700 potential opposition candidates arrested ahead of Egypt’s elections: Islamist lawmaker

700 potential opposition candidates arrested ahead of Egypt’s elections: Islamist lawmaker

Only 60 out of 10,000 members of Egypt”s opposition Muslim Brotherhood have been allowed to register their candidacies for April”s local council elections due to government interference and 700 have been arrested since registration began, said one of the movement”s lawmakers Monday.

Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, the leader of the Brotherhood”s parliamentary bloc, told reporters in front of parliament in the capital Cairo, that policemen in many areas of the country had blocked members of the organization from entering official buildings to register.

“The Brotherhood were ready to register in all the local councils,” he said, as two dozen riot police deployed in front of the parliament building. “So far, 700 of the group”s potential candidates have been seized from their homes by police.”

Police confirmed the arrests, but said that only some of those detained were Brotherhood members hoping to compete in April for the 4,500 municipal councils that manage local utilities and resources in Egypt.

The Brotherhood, which has the largest opposition bloc in parliament, has vowed to contest elections despite the crackdown. The group has been banned in Egypt since 1954, but the government has not completely shut down the Brotherhood”s activities.

Authorities have prevented the Brotherhood from forming a political party, so its members run as independents in local and national elections. Brotherhood officials said Monday that registrations centers across the country have blocked their candidates by refusing to accept applications from people who run as independents. The deadline for registration is Thursday, the group said.

Local councils have long been dominated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak”s National Democratic party. Largely ignored in the past, the councils gained new importance after a constitutional amendment passed in 2005 that required presidential candidates to obtain endorsements from 250 parliament and local councils members to run.

El-Katatni read a statement Monday signed by 100 lawmakers that accused the government of dictatorship and corruption, saying elections in Egypt had become like “a boogieman that frightens the government and makes it respond with actions that are not to be practiced but in the most dictatorial and corrupt regimes.”

The statement called on the government “to lift its hands from the local council elections and to correct this injustice it has committed by facilitating the registration process.”

The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where the 79-year-old Mubarak has led an authoritarian government for a quarter century. The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country.

The Brotherhood did surprisingly well in the 2005 legislative elections, winning 88 seats in the 454-member parliament. The government then postponed the 2006 municipal elections for two years, apparently out of fear of more Brotherhood gains.

El-Katatni said Monday that lawmakers had complained to the parliament speaker over the detention of Brotherhood members in the run-up to the April elections but had not received a reply.

“Preventing a citizen from practicing his right is a crime,” said another Brotherhood lawmaker, Akram el-Shaer. He said he had been advised by a judge not to file a lawsuit because the verdict would not be in his favor.

“The most important thing here is we have succeeded to drop the veil off the government”s face, showing its terrorist conduct,” said el-Shaer.

On Sunday, over 6,000 Brotherhood supporters demonstrated in two Egyptian cities, protesting arrests that have targeted the group”s leaders.