’s rabble, the poor, uneducated and backwards. That’s generally untrue in much of the region and entirely untrue in Egypt. The Brotherhood has plenty of poor followers but the movement’s backbone is middle class professionals—doctors, lawyers, engineers, and students. Mahmoud came busting into the café wearing jeans and a dress shirt, dropped two cell phones on the table, and placed a shoulder bag with a laptop on the floor by his chair. “We believe in democracy, freedom of speech, and a free press, and it’s not just chit-chat,” he told me. “When the government arrested journalists, it was the Brotherhood that went to court with them. Assam al-Arian defended the judges and he’s paying the price for it.” He was referring to a senior Brotherhood official who was jailed after defending judges that had protested parliamentary election abuses in 2005.

Mahmoud said the Brotherhood was not a conservative movement, and described it as being open towards different cultures and ideologies. “There’s a lot I appreciate about liberalism, there are points I agree with,” he said. “What I reject is not liberalism as a political ideology, but Western foreign policy.” He described Iranian and Saudi forms of rule as “fiascos,” and said he opposed any laws that would force women to wear a veil. “When Saudi women arrive at the airport here, they immediately change into fashionable clothes,” he said as we sipped coffee. “I want to reach people’s hearts, but if they change is up to them.”

If Mahmoud would just drop his affiliation with the Brotherhood he’d surely fare better in the American press. He’d soon be offered an op-ed in the Washington Post and Roger Cohen might even be moved to politely ask the Mubarak regime to release him from prison.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today