The leader of Egypt’s main Islamic opposition group said Thursday the Holocaust was a “myth,” and he slammed Western governments for criticizing disclaimers of the Jewish genocide.
The comments by Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohammed Mahdi Akef — made on the heels of his group’s strong showing in Egyptian parliamentary elections — echoed remarks made recently by Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which sparked international outrage.
“Western democracies have slammed all those who don’t see eye to eye with the Zionists regarding the myth of the Holocaust,” 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 Center, warned, “There’s no question that a very ugly wave of Holocaust denial is sweeping the Arab world.”
“The 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,” Efraim Zuroff said.
Ratcheting up rhetoric
Akef’s hard-line rhetoric was in contrast to the moderate tone the Brotherhood took in November and December parliamentary 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 — about 20 percent of the body — 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.
“These words are meant to expose the false American rule which has become a nightmare of a new world order,” Akef said.
“I am making these comments to all free people in the world, aiming to wake up the conscience in humanity. The sword of democracy is only unsheathed against those who raise the flag of Islam.”
Similar comments by Ahmadinejad earlier this month sparked an international outcry. The Iranian president called the Holocaust — in which an estimated 6 million Jews were killed — a “myth” and said Europeans have used it to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.
He also said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
Arab governments and media did not condemn Ahmadinejad’s remarks.
Railing against the West
It was not clear why Akef made the remarks, but his article was full of criticism of Western democracy, which he said “was drawn up by the sons of Zion.”
Akef did not take a question about his statement when telephoned by The Associated Press.
But a top Brotherhood leader said the group is disenchanted by the U.S. policies in the Mideast, including President Bush’s reform plans for the region.
“In fact, the Americans appeared to be hypocrites about the issue of reform,” Essam el-Aryan said. “They maintain silence when the (election’s) results were not favorable to them.”
In an interview with the 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 organization’s newfound strength.
Following the elections, Akef promised that Brotherhood parliamentarians would represent all Egyptians — Muslims, Coptic Christians, men and women — in an attempt to calm widespread fear of the group among Christians, women and secularists.
Critics question group’s motives
But in his Thursday article, Akef said the group will press to implement “the correct teachings of Islam.”
“You Brothers, you are the guardians of Shariah. Your main concern should be the heritage of Shariah, which you uphold,” he wrote.
The Brotherhood calls for implementing Islamic law but is vague about what that means. Many skeptics 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 toward 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 organization claims it could have won an additional 30 seats were it not for violent intervention by security forces.