CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian authorities have accused detained senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s biggest opposition group, of trying to set up training camps for staging attacks, the group’s lawyer said on Wednesday.
Three senior officials of the Brotherhood were among 16 members rounded up early on Monday morning in the latest of a series of swoops, which the group says are aimed at disrupting preparations for parliamentary elections due later this year.
“Such charges have been leveled by state security investigations before and the judiciary has found them baseless,” said lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud.
“It is possible that the state’s purpose in this latest case is to escalate matters to lead to a military trial of Brotherhood members,” he told Reuters.
State security had also accused Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Ezzat and two other senior members, Essam el-Erian and Abdel-Rahman el-Bir, of setting up a body aligned with the thinking of former Brotherhood leader, Sayyed Qotb, who was executed in the 1960s and whose ideas have inspired militants.
The officially banned Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s, and says it wants peaceful political reform to establish a democratic, Islamic state. In 2005 it won a fifth of seats in parliament when members ran as independents, making up the biggest opposition bloc by far.
Since then the authorities have increasingly sidelined the group from mainstream politics, and analysts expect its presence to shrink in the election due in the second half of the year.
A source at the prosecution office said the people rounded up on Monday were being detained for 15 days for investigation but they had not been formally charged. Detention periods are often renewed many times.
Brotherhood sources initially said 14 members had been detained on Monday, but later said two more were rounded up.
Rights groups say Egypt has used “exceptional” courts such as emergency and military courts to secure guilty verdicts. They point to swift and often harsh sentences passed by the courts against Islamist militants in the 1990s.
This week’s arrests follow the group’s first internal election in 14 years in December. Such an election in 1995 provoked a crackdown and the first military trial for the Brotherhood during President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
Since then, Brotherhood members have been tried in military courts several times, the Brotherhood said.
The last such trial was in 2007 when Brotherhood members were jailed after being found guilty of terrorism and money-laundering. Most have completed their sentences except Khairat el-Shatir and Hasan Malik, who remain imprisoned.
Amnesty International called that trial unfair, calling on authorities to stop trying civilians in military courts.