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Egyptian Police Arrest Top Muslim Brotherhood Figures

Egyptian police have arrested a number of top figures in the banned Muslim Brotherhood, less than a month after the group elected new leaders.

The website of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood says state security forces arrested close to a dozen senior leaders of the group in pre-dawn raids on their homes across the country. Last month, the group elected a new top leader.

Among those reportedly taken into custody were Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Mahmoud Ezzat and two officials on the group's high-level Guidance Council, Essam al Erian and Abdul Rahman al Barr.

The group's new leader Mohammed al Badie said he would not seek conflict with the government. "The brotherhood," he said, "is not for one day an opponent of the government."

Egypt is preparing for parliamentary elections later this year and analysts say the government normally cracks down on the Muslim Brotherhood in the months leading up to major national elections.

Former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdal Nasser officially outlawed the Brotherhood in 1954, but the government generally tolerates the group, which functions much like a political party. In 2005 elections, group members won 20 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly, running as independents

Amr Hamzawi of the Carnegie Foundation for Peace in the Middle East says Egypt uses a "mixed approach" with the Brotherhood, tolerating them in government, but not at all levels:

"Saying that the government tolerates their participation does not mean that their participation at any level of Egyptian politics is allowed," he said. "The government heavily restricted their ability to participate in the last municipal election; the government heavily restricted their ability to participate in the last Shoura Council election, and probably they are going to do the same thing in the upcoming Shoura Council election. With regard to the People's Assembly, even the most optimistic [Muslim brothers] are not expecting the movement to gain any more than 5 percent in the next election."

Hamzawi also thinks the government wants to keep the Brotherhood inside the system, while reducing its clout.

"The government policy has always been to avoid large-scale confrontation with the [Muslim Brotherhood], to have them in, while restricting their activities, their abilities to participate in politics and while putting them permanently under pressure and repression," he said. "But, the government has never opted for a full exclusion of al-Ikhwan, which explains why a banned movement can still run and field independent candidates, especially in the People's Assembly elections."

Muslim Brotherhood attorney Abdal Moneim Maksoud called government actions "provocative and unjustified," adding he expected the "number of detainees to rise" when the group's lawyers are able to check with police headquarters in provinces across the country.

Egyptian police indicated, off-the-record, that the senior Muslim Brotherhood figures were arrested because they were "engaging in banned political activity." The government has cited the same reason during previous waves of arrests.