In Egypt, Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood Critics Appears Imminent

By Patrick Goodenough | March 26, 2013 | 4:56am EDT

Egyptians shout anti-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Morsi slogans during a demonstration in Cairo on Friday, March 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

( – Tensions threatened to erupt in Egypt late Monday after the country’s top prosecutor ordered the arrest of five prominent anti-Islamist activists and the Muslim Brotherhood was reported to be on a state of “high alert” ahead of an announcement of unspecified new decrees by President Mohammed Morsi.

The latest developments came three days after a violent rally outside the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) headquarters in Cairo saw scores of people hurt as pro- and anti-MB groups clashed. Several buses belonging to the MB torched by anti-Islamist activists.

Morsi in response blamed his political opponents, and threatened to take “special measures” to “protect the nation.”  On Monday prosecutor-general Talaat Abdallah – a controversial Morsi appointee – ordered arrest warrants for and a travel ban on five leading Brotherhood critics, accusing them of using social media to incite Friday’s violence.

Abdallah’s office in a statement accused them of inciting “aggression against people, the destruction of property and disturbing civil peace.”

The five were named as Alaa Abdel-Fatah, a prominent blogger; Ahmed Douma of the Popular Current movement (whose leader, former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry during a recent visit, alleging the U.S. is supporting the MB); Hazem Abdel-Azim and Ahmed Ghoneimi of the Constitution Party (whose leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, also refused to meet with Kerry); and Karim el-Shaer, described by the Al-Ahram newspaper simply as an “activist.”

Also on Monday, Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm daily reported that the MB’s “guidance bureau” had issued instructions to the organization’s offices for members to mobilize in anticipation of an imminent announcement of new presidential decrees.

It said sources close to the MB leadership reported “that all group members have been instructed to get ready to take to the streets once President Mohammed Morsi makes his statement.”

Later in the day the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party denied knowledge of any new decrees to be announced soon.

Morsi’s threatened crackdown, and prosecutor-general Abdallah’s role, will reinforce non-Islamists’ fears that the MB establishment is tightening its grip on Egyptian society.

Although he denies it, Abdallah is widely viewed as being aligned to the Brotherhood. After Morsi appointed him last November in line with a contentious presidential constitutional declaration, judges and prosecutors went on strike to protest.

Last month the opposition National Salvation Front demanded his dismissal, charging that the prosecutor-general had “excessively intervened in the affairs of the judiciary and was appointed by the president, just like the days of the ousted regime.”

Several of those now subject to arrest warrants used their Facebook accounts late Monday to respond to the allegations.

El Shaer said he rejected both the arrest warrant and the prosecutor-general who issued it; Abdel-Fatah also accused Abdallah of being biased in favor of the MB, but said he would present himself to the authorities on Tuesday, to spare his family a visit from the police.

According to Egypt’s MENA news agency, Abdel-Azim also said he would refuse to cooperate. MENA reported that Abdallah is believed to have plans to order the arrest of at least 23 others.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, speaking during a press briefing shortly before the arrest warrants were reported, was asked about Morsi’s warning to opponents.

“We’re clearly concerned by violence that we’ve seen in Egypt and we’re following the situation closely,” he said, “but our message to the government of Egypt is that they should fully respect human rights and the rule of law in their response.”

In an earlier statement, ElBaradei’s Constitution Party said it held Morsi and the MB responsible for Friday’s violence, which it characterized as part of a cycle that had seen peaceful opposition supporters attacked, and some killed, in recent months.

It also stressed the importance of continuing to protest peacefully against the regime.

MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan in a statement accused “certain parties and individuals” of trying to drag Egypt towards civil war.

“Some people are trying to create a scene of total chaos and lawlessness, to try to show the whole world that the authorities are powerless to stop their acts of violence that have nothing to do with peaceful protest, while the opposition provides political cover for all the thuggery, sabotage and savagery that those are trying to spread across Egypt,” he said.

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