CAIRO, (Reuters) – Egyptian police detained 26 Muslim Brotherhood Islamists on Thursday including three leading members in a growing crackdown the opposition group says is meant to block them from contesting local elections in April.
Mahmoud Ghuzlan, a member of the Brotherhood’s 15-member Guidance Office, was taken from his Cairo home at 2 a.m. (0000 GMT), said Mohamed Habib, the deputy leader of the organisation.
Two other senior officials, Hamdi Ibrahim and Maged el-Zumur, were taken from their homes in north Cairo, Habib told Reuters.
Ghuzlan, who spent eight months in custody without charges last year, is the first member of the Guidance Office to be detained since the current police campaign against the Islamists began in mid-February.
The office acts as an executive committee for the Brotherhood, which is Egypt’s largest opposition group with one fifth of the seats in parliament. Two other Guidance Office members including third-in-command Kairat el-Shatir are in detention facing military trial, the group said.
A Brotherhood spokesman said 26 Brotherhood members were detained on Thursday on top of more than 350 others they have been picked up in the campaign.
Egyptian security sources put the number at 25, and said they were accused of belonging to a banned group and holding secret meetings –allegations often used to justify Brotherhood detentions but which rarely result in formal charges. “It’s against the background of the local elections,” Habib said.
Egyptian police routinely hold opposition politicians during election campaigns to prevent them from campaigning. They usually free them without charges when the election is over.
The Brotherhood seeks an Islamic state through non-violent, democratic means. The government calls it a banned organisation but allows it to operate within limits.
The authorities will not let it form a political party so members stand in elections as independents.
Egypt postponed local council elections for two years in 2006 after the Brotherhood performed better than expected in a parliamentary election in 2005.
The local councils where seats are at stake in the April 8 vote hold little real power, but seats could be important nationally if the Brotherhood wants to qualify to field an independent candidate for the presidency in the future.