Egypt’s MB prisoners seek release


In the riots that followed the 2013 fall of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, dozens of policemen and many civilians were murdered and Coptic churches torched. The new government of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi acted firmly to suppress the violence. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members arrested and convicted for their part in the bloody rampages were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

Earlier this month the government received a petition from 1,500 of these prisoners, who described themselves as “junior members” of the Brotherhood. Saying they wanted to end their “ordeal”, they sought to be released in return for promises to abandon the MB, play no further role in politics and give up any religious role in the country. They even offered to pay $5,000 each to end their incarceration.

Here in the Kingdom, we have pioneered a policy of forgiveness and reintegration for terrorists who have renounced their former evil ways and have promised to become decent and honest members of society. Though there have been backsliders, in general the policy, which has been deployed carefully to only a certain number of jailed terrorists, has been a success. And from the outset, only those prisoners who had not been involved in actual crimes of violence and murder were eligible for the program.

The Egyptian government is, however, facing a challenge on a far greater scale and this increases the risk it would take if it accepts what the jailed MB members are describing as an offer of “reconciliation”. One of the arguments being made by these people is interesting. It is that as mere foot soldiers of this political front to terrorism, they have been abandoned by the leadership. They do not specify how they see this abandonment. And their pleading rather begs the question of what their attitude would be if the MB bosses whether also in jail or still at large, had not abandoned them.

It hardly seems realistic that these once-screaming bigots would really be prepared to live peaceful lives if they were set free. At the very least, there must be a probably sizeable minority who, once they have walked out the prison gates, are fully determined to go underground and resume their brutal and criminal enterprise. The Egyptian authorities are still confronted by a real terrorist menace both in the Sinai peninsular and in Upper Egypt where significant forces are deployed to protect popular tourist spots. From a purely logistical point of view, do the police and security services have sufficient resources to monitor thousands of newly released MB prisoners?

MB leaders living securely in Turkey have denied any connection with the petition by these Egyptian prisoners. But then that is what they would be expected to do. President Sisi’s hard line with the organization is widely approved in Egypt. Moreover, the public would be understandably concerned if these apparently repentant terrorist supporters were allowed back into society. Given the size of the danger involved, even if releases were staggered, it seems likely the president will err on the side of caution and leave the prisoners to serve out their sentences. It will be hard on those who genuinely regret their crimes, but then the harsh reality is that they should have thought of the consequences before they took part in murderous violence and pillage.