On Thursday, Egyptian security forces detained 73 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, cracking down against the government's most powerful political rival.
The arrests occurred in Cairo and the Nile Delta, the main bases of the Islamic movement. Office managers, doctors, engineers, professionals, teachers, and three Brotherhood members of parliament were among those arrested. According to Reuters, the men were arrested on charges of belonging to an outlawed group and possessing anti-government literature.
The Brotherhood condemned the sweeps as an attempt to reduce its influence before elections for the upper house of parliament in April, in which they are expected to take part. In 2005, the Brotherhood won a fifth of the seats in the lower house.
Mohamed Habib, the Brotherhood's deputy leader, conveyed, "This is an attempt to marginalize the role of the Brotherhood in Egyptian political life, an attempt to impede our political path and snarl our plans and strategies."
Elections for the Shura Council are approaching. Winning seats in the Shura Council enables the Brotherhood to bypass a ban that prevents all but recognized political parties from running for president. Presidential elections are not due until 2001, "but they are trying to deliver pre-emptive strikes out of fear that we will contest the elections" Habib added.
This arrest occurred simultaneously as U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called on Egypt to free hundreds of Brotherhood members who were detained "solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association."
A week ago, Egypt referred 40 members of the Brotherhood, including third-in-command Khairat el-Shatir, for trial in military courts. Verdicts in these courts are issued quickly and cannot be appealed. According to press reports, those 40 members, who face terrorism and money-laundering charges, will be the first Brotherhood members to face military trials since 2001. The Islamist group has said it was preparing for a tough legal fight.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that "by trying to crush Egypt's largest opposition movement, the government has shown once again that it cannot tolerate any criticism."