CAIRO (AP) â€” The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s main Islamic opposition group, said Thursday that the Nazi Holocaust was a myth and slammed Western governments for criticising disclaimers of the Jewish genocide.
The comments by Mohammed Mahdi Akef â€” made on the heels of his group’s strong showing in Egyptian parliament elections â€” echoed remarks made recently by Iran’s ultra-conservative President, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which sparked international outrage.
â€œWestern democracies have slammed all those who don’t see eye to eye with the Zionists regarding the myth of the Holocaust,â€ Akef wrote in a weekly article meant as a directive to the group’s followers on its official Web site.
In Israel, the director of the Israeli branch of the Nazi watchdog group, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, warned that â€œthere’s no question that a very ugly wave of Holocaust denial is sweeping the Arab world.â€ â€œThe problem is that so far in the Arab world very few leaders are willing to tell their own people that they have to understand that the Holocaust did take place,â€ Efraim Zuroff said.
Akef’s hardline rhetoric was in contrast to the moderate tone the Brotherhood took in November and December’s parliament elections, during which it played down its calls for implementing Shariah, or Islamic law, in Egypt and instead touted itself as a pro-democracy movement.
The outlawed Brotherhood surprised many with its election showing, winning 88 seats in the legislature â€” about 20 per cent of the body â€” and establishing itself as the top opposition bloc.
In his article, Akef lashed out at the United States and other Western powers for what he described as a campaign against Islam.
â€œThese words are meant to expose the false American rule which has become a nightmare of a new world order,â€ Akef said.
â€œI am making these comments to all free people in the world, aiming to wake up the conscience in humanity,â€ he wrote. â€œThe sword of democracy is only unsheathed against those who raise the flag of Islam.â€ Similar comments by Ahmadinejad earlier this month sparked an international outcry. The Iranian president called the Holocaust â€” in which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed â€” a â€œmythâ€ and said Europeans have used it to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.
Arab governments and media did not condemn Ahmadinejad’s remarks.
It was not clear why Akef made the remarks but his article was full of criticism of Western democracy, which he said â€œwas drawn up by the sons of Zion.â€ Akef did not take the question about his statement when telephoned by The Associated Press.
But a top Brotherhood leader said the group is disenchanted by the US Mideast policies, including President George W. Bush’s reform plans for the region.
â€œIn fact the Americans appeared to be hypocrites about the issue of reform,â€ said Essam Aryan. â€œThey maintain silence when the (election’s) results were not favourable to them.â€ In an interview with AP last month, Akef promised that the group will not use its new leverage in the parliament to try to change Egypt’s foreign policy, including its 1979 peace treaty with Israel. He said the group will not push for a fight with Israel. His remarks seemed to be designed to allay Western concerns about the organisation’s newfound strength.
Following the elections, Akef promised that Brotherhood parliamentarians would represent all Egyptians â€” Muslims, Coptic Christians, men and women â€” in an attempt to calm widespread fear of the group among Christians, women and secularists.
But in his Thursday’s article Akef said the group will press to implement â€œthe correct teachings of Islam.â€ â€œYou Brothers, you are the guardians of Sharia. Your main concern should be the heritage of Sharia, which you uphold,â€ he wrote.
The Brotherhood calls for implementing Islamic law but is vague about what that means. Many sceptics accuse it of using a moderate tone in public while backing hard-line stances in private that it will implement if it takes power through elections.
Others contend its more radical statements are an attempt to play to Egyptians who resent what they see as the United States’ bias towards Israel.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist group and the biggest opposition bloc, was outlawed in 1954, but it fielded 150 candidates who ran as independents to get around the ban. The organisation claims it could have won an additional 30 seats were it not for violent intervention by security forces.