Video: Crackdown in Egypt

updated 3/27/2005 10:14:48 PM ET 2005-03-28T03:14:48

Egyptian security arrested scores of members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday, but hours later the group demonstrated against the government.

The crackdown and protests came a month after President Hosni Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to open presidential elections later this year to more than one candidate. The move revived Egypt’s stagnant politics, setting off debate on the country’s future and leading to pro-reform activists demanding change.

A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Mohammed Osama, initially put the number of arrests at 48, saying most members were taken into custody during early raids in at least five different provinces.

An Interior Ministry statement later said another about 50 Brotherhood members were detained during street protests after the group’s leaders ignored “warnings not to go out in rallies.”

Among them were top Brotherhood official and prominent physician, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and five other group leaders. The six were later released.

The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamic political group and is believed to have tens of thousands of supporters in the country. The group was established in 1928 and outlawed in 1954 after the government accused it of advocating the violent overthrow of Egypt’s secular government.

Since the 1970s, the Muslim Brotherhood has pledged to use only peaceful democratic means to establish an Islamic state.

Running as independents, the group and its supporters won 17 seats in the 2000 elections, making the Brotherhood the largest opposition bloc in the 454-seat legislature.

The group had initially planned to demonstrate outside Cairo’s downtown parliament building, but changed the venue following the pre-dawn arrests and because the heavy security presence prevented them from reaching the legislature.

‘Islam is coming’
Instead, protesters gathered outside al-Fateh Mosque, about three miles away, shouting “Islam is coming, coming and the Quran will rule” and “No extremism, no terrorism. We want to rule by the book (Quran) ... Islamic law, Islamic law.”

Several hundred riot police took position, holding shields and facing demonstrators. Generally, demonstrations are tolerated even though they violate Egypt’s decades-old emergency laws, but riot police always vastly outnumber protesters.

Interior Minister Habib El-Adly, who is in charge of internal security, warned in remarks published this week that demonstrations would be permitted but legal action would be taken against protesters shouting insults at “leaders,” a reference to Mubarak and top regime officials.

Interior Ministry officials estimated 2,000 protesters gathered, but the Brotherhood put the number of protesters outside al-Fateh mosque at 5,000. Some raised copies of the Quran and many waving banners against emergency laws and demanding greater freedom to form political parties.

Multiple protests
Two more protests by the Muslim Brotherhood took place elsewhere in Cairo, and the officials said up to 200 protesters participated in each of Babelouq and Sayda Zeinab districts. Riot police were present at both, they said.

In the fourth protest, an estimated 300 demonstrators gathered outside the offices of the Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo, where they were joined by dozens of other government critics chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.

Mubarak, Egypt’s president since succeeding Anwar Sadat following his 1981 assassination, surprised the country Feb. 26 by ordering a constitutional amendment to allow polls open to more than one candidate.

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