Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The military-backed interim government in Cairo is continuing to increase pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood, with local media reporting that more than 50 Brotherhood supporters were arrested on terrorism charges on Thursday. The latest crackdown comes after Cairo designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” earlier this week following a deadly attack on a police headquarters in the northern city of Mansoura.
The Brotherhood activists were arrested in the Nile Delta on suspicion of “promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood group, distributing its leaflets, and inciting violence against the army and police,” according to state news agency MENA.
MENA reported that 54 Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested across seven governorates nationwide on Thursday over charges of attacking police facilities and inciting violence.
Earlier this week, the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that anyone who took part in Muslim Brotherhood protests would receive a five-year prison sentence. Those found guilty of membership of the Brotherhood, anyone who promoted the group verbally or in writing, as well as those caught carrying publications or recordings of the group, would also face a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
Egyptian security officials, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, affirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood had allied itself with two Al-Qaeda linked groups, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and the Al-Furqan Brigade. The Sinai-based Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the Mansoura bombing, which killed 16 people and wounded 140 on Wednesday, issuing a statement in which it said that the police compound was a “nest of apostasy and tyranny.”
The Egyptian security sources also said that the two takfirist groups were in possession of large sums of money and a significant arsenal, adding that Muslim Brotherhood members were supporting their terrorist operations.
Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis and Al-Furqan Brigade have announced their responsibility for a number of violent attacks on Egyptian security forces in Sinai following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
A former leading figure in the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya group, Dr. Najih Ibrahim, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Al-Furqan Brigade was attempting to topple the military-backed government and had been responsible for more than 40 attacks on the Suez Canal.
Dr. Ibrahim contrasted Al-Furqan Brigade operations with those carried out by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, whose attacks focused on military and police positions in what he referred to as “revenge attacks.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I believe that they are linked to Al-Qaeda. Regardless of direct links to the Al-Qaeda organization itself, they certainly follow Al-Qaeda’s ideology and methodology.”
The Egyptian security sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, affirmed that Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis membership included Arabs from the Sinai Peninsula, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The Muslim Brotherhood has denied responsibility for the Mansoura police station attack, and disavowed other attacks on the state following the ouster of Mursi.
Dr. Ibrahim said: “Despite the fact that the ideology followed by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and the Al-Furqan Brigade views the Muslim Brotherhood as infidels, they made a strategic alliance with the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood never previously held alliances with these groups, but after the January 25 revolution, they agreed to such alliances.”
Thursday’s arrests are part of a wider police crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, which earlier this week saw the arrest of former Egyptian prime minister Hisham Qandil. Qandil had been on the run from Egyptian authorities after he was sentenced to a year in prison while in office for failing to carry out a court ruling to re-nationalize a company that had been privatized in 1996. The Egyptian Interior Ministry claimed to have captured the former prime minister while trying to sneak into neighboring Sudan.