Egyptian authorities arrested Hossam Menoufi, a founder of the Hasm movement which Egypt and other countries have listed as a terrorist organisation. Menoufi was on a Badr Airlines flight from Khartoum to Istanbul on 12 January when it had to make an emergency landing in Luxor, where he was arrested.
It is not the first time members of Hasm, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other terrorist organisations who fled to Sudan or elsewhere in the region have been detained. In February 2019, Mohamed Abdel-Hafez Hussein, wanted in connection with the assassination of Egyptian prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat, was arrested upon arrival at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul and turned over to the Egyptian authorities. Hussein had arrived on a flight from Mogadishu. Turkish customs authorities suspected his visa had been forged.
Many countries exchange intelligence and cooperate in other ways in counterterrorist efforts regardless of the tenor of their bilateral relations. This sometimes gives rise to conflicting narratives over arrests such as that of Menoufi. The Muslim Brotherhood has insisted that the emergency landing in Luxor was pre-arranged despite repeated statements by Badr Airlines, a privately owned firm based in Khartoum, that the plane was forced to land because a smoke alarm had gone off in the luggage hold.
The Egyptian authorities have remained silent on the matter, evidence that they have little interest in refuting such far-fetched conspiracy theories. What matters to them is that a valuable prize has fallen into their hands. According to Egyptian news reports, Menoufi is implicated in several terrorist attacks, including the assassination of Brigadier General Adel Ragaai, a commander of the Armoured Infantry Division, and the attempted assassinations of the former mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Gomaa and former assistant prosecutor-general Zaharia Abdel-Aziz.
The Egyptian authorities have arrested other members of Hasm, a paramilitary affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. In January 2021, the US designated Harikat Souaid Misr (The Arms of Egypt Movement), commonly known as Hasm, as a foreign terrorist organisation. So-called rights advocacy organisations, backed and funded by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates abroad, held that the detainees had been forcibly disappeared by Egyptian authorities. Menoufi is a case in point. On 28 March 2017, the Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) announced that Egyptian security had abducted him, whereas, in fact, he had married in Cairo before fleeing to Sudan, as his wife, Rofida Madkour, has acknowledged. It subsequently came to light that the ECRF’s forced disappearance claim was based on a communication from Menoufi’s family. This confirms a pattern of fabrication of stories against Egyptian authorities. Ironically, the same parties that claimed he had been forcefully disappeared in the past now say he left Egypt legitimately and ask why he had not been arrested at the time.
Although Menoufi, according to unofficial reports, resided in Sudan, Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey, two of whom, Yehia Moussa and Alaa Al-Samahi, are implicated in related cases, had invited him to move there. The invitation is a gauge of Menoufi’s organisational significance. He is likely to have answers to questions such as the nature of the link between the paramilitary wings and the mother organisation.
The invitation to Istanbul coincided with structural upheavals within the Muslim Brotherhood which has been rocked by infighting and mutual accusations of treachery, corruption and betrayal against a backdrop of reports of Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement. Menoufi is probably not going to be the last Brotherhood affiliate to be summoned to Istanbul in this context.
Investigations into Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, are certain to tie in. It is believed that Ezzat has revealed much information related to Hasm and other Muslim Brotherhood offshoots. The invitation to leaders of such organisations to come to Istanbul certainly appear to be connected with arrangements for the Muslim Brotherhood’s post-Ezzat phase.
Egyptian authorities have come a long way in their battle with terrorist organisations. Menoufi’s arrest has broken an important link in the chain of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated paramilitary wings, just as the arrest of Hisham Ashmawi in Libya removed a linchpin in the chain of Al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa. Ashmawi had masterminded Al-Qaeda linked terrorist operations in Sinai, the Nile Valley, and the Delta.
The focus of Egyptian security services on key terrorist operatives, and their determination to capture them alive, has resulted in the accumulation of invaluable intelligence, which in turn has led to the crumbling of their organisational structures.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.