Thousands of opposition Muslim Brotherhood members demonstrated in Egypt Sunday to protest a government crackdown on their movement ahead of local elections.

Egyptian security officials say about 5,000 protesters gathered outside a local council building in the Nile Delta town of Tanta. The Egyptian Islamist group put the figure at 10,000.

A similar rally in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria drew hundreds of Brotherhood supporters.

The Brotherhood says it is protesting the arrest of hundreds of its members by Egyptian security forces in recent weeks. Many of those arrested were potential candidates in local elections scheduled for April 8.

The opposition group also accused authorities of refusing to accept nomination papers from other Brotherhood activists who want to run in the elections.

The Brotherhood is banned in Egypt as a political party, but its members run for office as independents.

The movement did better than expected in the 2005 parliamentary elections, winning a fifth of the seats.

Egypt's local councils have long been dominated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

The councils previously held little power, but they became more important in 2005, when a constitutional amendment gave elected council members a role in nominating presidential candidates.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.