An exiled leader of Egypt's largest Muslim militant group has attacked the closure of the Islamist-oriented Labor Party and its al-Shaab newspaper.
"The decision to freeze the Labour Party and ban its newspaper shows the repressive, dictatorial and illogical practices of the regime," Refa'i Taha said in a statement received on Monday.
"What happened to the Labour Party is the latest message to all free voices who try to say no, and it is directed in particular against those who belong to the Islamic religion," said Taha, a senior leader of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) who is thought to be based in Afghanistan.
A government committee that regulates political parties Saturday suspended the party and closed its newspapers after dissident factions emerged to contest the party leadership.
Al-Shaab, long a thorn in the government's side, led a campaign this month against the re-printing by the Culture Ministry of "A Banquet for Seaweed" by Syrian author Haider Haider, which it said defamed Islam.
Protests against the 1983 novel turned violent when religious students at Al-Azhar University clashed with police on May 8. About 55 students were hurt and 60 arrested.
Taha last week urged young Egyptians to follow the example of the Al-Azhar protestors. That statement, like the latest one, was forwarded by London-based Islamist Yasser el-Serri.
The Gama'a spearheaded a bitter struggle with security forces that caused about 1,200 deaths from 1992 to 1997.
State-owned papers welcomed the demise of Labour Party, which is informally allied to the banned Moslem Brotherhood, Egypt's largest fundamentalist group.
"This fate was expected and waited for," Said Sonbol wrote in al-Akhbar on Monday, recalling al-Shaab's support for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which Egypt opposed.
He said al-Shaab's "ugliest stance" had been its support for Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, suspected by Egypt of turning his country into a shelter for militants including those who tried to kill President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995.
Opposition papers criticized the muzzling of the Labor Party.
"We should not rely upon the weapon of complete abrogation and absolute refusal of the other," wrote parliamentarian Ayman Nour in al-Wafd. "We call for this decision to be reconsidered." – CAIRO (AFP)
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