CAIRO — Amid the ongoing dispute between authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the security services launched a massive campaign aimed at arresting top businessmen in the country “for their involvement in supporting and financing the group’s activities in Egypt to strike the national economy and destabilize the country,” as per the results of an investigation conducted by the Public Prosecution released on Dec. 7.
On Dec. 5, the Public Prosecution ordered the arrest of businessman Safwan Thabet, executive chairman of the board of directors of Juhayna, the leading producer of dairy and bottled juices in Egypt, for a period of 15 days pending investigation on charges of joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thabet, who was arrested at his home on Dec. 2, is one of the founders of the Egyptian Business Development Association. Prominent businessman Hassan Malik, a leader of the group and the person primarily responsible for its economic influence, inaugurated the association on Aug. 12, 2012, when the Brotherhood was still in power.
Also on Dec. 5, Egyptian authorities arrested businessman Sayed Ragab al-Sweerky, owner of the famous chain of Al-Tawheed and Al-Nour stores in Egypt, on charges of financing and joining the Muslim Brotherhood group with the intention of disturbing public peace and undermining confidence in the Egyptian state and state institutions.
On Dec. 6, authorities arrested Khaled al-Azhari, who served as minister of manpower during the Brotherhood’s era, after his name was mentioned in an investigation related to terrorist financing.
The Public Prosecution’s investigation revealed that Sweerky, Azhari and Thabet were assigned different tasks by the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood after most of the leaders financing the group were arrested in Egypt. The investigation added that the organization tasked the three with financing the terrorist operations in Sinai by providing militants with weapons and money in exchange for spreading chaos there.
The Terrorist Entities Law No. 8 of 2015 defines terrorist entities as any association, organization, group, gang, cell or any other grouping that intends, in any way, to disturb public order, endanger the safety, interests or security of the society or harm national unity. This gives authorities the right to place any person carrying out acts that undermine the stability of the country on terrorist lists and confiscate their property.
Media figure Ahmed Musa, who is close to the authorities, said Dec. 5 on his program on Sada Al-Balad TV that the defendants were arrested after Mahmoud Ezzat, a top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, revealed in the investigation the sources financing the group.
“There are still [important] names that will be announced in the coming days,” he added.
On Aug. 28, the Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of Ezzat, the acting general guide of the group, in an apartment located in the Fifth Settlement district of New Cairo. The ministry said that Ezzat was the main person responsible for managing the organization’s funds as well as supporting, financing suspicious activities and exploiting international organizations to offend the country.
The Court of Urgent Matters decided Nov. 24 to seize the funds of 285 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including media figures Moataz Matar and Mohammed Nasser, along with three entities affiliated therewith. It also froze their bank accounts, movable and immovable funds, stocks and bonds registered in their names with the Egyptian stock exchange.
Ahmed Tantawi, a member of the opposition 25-30 parliamentary bloc, told Al-Monitor that it is unacceptable to arrest, seize and confiscate the property of those affiliated with or belonging to Islamic movements, chiefly the Muslim Brotherhood, merely because they are accused of terrorism and despite the fact that there is no final court ruling against them.
Ahmed Ban, a freelance researcher in the affairs of Islamic movements, believes that such decisions helped dry up the sources of terrorism and confront the plots aimed at striking the country’s economy and destabilizing it.
Ban said that ever since it left power, the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to control the Egyptian economy by all possible means, so it established and bought many economic entities from schools, hospitals and charitable societies, and transferred their ownership to other businessmen, while the group secretly held the largest share of such entities’ stocks.
He said that this is why there were dairy and clothing companies and supermarkets run by businessmen affiliated with the group and not members.
On Sept. 12, 2018, the judicial Inventory, Seizure and Management Committee of Muslim Brotherhood Funds decided to seize the funds and property of 1,589 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, 118 companies practicing various activities, 1,133 nongovernmental organizations, 104 schools, 69 hospitals, 33 websites and a satellite channel.
The Inventory, Seizure and Management Committee of Muslim Brotherhood Funds was established upon the judicial order issued by the Court of Urgent Matters in December 2013 to ban the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. The committee includes representatives of the ministries of justice, interior, finance, social solidarity and local development, as well as from the central bank, the security apparatus, the Financial Regulatory Authority and the General Authority for Investments. It was tasked with seizing the funds of the Brotherhood in Egypt.
Regarding the reason behind this security campaign at this particular time, Ban said, “I think that this strike came in response to the Brotherhood’s attempts to gain strength from the new US administration, as the group is seeking to garner President-elect Joe Biden’s support in confronting the Egyptian regime. Egypt wanted to convey a message whereby “we are independent and persistent in our politics and this shall not change.”
On Dec. 6, Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Ibrahim Mounir told Al-Jazeera that he does “not rule out a change in Egypt and the region when Biden takes office in January.” Mounir pointed out that the group held meetings with US State Department officials and US lobby centers to clarify the situation in Egypt.
During a joint press conference with his French counterpart on Dec. 7, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said, “I am required to protect a country from an extremist organization that has been in Egypt for more than 90 years, a period during which this organization has been able to establish rules of its own not only in Egypt but also around the world.”
Tantawi said, “The Egyptians have suffered from terrorism and extremism, and we support the state in the measures it takes to ensure the safety of the country, but this should not contradict the constitution, which safeguards public and private property.”
Article 35 of the Egyptian Constitution states that private property is protected and may not be sequestrated except in cases specified by law and by a court order.