The Egyptian security apparatus has launched a massive crackdown against leading Islamists and their followers. There are indications that the Muslim Brotherhood is being used as a scapegoat.
Since Egypt's military ousted President Mohammed Morsi from power, the country's security forces have put the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists under massive pressure. Egyptian human rights organizations are trying to document the repression. But their work has been made difficult by the large number of arrests, the authorities' lack of transparency, and the rapidly developing situation.
Karim Abdelrady, a lawyer with the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information (ANHRI), has divided the arrests into two categories: the arbitrary mass detention of Islamist supporters and the arrest of their leaders. Last Monday, security forces opened fire on protesters outside of a Republican Guard facility, killing more than 50 people.
"During the latest clashes in front of the Republican Guard building, more than 650 people were arrested," Abdelrady told DW. "These people were not members of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership. They were detained at random in many places close to the building."
Interior Ministry sharply criticized
Abdelrady assumes that many of the detained were not guilty and were simply demonstrating peacefully. But some of the people arrested were armed, he adds.
Abdelrady's statistics come from the Front for the Defense of the Demonstrators. ANHRI belongs to this network. Their lawyers go to the police stations in order to investigate the number of arrests and where they took place. Abdelrady said that the number of officially reported detentions was considerably lower than the real figure. When ANHRI confronted the authorities with higher arrest numbers, state officials are said to have confirmed that the group's statistics were correct.
Arbitrary mass arrests are not unusual in Egypt. During street battles, the police often simply arrest anyone who is in the immediate vicinity of the violence. Gamal Eid, director of ANHRI, criticized the Interior Ministry's current behavior.
"When their spokesman made a statement, he defended the authorities and said that the Interior Ministry had made no mistakes," Eid told DW. "Everything was blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood. He even alluded to the time when Mubarak was still in office."
Arrest warrants against leadership
The spokesman's statement indicates that the Interior Ministry is trying to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for its own misdeeds.
In addition to the mass detentions, at least six high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood and two well-known Salafists have been arrested. Among them is the chief strategist for the Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shaiter, as well as the former parliamentary president, Saad Katatni.
Priyanka Mothoparty, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Egypt, said that the Brotherhood has no recourse to legal representation.
"When two high-level individuals in the leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood were being arrested, they called on the head lawyer for the Brotherhood to come and represent them," Mothoparty told DW. "When he arrived, he was also placed under arrest because there was a warrant out for him."
According to HRW, the military is also holding 10 members of President Morsi's former cabinet without contact to the outside world. In the meantime, an additional 10 arrest warrants have been issued against the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdelrady said.
Among those wanted is the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie. He is believed to be holed up with other Islamist leaders on the protest grounds in Nasser City, an outlying district of Cairo. Additional arrest warrants are likely.
Most of the arrested Islamists have been accused of inciting violence. For at least some of the wanted there are videos that seem to prove those accusations.
'State should protect demonstrators'
The Islamists, who were arrested outside of the Republican Guard building, accuse the authorities of murder. Abdelrady said that the military has used excessive force against the demonstrators.
"The state should protect the demonstrators and interact with them professionally," he said. "There was no reason to use live ammunition. They could have controlled the situation in another way."
The military claims that it has found weapons in the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters. Meanwhile, the regime has increasingly begun to propagate conspiracy theories. According to the Associated Press, charges have been filed against 30 high-level members of the Brotherhood, who are accused breaking out of prison with the help of Hamas during the 2011 revolution.
In addition, the security agencies have closed the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's partisan political wing. The distribution of the party's magazine has also been massively restricted.
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