Thirteen members of the opposition movement Muslim Brotherhood, including the group's deputy chief Mahmud Ezzat (pictured), were arrested Monday by Egyptian authorities, according to the opposition group.
AFP - Egyptian security forces arrested several leaders of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in a pre-dawn swoop on Monday, ratcheting up pressure on the Islamists ahead of elections this year.
In a series of raids carried out across the country, 13 members of the Brotherhood were rounded up including its deputy chief, Mahmud Ezzat, who was taken from his Cairo home, the group's lawyer said.
Senior Brotherhood members Essam Erian and Abdel Rahman el-Berr were also detained, lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksud said in a statement posted on the group's website.
The attorney, citing initial reports, said 10 other Brotherhood members were also arrested in other raids, including in the coastal city of Alexandria, the southern province of Asyut and the Nile Delta.
A security official who declined to be named confirmed the arrests in a brief statement to AFP, saying those rounded up "are accused of membership in an outlawed group."
The lawyer said the Brotherhood believed that more of its members were arrested in the operation.
"This campaign of arrests is unjustified and we expect that more people have been arrested as Brotherhood lawyers are still receiving the names of those detained from the various provinces," the lawyer said.
Egyptian authorities frequently crack down on the Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group which is outlawed but tolerated by the government.
The Islamists hold a fifth of the seats in parliament after fielding candidates as independents in the 2005 polls.
Monday's arrests were the first since Mohammed Badie was chosen as the group's new head in mid-January, replacing Mohammed Akef whose tenure was undermined by deep divisions between conservatives and reformists.
A former radical, Badie pledged however in a post-election speech to work toward "progressive reforms" using peaceful and constitutional means, and said he rejects violence.
Brotherhood members charged the latest wave of arrests is aimed at undermining participation by the group ahead of legislative elections later this year.
Egypt is due to elect parliament's upper house, or Shura Council, in April while elections for the lower house are expected to take place some time in autumn.
"The regime wants to obstruct the Brotherhood's participation in the next elections," Hamdi Hasan, the Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc spokesman, told AFP.
According to Hasan, the authorities have intensified their campaign against the Brotherhood ever since the Islamists "announced that we plan on participating in the Shura Council elections."
Hossam Tammam, an expert on the Brotherhood, echoed his words, saying the authorities were seeking "to abort any serious effort by the Brotherhood to run in the Shura Council elections which are considered a test for the parliamentary polls."
Tammam added the arrests were "part of a strategy by the regime to strike at the Brotherhood in order to weaken them but without entering with them in a total confrontation."
Egyptian authorities repeatedly accuse the Brotherhood -- which was founded in 1928 -- of seeking to topple the government.
The group denies the allegation and accuses the government of carrying out arrests in order to weaken it politically.
On October 20, Brotherhood members were detained in the Nile Delta town of Mansura, and group leaders were arrested on December 10 in the province of Kafr el-Sheikh.
Date created : 2010-02-08