Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Muslim Brotherhood official spokesman, Dr. Mahmoud Ghozlan, denied that any Brotherhood-affiliated women’s group was present in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, Dr. Ghozlan denied the existence of any Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated women’s group, stressing that no such group exists even in Egypt. He also confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood had not received any information regarding reports of the arrest of a number of women affiliated with the Islamic movement in the UAE.
On Wednesday, UAE Attorney General, Salim Saeed Kubaish, announced that as part of investigations into members of a “secret organization” accused of seeking to “seize power in the country” and “damage social harmony and peace”, Emirati authorities have started investigating “female leaders of what is called the Women’s Branch of this organization.” This comes after the UAE claimed to have uncovered an “Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood cell” last week, arresting 11 Egyptian nationals.
For his part, Dr. Ghozlan denied the existence of any women’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that the women arrested are most likely female relatives or wives of Emirati nationals arrested in this case and have no relation to the 11 Egyptians arrested earlier this week. He stressed that when the Muslim Brotherhood was founded this was established as a male-only organization and the establishment of a “Muslim Sisterhood” group was avoided in order to protect them from risks.
The official Emirati state news agency, WAM, quoted UAE Attorney General, Salim Saeed Kubaish, as saying that the female suspects had been summoned for questioning by UAE authorities. He added that this would take place “with full respect for the rights to privacy, the norms and traditions of UAE society and in line with the rules and principles of Islamic Sharia law.” Kubaish also claimed that the “women’s branch” represented an “essential part of the overall structure of this secret organization” adding “the law does not differentiate between people on the basis of gender…men and women are equal before the law.”
Reports of the arrest of women-affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood organization in the UAE stirred national and international controversy, particularly regarding the claims of a “Muslim Sisterhood” particularly in the parent organization. Numerous questions were raised regarding this issue, including whether this Muslim Sisterhood organization possess a fixed administrative structure or active leadership as is the case with the parent Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Asharq Al-Awsat attempted to uncover the truth behind the alleged Muslim Sisterhood movement, however many women with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood refused to comment, saying they had no knowledge of the events in the UAE. For her part, Kamilia Helmy, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party’s Executive Bureau and President of the International Islamic Women’s Committee, refused to confirm or deny the existence of a Muslim Sisterhood organization, saying that it is for the Brotherhood’s Guidance Office to officially comment on this. Despite her refusal to comment on the record, she could not hide her astonishment and shock regarding the UAE’s reported arrest of a Muslim Brotherhood “women’s branch”. She told Asharq Al-Awsat “is there such a group in Egypt in the first place for one to be in the UAE?” She added “this represents new problems against the Brotherhood.”
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Istishhad al-Banna – daughter of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna – confirmed that the Brotherhood affiliated women’s organization is a normal family organization between sisters who meet together, attending meetings similar to those of the Muslim Brotherhood, however she expressly denied the presence of an “organization” in the traditional meaning of the word, where there is a structure and leadership in place to counter arrests and security raids.
The daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood founder stressed that this “Sisterhood” played an important role within the Brotherhood’s organization, particularly during times when their husbands have been arrested or imprisoned. She added that Zaynab al-Ghazali is probably the most famous member of the Muslim Sisterhood, but stressed that any Muslim Sisterhood is not parallel to the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Dr. Istishhad al-Banna also expressed her astonishment at the position taken by the UAE towards the Muslim Brotherhood, characterizing this as insulting. She also criticized the publication of a picture of her father – Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna – kissing the hand of the King, denying that this had ever happened. She added that history will judge everybody and will bring justice to her father, adding that he had “changed the world.”
As for how Muslim Sisterhood members communicate with other female Muslims across the world, whether in the UAE or elsewhere, she confirmed that this takes place in a normal manner as part of communication between families in every country. Dr. al-Banna also told Asharq Al-Awsat that she is personally in contact with Muslim women in numerous countries. Although she is not a member of the Freedom and Justice party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – she said that she is happy to provide any assistance she can to the party, as well as other parties on the Egyptian scene whose political outlook she shares.
For the past 60 years women have played important roles within the Muslim Brotherhood organization, particularly during difficult times in the Islamist movement’s history. The rise to prominence of a number of women leaders within the organization during this period confirms this role. This can be seen in the presence of figures like Zaynab al-Ghazali and Fatima Abdel-Hadi who formed the first women’s committee in the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Zaynab al-Ghazali was a prominent Egyptian activist and founder of the Muslim Women’s Association. Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna had initially invited her to merge her organization with the nascent Brotherhood’s movement; although she refused, preferring to secure her organizations’ independence, she did swear allegiance to him. Following al-Banna’s assassination, al-Ghazali played a prominent role in helping the Brotherhood regroup. As a result of this, she was imprisoned in 1965, sentenced to 25 years hard labor but was eventually released by President Sadat in 1971. While Fatima Abdel-Hadi was the wife of well-known Brotherhood figure Sheikh Mohamed Yusuf Hawash, who was executed alongside Sayyid Qutb during the Nasserite era. She also played a prominent role in the Brotherhood’s early days, particularly regarding the first seeds of women’s activism within the Brotherhood organization. This began with religious studies lessons for a group of women in 1942; the group was made up of Zaynab al-Ghazali, Fatima Abdel-Hadi, Amina al-Gohari, Fatima al-Badri and others. However it later expanded to include social services such as nursing, helping orphans and the poor, and even helping single Muslim Brotherhood members find wives.
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders denied that the organization had any ties to the women reportedly arrested in the UAE. The Muslim Brotherhood official website has largely avoided this case, simply posting a brief report from a Gulf-based Human Rights organization condemning the arrests, including a report from a site calling for political reform in the UAE which published a statement on behalf of the families of the detainees condemning the manner that the wives of the accused have been arrested, denouncing the “escalation” in the UAE detainees case.
Previously, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood lawyer, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud, issued a statement denouncing the arrest of the women, describing this as an unjustifiable escalation. He also confirmed that the Brotherhood will seek to hold talks with official Egyptian parties to discuss what steps should be taken in this regard, adding that this case sets a dangerous precedent and violates all red-lines.
At a meeting in Dubai on Wednesday, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum reportedly told senior Egyptian President Adviser Essam Hassan and Egyptian Intelligence chief Mohamed Shahata that releasing the 11 Muslim Brotherhood members detained last week would not be possible. This came after Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told AFP that the arrest were part of an “unjust campaign” against expat Egyptians, adding that most of them were doctors or engineers.