CAIRO: Egyptian security forces arrested 18 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday, cranking up pressure on the group ahead of a referendum due in April on constitutional amendments the Islamists deeply oppose. The Brotherhood, which rejects violence, is the strongest opposition force in Egypt. Members running as independents to circumvent a ban on the group won nearly a fifth of the 454-seat lower house of parliament in 2005.
Analysts say the government fears that unless it stops the Brotherhood now, the group will make more electoral gains that could help it eventually mount a serious challenge to President Hosni Mubarak s ruling National Democratic Party. It is all because of the constitutional amendments, a Brotherhood spokesman said about the fresh arrests. It is to put pressure on the Brotherhood.
Security sources said the arrested men, who included several doctors, teachers and an engineer, were detained in dawn raids in the Nile Delta, where the Brotherhood has strong support. The constitutional amendments would weaken the role of judges in monitoring elections and an anti-terrorism clause would give police sweeping powers of arrest and broad authority to monitor private communications. The proposed laws would also ban political activity based on religion, quashing Brotherhood hopes of acquiring legal standing as a recognized political party. The Brotherhood believes the proposed amendments, which parliament is expected to pass shortly, aim to block the group from mainstream national politics. The Brotherhood operates openly in Egypt despite being officially banned.
Thursday s arrests followed sweeps earlier in the week that netted 18 additional Brotherhood members including Mahmoud Ghozlan, a senior leader and a member of the group s executive Guidance Council. The government bills the proposed amendments as reforms. Opposition and civil society groups say they are a step backward, and that a requirement that judges supervise elections is one of the best ways to discourage widespread abuses that have marred polls in Egypt. More than 300 Brotherhood members are now in detention, including third-in-command Khairat El-Shatir, who was referred last month to a military trial along with 39 others on charges including money laundering and terrorism.