CAIRO: Egyptian police detained approximately 30 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group in Alexandria as they were preparing to vote in chamber of commerce elections, a spokesman for the group said on Monday.
Hamdy Hassan, the official spokesman for the Brotherhood bloc in parliament has confirmed at least 28 people have been arrested.
On Saturday, the Brotherhood announced that the police had arrested a four-man media team covering the elections. The group also claimed police raided and searched homes on Friday in Egypt’s second largest city.
The Ministry of Interior says it has no information pertaining to the arrests and will look into the matter.
“We were at the election station when the Security police surrounded us and stopped us from entering to vote, says Islam Hamid, a Brotherhood member in Alexandria.
The Egyptian regime is unable to tolerate any opposition, even in the form of minor elections as in the case of the chamber of commerce elections, Ali Abdel Fattah added in a statement posted on the group s website.
According to Hamid, Brotherhood members were taken into custody shortly after they were blocked from the station.
“They just took us after they realized that we were not backing down, Hamid adds.
“After conspicuous security interference and organized fraud operations, the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria has decided to withdraw from the chamber of commerce elections, a Brotherhood statement read on Sunday, following the incidents in the northern coastal city.
Witnesses said thousands of police had been deployed in Alexandria and closed off the chamber of commerce where voting was taking place. Traffic was stopped from passing through the area.
Delegates of Brotherhood candidates were prevented from entering while more than 400 supporters of the government candidates were allowed in the chamber from the early morning, the Brotherhood s Mohammed Zuweil told reporters.
In last fall’s parliamentary elections, police were reported to have used similar tactics as were used Sunday in Alexandria. They blocked polling stations in order to curb Brotherhood members from partaking in the vote.
“They [the police] blocked the polling station and wouldn’t let people go, just like they did last fall during the parliamentary elections, Hamid continues.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned in Egypt, fielded candidates as independents in the November-December 2005 parliamentary elections and won 20 percent of the seats.
The three-stage elections saw officials use heavy-handed tactics, banning people from casting their votes and sealing off polling stations.
More than 1,300 Muslim Brotherhood members were rounded up and imprisoned over the course of the election. Most were later released without charge.
In recent weeks, however, hundreds of members of the group were detained after joining popular demonstrations in support of reformist judges calling for independence from the executive authority.
Most sources say the Muslim Brotherhood is the country s largest opposition bloc, both in and out of parliament.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said this month the government wants to prevent the Brotherhood from forming a parliamentary bloc in future.
The Brotherhood had earlier issued a statement saying they had pulled out of the election to protest the violations, but the candidates later said they had not withdrawn.
Also, the Egyptian National Security agency has extended the detention of 11 Muslim Brotherhood members for 15 days. Dr. Rashad Bayumi, member of the Irshad (Directing) office, had been included along with 13 other detainees that had undergone the same extension, Saturday.
On Monday, Mohamed Mursi and Essam Al Arian are expected to be seen in court. They were arrested two weeks ago during the demonstrations in Cairo, in support of the judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham El Bastawisy.