Egyptian authorities have widened their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood to include scrutiny of its members’ business interests in the wake of the military-backed overthrow of the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, former leader of the group.
Jurists say dozens of cases alleging corruption against officials associated with the Brotherhood are now being pursued. “A huge number of claims had been already submitted, but the investigations started after Mohamed Morsi had been overthrown from power,” said Mohamed Aboul Fotouh, a Cairo attorney with knowledge of the cases.
Among the top targets are Khairat al-Shater, the deputy leader of the Brotherhood who is a high profile businessman in Egypt, and Hassan Malek, head of the Egyptian Business Development Association, a trade lobby with ties to the Islamist group, jurists and Brotherhood officials said.
The clampdown on business interests, along with the arrests of Brotherhood leaders and alleged violence against its rank and file, has raised worries that Mr Morsi’s overthrow has prompted a revenge campaign by elements of the so-called “deep state” – including members of the judiciary and the security services – against the Islamist group.
“There are members of the old regime that are very pleased and are trying to take advantage,” said H.A. Hellyer, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Institute.
The judiciary has already taken action against the businesses of Mr Shater, a real estate and textiles mogul who is considered the architect of the Brotherhood’s political strategy. “The authorities have attacked the companies of Mr Shater and they have closed his trade offices,” said Mourad Ali, a Brotherhood official.
In addition, shadowy vigilantes have launched physical attacks on businesses associated with Brotherhood leaders. Gehad Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood described a “vicious campaign targeting private offices of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and ransacking them”. Among the victims was leading Brotherhood figure Medhat Assem, a surgeon whose clinic in Cairo was attacked, he wrote in a Twitter statement.
Throughout its nine decades, the Brotherhood has encouraged its members to enter the professions and commerce. A number of them have built up huge fortunes in the real estate, food, textile and health sectors. The formation of EBDA shortly after the revolution was seen as an attempt to bolster the status of their businessmen.
Some said the tactics now being employed against the Brotherhood’s business interests are reminiscent of those previously used to harass and intimidate Islamists under the reign of the previously deposed president, Hosni Mubarak.
“These investigations are bringing us back to the Mubarak era when they used to put pressure on Muslim Brotherhood businesses and persecute Muslim Brotherhood businessmen,” said Ali Abdel Aziz, a professor of marketing at al-Azhar University who was a consultant to a trade association that rivals the EBDA.
Jurists say the general prosecutor has already ordered the central bank to freeze bank accounts belonging to Brotherhood leaders. Judiciary officials are also considering investigations of allegations that businesspeople close to the Brotherhood demanded cash in order to join trade delegations during Mr Morsi’s trips abroad, laundered money and, in an ironic twist, cut deals with corrupt members of the former regime.
“They [the Brotherhood] put pressure on businessmen and they wouldn’t accept their projects unless they went into partnerships” with Brotherhood members, said Mohamed Ghitani, a prosecutor in Cairo with knowledge of the cases pending.
In another case a Brotherhood businessman listed a piece of property in eastern Cairo worth about $85,000 as worth $570,000, in what plaintiffs are alleging as a case of money laundering, Mr Ghitani said.
Egypt’s legal system allows any plaintiff to file a case against any defendant alleging misconduct, whether or not they are the victims. The general prosecutor decides which cases merit further investigation or prosecution, a process that has long been criticised by human rights activists as being open to abuse by political forces.
Some jurists insist the prosecutions against the Brotherhood businesses are politically-motivated.
“They can’t hold these people under false pretences of the coup and they need a legal front for these arrests, and so they’re turning to fabricating allegations to arrest them,” said Alaa el-Din Salah, a Cairo defence lawyer. “These people’s money has come from their hard work and in multiple cases the money has been in their family for years.”
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