On August 28th, the Egyptian authorities arrested, acting head and military leader of the Muslim Brotherhood group or supreme leader, as stated by several media outlets, after over seven years on the run. In a statement, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said his arrest was connected to charges of joining and leading a terrorist group and receiving illicit funds, according to news reports. Also, the statement added that encrypted communications equipment had been seized during the arrest, claiming that Ezzat had been behind assassinations, attempted assassinations, and bombings since 2013. He evaded Egyptian authorities ever since the 2013 military ouster of the country’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Ezzat ran the Muslim Brotherhood movement throughout Egypt from this apartment and established contacts with the leaders of the movement, who fled Egypt to Qatar and Turkey after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power. Born in 1944, he is one of the loyal disciples of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic ideologue Sayyid al-Qutb. Ezzat’s nickname in Egypt was “Mr. X” or “The Black Box” of the Muslim Brotherhood.
While the country’s state-backed media celebrated news of his capture, describing him as a “prize catch”, publishing images of a frail-looking Ezzat wearing a striped T-shirt, the same day, the organization was concerned by the safety of their leader, who suffers from age-related health issues.
Ezzat was accused of assassinating former Attorney General Hisham Barakat in 2015. Authorities also charged him with the deaths of Brig.-Gen. Wael Tahoun and Maj.-Gen. Adel Rajai. Officially, an Egyptian criminal court recently sentenced Ezzat to 25 years in jail in absentia, along with seven others, after finding them guilty of “forming a terrorist cell to overthrow the ruling system and destroy the economy”. Moreover, he was twice sentenced to death and three times to life sentences. As such, numerous prison stints are attributed to Ezzat: first arrested during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s presidency in 1965, he reportedly spent nine years behind bars. He then rose through the party ranks, becoming a member of the group’s highest body in 1981. Held again by Egyptian authorities in 1993, he received a five-year sentence two years later for participating in the group’s party elections.
Ezzat overtook leadership of the Brotherhood in 2013, after the arrest of the organization’s then-leader, Mohammed Badie, ruling an organization accused by the country’s authorities of promoting militancy and subversion, charges which the group vehemently denies. However, ever since the overthrow of Morsi, the authorities jailed numerous members and supporters, blacklisting the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
By arresting Ezzat, Egypt sent a message to the citizens of Egypt that no terrorist has immunity and that its long arm will seek out any terrorist leader.
The Egyptian government is also concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood will attempt to carry out attacks in the near future to show that Ezzat’s arrest did not significantly impair the movement’s power.
Maher Farghali, an expert on Islamist movements, said the fact that Ezzat was temperamentally an isolationist had allowed him to escape the security radar for years. “Even during the massive Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins organized in public squares in Cairo and Giza in the summer of 2013, Ezzat, unlike other leaders, chose not to appear in public, even though he was the one orchestrating the sit-ins.”
The main current problem of the organization is the appointment of a new leader as their ideology states that the leader should be part of the Egyptian branch of the organization, an endeavor which is currently hard to achieve, given that most of the Egyptian leaders are in prison.
Ezzat’s arrest raises many questions about the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and whether or not it means the virtual end of the organization’s presence in the country, and how such a development could affect the possibility of reconciliation between the organization and the regime.
Earlier on August 25th, Ibrahim Munir, the Brotherhood’s deputy general guide and a possible successor of Ezzat, as estimated by experts, had launched a fierce attack against Egyptian authorities in an interview with Al Jazeera, saying, “Recent months have shown that the regime’s role in the region has come to an end, leaving it standing on the ruins of the chaos it has brought upon Egypt.” He stressed the organization’s absolute refusal to conclude any deals to reconcile with authorities.
Meanwhile, member of parliament Ahmed Helmy al-SHARIF, head of the parliamentary committee of the Congress Party and deputy head of the Support Egypt Coalition, stated that Ezzat’s arrest is the true end of this organization as he was the man behind various terrorist and criminal acts the Brotherhood has carried out in recent years.
However, Maher FARGHALI, an independent researcher on Islamic movements, told Al-Monitor that while the arrest will affect and confuse the organization’s ranks, it will not lead to the Brotherhood’s demise as some might claim, noting that the organization has suffered many blows over the decades but survived. He added that “Ezzat was not an ordinary man within the Brotherhood; he was primarily responsible for the organization’s education sector, the youth formation within its ranks and its restructuring after June 30, 2013. However, I expect that the group will maintain its position, and implement its agenda at home and abroad in an attempt to mobilize against the regime, and I stress that this security blow will not eliminate it, as some claim.”
This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.al-monitor.com, www.english.ahram.org.eg, www.xinhuanet.com, www.jcpa.org, www.jns.com, www.iranpress.com, and www.english.alaraby.co.uk.