Egypt has arrested two senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, an official said as a court on Tuesday set a date for next week on its final ruling following the death sentence recently handed down to ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Islamist group.
The two top Islamists, Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, the Brotherhood's top religious cleric, and Mahmoud Ghozlan, the group's former spokesman and a member of its top decision-making body, were arrested late Monday while hiding in Giza, a suburb outside Cairo, according to a security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The arrests were the latest in an ongoing crackdown on the Brotherhood, which has been banned as a terrorist organization and which is accused of orchestrating attacks on policemen, judges, army officers, and public figures across Egypt.
The crackdown was launched after the military's ouster of Morsi in July 2013. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was overthrown after millions staged demonstrations demanding he step down. Dozens of Brotherhood leaders have been put on trial, and many were given death sentences. Scores have also gone into hiding.
After almost two years of constant pressure and persecution by authorities, the 87-year-old Brotherhood, once the country's most influential group, has been shaken by deepening divisions within its highly disciplined ranks. A younger generation of Islamists is pushing for more violent and confrontational tactics, analysts say, while the older generation, at least in official announcements, insists on “peaceful means” of resistance.
A Brotherhood spokesman, Mohammed Montassir, described the latest arrests on his Facebook page as a “failed attempt to disrupt the revolutionaries across the nation.”
Separately, Egyptian state TV on Monday night announced that the police have foiled several Brotherhood “plots” to assault symbols of the government such as the police, army and judges, as well as media, political and public figures.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court set June 16 as the date to decide on Morsi's death sentence, after it receives the opinion in the matter from Shawki Allam, Egypt's Grand Mufti. According to Egyptian law, all death sentences are referred the top cleric.
Morsi was sentenced to death in May over a mass prison break during Egypt's 2011 uprising that eventually brought him to power. It was one of several ongoing trials against him.
The group so far has distanced itself from the assassinations and suicide bombings that have rocked the country over the past two years.