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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Vows to Contest Local Elections


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood says it will participate in upcoming local elections despite a recent wave of arrests of its members. The banned but somewhat tolerated Islamist group says the crackdown is forcing it to change its strategy, and some candidates may keep their affiliation with the Brotherhood a secret in order to be allowed to run. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

The leader of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, said the arrests will not keep the group from running in upcoming municipal elections.

He spoke to reporters in the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters a day after police arrested more than 100 Brotherhood members in Cairo and five other provinces. He said the authorities appear to be arresting anyone who might make a good candidate.

He said the government "thinks this this will stop us from exercising our right to defend this good nation." But, he added, the Brotherhood has decided to participate in the elections.

Leaders of the group say more than 500 Muslim Brothers are currently in police custody, including those detained Wednesday. Akef said he expects that thousands of Brotherhood members will be arrested before local elections take place on April 8.

He says the approach of the security forces is causing the group to adjust in order to achieve its goals. He said in addition to its well-known candidates, the Brotherhood may also put forward candidates whose affiliation with the group has not been publicized. Muslim Brotherhood members run for office as independents.

The group's deputy leader, Mohammed Habib, called the crackdown "a ferocious campaign," saying security forces have raided the homes of Brotherhood members and closed down their businesses. He said the group will not be deterred.

He said running in local elections is the constitutional right of all citizens, including members of the Brotherhood.

He said the Egyptian people are angry about problems that plague Egypt, including rampant corruption, persistent poverty and deteriorating public services such as education and health care. He said the Brotherhood is trying to "save the ship of the nation from sinking," and he encouraged all Egyptians, regardless of their political leanings, to take part in the election. He said a large turnout could counter attempts to rig the vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt, but is tolerated to some extent. The group renounced violence in the 1970s.

The Brotherhood stunned the ruling party during legislative elections in 2005, winning 88 seats in the lower house of parliament and becoming the country's largest opposition bloc.

Local city council elections were originally scheduled for 2006, but the government postponed them for two years.

A set of controversial constitutional amendments adopted last year will make it harder for the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in future elections.

The city council elections have become more important because the constitutional changes now require any presidential candidate to have the backing of at least 140 municipal counselors.

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