CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) – Police arrested 14 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood as part of Egypt’s ongoing campaign against the country’s strongest opposition group, the interior ministry and the group said Sunday.
The interior ministry said in its statement that the group was arrested Saturday for holding a secret organizational meeting in Sharqiyya Province, 50 miles northeast of Cairo.
But the Brotherhood claimed in a statement on its official Web site that they were simply attending a course on making shampoo.
The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.
The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has had a quarter-century of authoritarian rule.
The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country and passed a series of constitutional amendments in March that further curtailed the Brotherhood’s ability to participate in politics.
Nevertheless, the group announced that it would field up to 20 candidates in June elections for the upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council.
The Brotherhood issued another statement saying that 15 members had managed to complete their registrations for Shura Council elections. Five others, whose nominations were blocked by the interior ministry, are appealing to the administrative court, the statement said.
Registration ended Sunday for the Shura Council elections, which are scheduled for June 11.
More than 300 Brotherhood members, including leading figures, students and bloggers, have been arrested in a crackdown since December, when Brotherhood students carried out a military-like parade. That prompted government accusations that the movement was forming an armed wing, providing students with combat training, knives and chains. The group denies forming a militia.
A military trial of 40 top Brotherhood figures on terrorism and money laundering charges began late last month, one of the largest such tribunals in years.