CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt has arrested dozens of members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and blocked the group, Egypt’s largest opposition force, from holding a demonstration calling for political reform.
Thousands of riot police lined roads in central Cairo on Sunday to stop demonstrators gathering for the protest in front of parliament. A few hundred of the protesters managed to regroup to hold demonstrations in other central Cairo locations.
Leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian told Reuters the authorities had arrested six members of the group who were trying to attend the protest and detained a further 49 of the protest organisers.
An official said the 49 men, arrested in five separate sweeps late on Saturday, were found “in possession of books and publications opposed to the system of government” and suspected of recruiting new Brotherhood members and “disturbing security”.
The arrests were made in Cairo, two provinces north of the capital and in Fayoum, a one-hour drive southwest of Cairo.
A police source said senior Brotherhood member Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh was also arrested in his office on Sunday on accusations of belonging to the group, which has been banned since 1954 but tolerated in recent years.
The Muslim Brotherhood, like other Egyptian opposition groups, has criticised President Hosni Mubarak’s proposal to introduce multi-candidate presidential elections in place of referendums on a single candidate chosen by parliament.
The Brotherhood has welcomed the idea but says that proposed restrictions on who can stand in the presidential elections this year will secure victory for the incumbent.
The authorities have tolerated a series of demonstrations since December against an extension of the rule of Mubarak, who has governed Egypt since 1981.
But Cairo security director Major-General Nabil el-Ezabi said the authorities had decided not to allow Sunday’s protest and would block another demonstration calling for political reform planned for Wednesday.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mahdi Akef told Reuters: “The Communists organised a demonstration, the ‘Enough Movement’… had a demonstration … so why this with us?.”
The ‘Enough Movement’ groups opposition figures campaigning against any extension of Mubarak’s rule or any transfer of power to his son Gamal.
Brotherhood members running as independents hold more seats in parliament than any of the recognised opposition parties.