Egyptian students demonstrate
Protest in Cairo (Archive)
Egyptian police have arrested at least 460 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, including leading figures, in their attempt to thwart a planned demonstration in protest of Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, security officials said Wednesday.
The demonstration was scheduled to take place in front of the Arab League's headquarters in downtown Cairo by noon, and was expected to attract hundreds of political activists and members of the banned Islamic group.
Muslim Brotherhood members from across different provinces, mainly the oasis city of Fayoum and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, have been flocking to the capital to join members of their brethren since the early hours Wednesday, according to a security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
However, their attempt to reach the protest site was prevented by security forces who dispersed the walking crowds by force and detained at least 300 of the activists in Cairo alone. Police also arrested a total of 160 others in metro and train stations outside of the capital or when they were about to get into their vehicles and heading to Cairo.
A statement from the Brotherhood said their members, would-be-protesters, were held back by riot police and beaten by batons and heavy clubs. Five lawmakers among them were surrounded by police and were continuously badmouthed, the statement said.
Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef described the arrests as ''an embarrassment, a disgrace'' and called on authorities to end this ''unfair campaign'' and immediately release the group members.
He ascribed the sudden flurry of arrests to rising ''popular support for lifting the blockade on Gaza and opening the crossing points in Rafah to assuage the suffering of the Palestinian people.''
Some 64 members were arrested from Alexandria, including leading member Ali Abdel Fattah, 16 from Cairo's twin city of Giza, 52 from Fayoum and the rest from elsewhere in the Nile Delta, security officials said.
Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud told The Associated Press that so far, 380 members of the organization have been arrested in Cairo in connection with protests over the situation in Gaza.
The group has been urging the Egyptian government to reopen the closed border crossings with Gaza for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on Wednesday that he had ordered his troops to allow the Palestinians into Egypt to buy food in Rafah after thousands broke through the border.
The Brotherhood, founded 1928, but officially banned since in 1954, is Egypt's largest opposition group with its lawmakers, who run as independents, holding just over a fifth of the seats in the 454-member lower house of the parliament.