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EGYPT: Arrest of alleged Hezbollah agents in Cairo stirs skepticism

April 9, 2009 |  2:07 am

Hassan nasrallah

Skepticism surrounded Egypt's announcement this week of the arrest of a group with alleged ties to the Lebanese Shiite Muslim organization Hezbollah. 

Authorities accused detainees of plotting terrorism operations in Egypt and spreading Shiite thought in the predominantly Sunni Muslim society. 

The announcement of the arrest comes at a time of regional polarization between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Syria and Shiite Iran on the other. 

For some analysts, it is a new stage in government propaganda aimed at undermining popular Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iran, the group's patron, as threats to Egypt’s national security.

“Every now and then, they announce the arrest of a Hamas-tied, Shiite, protestant, Marxist group with links to al-Qaeda. These are just lies. Innocent people are being arrested unfairly and without any reason except the regime’s desire to show that it serves the country,” wrote Waheed Safwat on the website of the newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm.

The 49 suspects include Egyptians and Palestinians as well as Lebanese. They were reportedly arrested six months ago. Nasrallah is directly implicated in the case, accused of ordering his group to carry out “hostile operations” inside Egypt after his call to the Egyptian people and army to turn against the ruling regime, said a statement released Wednesday by prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.

But many Egyptians are not buying it.

“Hassan Nasrallah offered his son as a martyr and Mubarak offers his son as an heir against our will,” commented an Egyptian reader on the BBC Arabic website.

“Do you know that the enemies of Islam namely [Israelis] respect Hassan Nasrallah? This is because they are honest with themselves. All Muslim regimes that hold hostility to Iran have inferiority complexes,” another reader identifying himself as Barakat wrote on Al-Masry al-Youm's website.

Nasrallah has gained in popularity across the Arab world for his defiance of Israel. His appeal was strengthened after the Israeli army pulled out of Lebanon without a solid victory after battling Hezbollah's militia in 2006. 

His pictures were seen then in coffee shops, stores and on car windows everywhere in Cairo, and his name was chanted in anti-Israeli protests in which Mubarak’s regime was accused of laxity and submissiveness to the U.S. and Israel.

The Iranian president has garnered a similar position in the eyes of many Egyptians who find him the only Muslim ruler standing up to the West. The popularity of the two Shiite leaders has stunned pro-Western Arab regimes, especially Mubarak’s. 

Montasser Zayat, an Egyptian lawyer who has often represented Islamists, told the news agency Agence France-Presse that lawyers were not allowed to meet with the detainees. He added that the group was also accused of smuggling weapons to Gaza through tunnels along the Egyptian-Gazan border.

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Credit: Associated Press

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