Home > Middle East, Politics > Boxing In the Brothers

Boxing In the Brothers

Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher write in MERIP:

The latest crackdown by the Egyptian state on the Muslim Brotherhood began after a student demonstration at Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Dressed in black, their faces covered with matching hoods whose headbands read samidun, or “steadfast,” on December 10, 2006 several dozen young Muslim Brothers marched from the student center to the university’s main gate. Six of the masked youths, according to video and eyewitnesses, lined up in the middle of a square formed by the others and performed martial arts exercises reminiscent of demonstrations by Hamas and Hizballah.

Around 2,000 students were present for the show, which lasted approximately 25 minutes. Riot police immediately unloaded from trucks outside the university gate, massing only a few feet away from the unarmed demonstrators, but there were no clashes. No one was injured or arrested, and the protesters returned to the student center without incident. Classes were not canceled.

Nevertheless, Egyptian state television and Arab satellite stations treated the demonstration as major news, repeatedly broadcasting footage of what they had quickly labeled “the al-Azhar militias.” Independent Egyptian newspapers such as al-Masri al-Yawm asked what the incident implied about the Muslim Brotherhood, while the government-controlled press, running close-up photos that exaggerated the demonstration’s size, launched a campaign alleging that the Brotherhood is a violent organization with a paramilitary wing. Ruz al-Yusuf, a pro-government daily that frequently targets regime critics, featured close-ups of the black-clad karate performers on the front page, under the ominous headline “The Brothers’ Army.”

Four days after the al-Azhar demonstration, 124 students as well as 17 senior members of the Brotherhood — including Khayrat al-Shatir, the second deputy guide and the organization’s third highest-ranking official — were arrested in pre-dawn raids.

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Categories: Middle East, Politics
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