Originally published in The Independent, 5 July 2013
Essam el-Haddad was barely a year old when Gamal Abdel Nasser, the revolutionary Egyptian leader, survived an assassination attempt at an Alexandria rally in 1954.
Nasser and his Free Officers had been swept to power by a popular coup two years earlier.
Soon after narrowly escaping his would be assassin’s bullets, the soon-to-be President – who blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack – launched a crackdown on Egypt’s Islamists.
On Thursday night, Mr el-Haddad, now 60 and a former national security advisor to Mohamed Morsi, found himself a victim of the latest military crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. In the wake of the popular coup which ended Mr Morsi’s presidency after just one year, Egypt’s authorities issued a wanted list for at least 200 Islamists. In a highly provocative move, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide was reportedly detained after security forces swooped on a villa he was staying in. Several other senior members have reportedly been held, while the group’s TV channel was taken off air and travel bans issued.
According to Gehad el-Haddad, Essam’s son and also a senior Brotherhood official, his father was detained along with nearly a dozen of the President’s closest aides prior to the military’s televised announcement on Wednesday night – the moment the coup was confirmed.
Some of the drivers working for Mr Morsi’s staff were also detained, he said, and when they were released they informed Brotherhood officials of what had taken place. All of the aides were held at the headquarters of the Republican Guard, the President’s elite protection squad.
“They told us everybody was OK,” said Mr el-Haddad, “but everybody is stressed, physically and psychologically, including the President. My father has blood pressure issues and they had to call for his medication.” All of the President’s men were inside the premises of the east Cairo Qobba Palace, then being used by Mr Morsi, when they were initially detained. “They were supposed to be being protected by the Republican Guard,” he said. “They were not supposed to be detained by them.”
As well as being pilloried by opponents who accused him of undermining democracy during his rule – and therefore legitimising this week’s insurrection – Mr Morsi was criticised by some for overseeing human rights abuses which were reminiscent of his predecessor’s government. However some of the Brotherhood’s enemies have cautioned against any excessive crackdown on the organisation.
Munir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, a leading member of the National Salvation Front, told the Associated Press news agency “reconciliation is the name of the game” and added: “The detentions are a mistake”. According to Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, if there was any evidence Mr Morsi or other Brotherhood figures committed crimes then they should be investigated with due process.
“There is no legal explanation for some of the arrests and no substantive information about the charges against these people,” he said.
Despite fears of unrest across Egypt in response to this week’s coup, Muslim Brotherhood officials have appeared careful to caution their members against violence. Speaking to The Independent at the pro-Morsi rally in Cairo, Gehad el-Haddad said the Brotherhood would respond with peaceful protest – even comparing the group’s situation with that once faced by Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.
“The Islamic stream committed itself to democracy but apparently Egypt’s secularists did not,” he said.