Brotherhood's Essam El-Erian: From moderate to hardliner

Osman El-Sharnoubi, Wednesday 30 Oct 2013

Ahram Online examines the politics of prominent Muslim Brother Essam El-Erian who was arrested Wednesday

Essam el-Erian
Essam El-Erian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party, speaks during Egypt's Shura Council meeting in Cairo in this May 25, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Senior Muslim Brotherhood member Essam El-Erian, deputy leader of the group's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was arrested early on Wednesday, resulting in the detention of almost all the high-profile members of Egypt's largest Islamist group.

Up until 2011, El-Erian was perceived within political circles to be one of the moderate figures within the movement; a reformer, unlike other Brotherhood hawks such as Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) head Saad El-Katatni, Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat El-Shatter or ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Some attributed El-Erian's losing to El-Katatni in FJP internal elections to his moderate stance.

El-Erian was against the Brotherhood fielding a candidate for office, which they announced before deciding Morsi would run.

Along with Brotherhood member Mohamed El-Beltagi, El-Erian was closest among the Brotherhood to non-Islamist opponents of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and also to the Brotherhood youth, many of whom defected from the group after the 2011 revolution.

The image of El-Erian being more friendly and outspoken than other reserved Brothers changed during the Brotherhood's year in power, as he repeatedly made statements to the media or in parliament that showed a declining tolerance for Brotherhood opponents.

Exemplifying this shift was El-Erian's attack on Mohamed ElBaradei, opposition leader before Morsi's ouster, when he said the latter should be tried, after accusing him of facilitating the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

During the uprising that overthrew Mubarak in 2011, El-Erian praised ElBaradei and later said the Brotherhood would back him as president if he chose to run.

Other opponents of Morsi and the Brotherhood have taken their share of strong criticism from the man previously viewed as the Brotherhood's friendly face.

In December 2012, El-Erian described opposition protesters as "political thugs" who were part of the counter-revolution when clashes between opponents and supporters of Morsi erupted at the presidential palace.

Despite being elected to the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau in 2010, El-Erian's stature within the Brotherhood was compromised after they rose to power, as was evident in his notorious candor when speaking publicly.

El-Erian had to resign his post as presidential aide to Morsi and FJP deputy shortly after he was appointed, due to defamatory comments he had made on a popular satellite TV talk show. However, his resignation from the FJP was rejected.

The Brotherhood had also disavowed comments he made against the United Arab Emirates during an upper house Shura Council session.

"Tell [the UAE] that nuclear Iran is coming...The Persians are coming, not the Egyptians, and you will become slaves of the Persians," he said in June, accusing the UAE of detaining Egyptians.

El-Erian, along with many other senior Brotherhood members, is facing charges of inciting and funding violent acts, both before and following the ouster of Morsi.

Being one of the last prominent Brothers to escape custody, El-Erian made dozens of statements via his Facebook account against the current government and army leadership, accusing them of carrying out a "coup" against a legitimate president.

In a video recording he issued earlier this month, El-Erian accused Egypt's interim authorities of "halting the democratic path of Egypt," committing massacres against peaceful protesters, and carrying out a "delusional war on terror."

Morsi's supporters have been facing a violent crackdown by Egyptian security forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths during the dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in August and subsequent clashes.

Islamist groups have been accused by the army of targeting military and police personnel, government facilities and churches in increasingly frequent attacks since the sit-in dispersals.

El-Erian – himself arrested many times over the years for his role as an Islamist activist and politician (he spent eight-and-a-half years in jail according to statements he made to the media) – asserted in his video that Egypt is becoming a police-state once again, and called political forces aligned with the military "fascists."

Following his arrest, El-Erian was transferred to Tora Prison on the outskirts of Cairo's upper scale district of Maadi, where other senior Brotherhood members, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei, are waiting to be tried.

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