Akef says US pressure on Egypt's government has led
to a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood
Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned opposition group, has been stepped up, with 33 of its leaders arrested in the last week.

About 500 Brotherhood members are detained in Egyptian jails, according to Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the supreme leader of the movement.

In an exclusive interview with Amr El-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Egypt, Akef said US policies in the region had fuelled the Egyptian government's continued operations against the Brotherhood.

For the first time in months, the leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group, has spoken to foreign media.
 
Mohamed Mahdi Akef said earlier US pressure on Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, had at one time improved political freedoms for opposition groups.
 
"We enjoyed that freedom when there were American pressures on the Egyptian government," he said.

"Even the government's term of describing us as a banned group disappeared. The semi-official Al-Ahram newspaper interviewed me. I couldn't believe that I would feature on the first page of this government newspaper.

"But after winning 88 seats in the parliament, the bone crushing started," he said, referring to the success of Muslim Brotherhood members who had run as independents in parliamentary elections to circumvent the ban imposed on the group.

US pressure

We don't count on what Bush says or what the Democrats say - not even on the [UK] House of Commons call for dialogue with the Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah

Akef, the number one in command of the Muslim Brotherhood, said America pressurised Mubarak to achieve its own objectives.
 
"It's not about American interests. The American pressures aim at using the Brotherhood as a stick to beat the government if it doesn't do what it's told to do," he said.

"Unfortunately the American pressures aim at draining and bleeding the regime. And the regime accepts that and then corners us knowing very well that we won’t resort to violence and won’t go into confrontation."
 
Akef believes that the group is deeply rooted in the Egyptian society. He doesn't mind contacts with the Americans or the British, yet he remains sceptical.
 
"We don't count on what Bush says or what the Democrats say - not even on the [UK] House of Commons call for dialogue with the Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah," he said.

"We consider this British recommendation with an open heart and mind and we deal with it but don’t exaggerate it. We don't reject anything but just think of these offers only in the light of the best interest of our country, and [other] Arab and Islamic nations."

Hamas support

On the subject of the Palestinians, Akef praised Hamas, which is closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
 

Mubarak's government continues to list
the Brotherhood as a banned group [AFP]
He called intra-Palestinian fighting a "mistake", but said Hamas had faced isolation and sanctions since coming to power last year as well as conspiracies by what he described as a corrupt group within Fatah, the main rival to Hamas. 
 
"They're well known and people know that and they are represented now by Mahmoud Abbas. I pity him. He embraces the Americans and the Zionists and I told friends that he won't gain anything from that position," he said. 

"I say those who rely on the US and the Zionists would make no gain, they'll let him down.

"It's very obvious in all political analysis. Those who want to set the fire amongst Palestinians people who embrace America and the Zionists."

As state pressure has been increased on the Muslim Brotherhood, forty of its leaders are facing a military tribunal in Egypt on charges which include money laundering and financing terrorism.

Rejecting the court as "irrational", Akef said patience is the group's strategy in its confrontation with the Egyptian government - and that they have plenty of it.

Source: Al Jazeera