Strong Egypt party leader Abdel Monein Aboul Fotouh detained hours after return from London
Egypt arrests former Brotherhood member for ties to banned group
Egyptian security forces have arrested former Islamist presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh on a warrant charging the 66-year-old doctor and politician with maintaining contacts with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
Mr Aboul Fotouh was arrested in Cairo on Wednesday just hours after returning from London, where he appeared as a guest on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel and criticised the policies of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who is seeking a second term in a March 26-28 election with only one nominal opponent.
Mr Aboul Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party is a coalition of leftist and self-described moderate Islamist activists who have publicly rejected both the Muslim Brotherhood and military rule.
Five of the group’s leaders were arrested along with Mr Aboul Fotouh during a meeting at his home.
They were released late on Wednesday but Mr Aboul Fotouh remains in custody to face questioning by prosecutors.
“The arrest is completely warranted given Aboul Fotouh’s connection to the Brotherhood, which remained unbroken despite his ostensible resignation from the group so he could run in the 2012 presidential election,” said Tharwat El Kharbawy, a Cairo lawyer who was ejected from the Brotherhood for dissent over its tactics and policies.
“The Brotherhood implements one strategy for stages when they are weak and another for when they are strong,” he said. “In the weak phases, like now, they try to form alliances with non-Islamist forces to gain sympathy using the discourse of victimisation.”
The detention of Mr Aboul Fotouh follows the arrest on February 9 of Strong Egypt’s deputy leader, Mohamed Al Qassas.
Mr Al Qassas's lawyer says his client is accused of being a Brotherhood member and spreading false news about the country’s economic and political situation in an attempt to “disrupt public order”, and is being held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison.
Opposition figures including human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who pulled out of the presidential race, issued a statement on Saturday condemning the arrest as illegal and claiming Mr Al Qassas was “kidnapped” from his home in the central Azhar neighbourhood. However the High State Security Prosecution, which also issued the warrant for Mr Aboul Fotouh, said it had authorised a 15-day detention for Mr Al Qassas.
With the imprisonment of three presidential aspirants, the withdrawal of four others and now the arrest of Mr Aboul Fotouh, who finished fourth in the 2012 vote to replace Hosni Mubarak, observers are questioning Mr El Sisi’s confidence in his ability to rouse public support for a second term in office.
“This is not the behaviour of a confident and assured leader,” said Khaled Diab, a Tunis-based Egyptian writer and author of Islam for the Politically Incorrect. “Democracy cannot be: you have the freedom to choose, as long as you choose me.”
The coming election has been criticised by international rights groups already uncomfortable with the government's restrictions on civil society.
Earlier this week, 14 groups issued a statement saying the presidential election would be “neither free nor fair".
“Seven years after Egypt’s 2011 uprising, the government has made a mockery of the basic rights for which protesters fought,” they said. “Egypt’s government claims to be in a ‘democratic transition’ but moves further away with every election.”