Egyptian police detain 10 leading Muslim Brotherhood members
CAIRO, Egypt: Police arrested 10 leading Muslim Brotherhood members on Sunday as part of Egypt's ongoing campaign against the country's largest opposition group, police and Brotherhood said.
The 10 men were arrested at dawn in Menoufia province, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Cairo, police said.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. More than 300 Brotherhood members are currently in custody, including the 10 arrested Sunday, according to figures provided by the group and New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 80 members were arrested in mid-February.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic political group, has been officially banned since 1954. Though tolerated within strict limits, it suffers regular police crackdowns.
Police did not give a reason for the early morning arrests, but they come amid controversial constitutional amendments presented by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and rejected by the Brotherhood and other opposition parties.
The arrests also come ahead of the April elections for the upper house of Egypt's parliament, which half of its members are elected and half appointed. Brotherhood members are expected to run in these elections.
The Brotherhood did surprisingly well in the 2005 legislative elections, winning 88 seats in the 454-member lower house of parliament. The government then postponed the 2006 municipal elections for two years, apparently out of fear of more Brotherhood gains.
Brotherhood candidates run as independents, but their campaigns are financed by the group and voters know their allegiance. In December, Mubarak asked the legislature to amend 34 articles in the constitution as part of a political reform package.
The opposition has criticized the amendments as doing little to advance democracy. One amendment would ban the formation of political parties with a religious foundation — a restriction clearly aimed at the Brotherhood.
The referendum on the amendments is due in April, but a precise date has not been set. Authorities have intensified their campaign against the Brotherhood since December, when student members staged a militia-style demonstration at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
The parade, which Brotherhood leaders said was unauthorized, provoked fears that the group was forming a military wing.
Mubarak signed an order last month to put 40 Brotherhood members on trial in a military court on charges of money laundering and terrorism. On Wednesday, an Egyptian court froze the assets of 29 Brotherhood members, including the group's No. 3 leader, Khayrat el-Shater, and millionaire businessman Hassan Malik.