Thursday, March 09, 2006

Egypt Arrests Islamic Radicals

Egyptian security forces have rounded up a number of Muslim Brotherhood members after briefly banning the Islamist party’s mouthpiece publication, a spokesman for the Islamist movement said yesterday. In the latest campaign against the banned but occasionally tolerated group, Issam Al-Aryan alleged that security forces had threatened to hold the family of one now detained member, Abdul Moneim Mahmud, hostage until he handed himself in.

Mahmud, 26, who lives in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, is an outspoken member of the Brotherhood. “This is a new phenomenon,” Aryan said.

“Now they are occupying homes in order to force their (Brotherhood members’) surrender,” Aryan said. In the past, Aryan said, security forces arrested Brotherhood members in the middle of the night or at dawn in their homes.

But the alleged holding of families hostage and recent arrests on the street and in public places such as coffee shops suggest a break with tradition, he said.

Fellow Brotherhood member Ayman Abul Ghani was arrested along with his wife as they were picking up their children from school in the northeastern Cairo suburb of Nasr city, he said. “The family members were detained for four hours while the police searched their home,” Aryan said.

He added that the arrests brought to more than 20 the number of Brotherhood figures detained since last week when the government unleashed a new campaign against the group, the largest opposition force in the country. Brotherhood officials suggested that the renewed hostility against them may have been triggered by an article by Rashad Bayyumi, a member of the group’s Guidance Office, in the Afaq Arabia weekly. He was picked up in a first wave of arrests last week.

The edition that carried the article criticizing Egyptian Dictator Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak, was banned outright and the paper has not appeared on the streets since then. The Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc issued a statement yesterday condemning the decision to ban the paper, which was launched under license from the liberal Ahrar party, but acts as the Brotherhood’s mouthpiece. “The bloc sees in this decision further efforts to backtrack on democracy and freedom of opinion and expression,” it said.

The Brotherhood said the authorities had justified their decision by saying it was due to a dispute within the paper’s management. However, a statement published later on the Brotherhood’s official website said the (governmental) Superior Press Council had reversed its ban “after solving the dispute.”

The Brotherhood, which fielded candidates as independents in legislative polls last year, won a record number of seats in parliament, taking 88 of the 454 seats up for grabs.

A government clampdown on the opposition in the run-up to the elections targeted Brotherhood members with a wave of arrests, though most of those detained were freed by the end of January.


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