O (Muslim) Brothers, Where Art Thou?

One of the big "disappointments," if you can call it such, about yesterday's 25 May demo in Cairo was that the Muslim Brotherhood was no-show. That meant that, aside from the 300 judges that stood silently in front of their Club to demand judicial independence, there were only a few hundred leftists activists in Central Cairo. I haven't heard about what happened in other areas of Cairo, or in the provinces, so there may be a lot more people out elsewhere, including Brothers. If the Brothers had come to Central Cairo, there would have been thousands on the streets as during the last few Thursdays.

Activist friends tell me they heard late on Wednesday night that the MB was not showing up. It's not clear why -- maybe this is a sign to the regime that they are open to collaboration rather than being locked in to confrontation like Kifaya, or maybe they didn't want more bloodshed, violence and mass arrests of their cadres. Either way, it did show that the MB is not a reliable partner of Kifaya activists. It may be that the Kifaya people's strategy is wrong and that the MB is right to led the Judges stand by themselves, without various political groups surrounding them and tainting their actions. I suspect, though, that it had more to do with a self-preservation instinct among the MB, especially after some senior leaders were arrested the previous Thursday. Has anyone noticed that whenever the MB insists on making a big show on the street, spokesman Essam Al Erian gets arrested and then the MB starts behaving? Same thing happened last year.

In other news, yesterday three Muslim Brotherhood MPs met with the political officer of the European Union delegation in Cairo. According to press reports (in Al Masri Al Youm), the meeting was at the request of the European Commission. I believe it marks the first meeting (rather than casual encounter) of an EU official with the MB. Mid-level Western diplomats, aside from US ones, routinely have meetings with the MB for information gathering -- is this different? The fact that it was requested from Brussels is also interesting, especially that in many ways the EU has been more militant about pushing democratization in Egypt than individual EU member states. This has largely been due to the awareness-raising work of EU parliamentarians such as Emma Bonino, the Italian Radical Party leader, who has been frequently visiting Cairo for the past four years and even started learning Arabic. I find her politics bizarre, but when she talks about the need democracy in the Arab world, she puts her money where her mouth is. I do wish the Radical Party didn't advocate EU membership for Israel, though.

Meanwhile, the NDP protests that it would never, never engage in a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood because it's against the law. I suspect Egypt also never had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

One more thing: a paper quoted "a high-level diplomatic source" as saying Egypt won't be sending a security contingent to Palestine (presumably to "protect" Mahmoud Abbas). My first thought: OMG the Egyptians are sending a security contingent to Palestine! At least they're considering it. The Egyptian FM has been snubbing the Palestinan FM lately, and the Egyptians have made some (unfounded, or at least they're not sharing the evidence) noise about links between the Sinai bombings and Palestine. Ever servile, Egypt is busily trying to help out with the coming, engineered, fall of the Hamas government.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.