Egyptian police step up Muslim Brotherhood crackdown

Egyptian police step up Muslim Brotherhood crackdown

The military trial of 40 members of Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood on charges of money-laundering and financing a banned organization resumed on Sunday amid an ongoing clampdown on the Islamists. Police arrested at least 34 other members of Egypt”s main opposition movement over the weekend, feeding accusations that the politically charged trial is part of a broader policy of silencing the powerful group.
Police arrested 18 Muslim Brothers in towns north of Cairo on Sunday, having already detained 16 leading members in another swoop in the capital on Friday.

“There”s only one explanation for this oppression, it”s the sign of a faltering regime that is riven with corruption,” the Brotherhood”s supreme guide Mohammad Mehdi Akef said.

He added that at least 550 Brothers have been arrested in recent months, including spokesman Essam al-Aryan and another senior figure, Mahmoud Hussein, who were held Friday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which describes itself as a moderate organization that wants to bring Islamic law to Egypt, has been outlawed since 1954.

The group holds more than a fifth of the seats in Egpyt”s Parliament, but its representatives sit as independents because of its illegal status.

The latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which began last December, has especially targeted the organisation”s funding, freezing its assets and arresting prominent businessmen associated with the movement.

“The current repression of the Muslim Brotherhood could be explained by the desire politically to pull the carpet from under their feet,” Amr Shubaki, an Islamist expert from Cairo”s Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, told AFP

He says that the regime wants to put pressure on the Brothers to go back on the planned publication of their political program, a document that has already been widely leaked to the Egyptian press.

“Whether they”re sincere or not, that”s how they want to take over the political-media stage from a regime whose image is of a non-democratic and corrupt power,” he said.

At Sunday”s trial, police officers are set to testify that the defendants – mainly businessmen – were involved in financing an illegal group, a charge that in the military court could carry the death penalty.

Rights groups have voiced opposition to the use of military courts to try civilians, who in this case include the Brotherhood”s number three, Khayrat al-Shater, as well as criticizing the barring of independent observers from the courtroom and proceedings.

The accused were referred to the military court by presidential decree after a number of them were cleared on the same charges by a civil criminal court.

“What does the government of Egypt fear? What is it ashamed of doing that it can”t do in broad daylight as the law requires?” former US attorney general Ramsey Clark asked reporters last month.

Over the past 10 years, Mubarak”s government has repeatedly relied on military tribunals, which have a more consistent rate of conviction, to try members of Islamist organizations.

The verdicts of military courts have no right of appeal.