CAIRO: Egypt’s military-backed authorities Tuesday arrested the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader, dealing a serious blow to the embattled movement at a time when it is struggling to keep up street protests against the ouster of President Mohammad Morsi in the face of a harsh government crackdown.
The Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, Mohammad Badie, was arrested in an apartment in the Cairo district of Nasr City, close to the site of a sit-in encampment that was forcibly cleared by security forces last week, triggering violence that killed hundreds of people.
Badie’s arrest is the latest move in an escalating crackdown by authorities on the Brotherhood, which has seen hundreds of its members taken into custody.
The Muslim Brotherhood said Badie’s detention would not weaken the movement nor lead its followers to abandon the group’s principles.
“The people will continue their peaceful struggle until they regain all their rights with his eminence, the guide [leader] in jail,” it said.
The group’s near-daily protests since Morsi’s ouster have diminished in recent days, with scattered demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere attracting mere hundreds, or even dozens, of protesters. Several hundred Morsi supporters staged protests Tuesday in Helwan, an industrial suburb north of Cairo, and in Ein Shams, a residential district on the opposite end of the city, shortly before the 11-hour curfew went into effect at 7 p.m.
Morsi has been detained in an undisclosed location since his July 3 ouster following protests by millions of Egyptians against his rule.
Badie’s arrest followed the killing of his son Ammar, who was shot dead during violent clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters in Cairo Friday.
Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat al-Shater, are to stand trial later this month on charges of complicity in the killing in June of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood’s national headquarters in Cairo.
Badie was taken to Tora prison in a suburb south of Cairo, where a team of prosecutors was questioning him, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Tora is the same sprawling complex where ex-President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in the 2011 popular uprising, is being held along with his two sons. Several Mubarak-era figures are also imprisoned there, as are several Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists.
After Badie’s arrest, the private ONTV network showed footage of him sitting motionless on a black sofa as a man in civilian clothes wielding an assault rifle stood nearby.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood released the text of Badie’s weekly message to the group’s followers. Quoting heavily from the Quran, he warned that anyone who supports the current “oppression, suppression and bloodshed” – including Arab and foreign governments – will soon regret their stand.
Brotherhood spokesman Ahmad Aref Tuesday sought to downplay the significance of Badie’s arrest, writing on his Facebook page: “Mohammad Badie is one member of the Brotherhood.”
Almost 1,000 people have died in turmoil that has wracked the country in the past week. U.S. President Barack Obama and his advisers have been seeking a way to express U.S. displeasure while maintaining what little influence Washington still has with its one-time Arab ally.
Media reports that suggest the U.S. has cut off aid to Egypt are not accurate, a White House spokesman said Tuesday, adding that the Obama administration was still reviewing its options.
“That review has not concluded and ... published reports to the contrary that assistance to Egypt has been cut off are not accurate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
He said Obama was convening a meeting with his national security team Tuesday afternoon EST to discuss Egypt and the review of U.S. aid to the country.
“I wouldn’t anticipate any major announcements related to our aid and assistance in the immediate aftermath of this meeting,” Earnest said, noting Obama holds such meetings regularly.
The Pentagon also denied reports that military aid had been cut off.In recent years, Washington has authorized about $1.3 billion in annual military aid and $250 million in economic assistance for Cairo.
Earnest also said Badie’s detention was not in line with the standard that the United States would hope to uphold in protecting basic human rights.
Separately, Egyptian law professor Sayed Ateeq filed a case against Mohamed ElBaradei, accusing the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of committing “high treason” and damaging Egypt’s image by quitting his job as interim vice president. Egyptian law allows citizens to file such cases, though many are swiftly thrown out.
ElBaradei quit to protest the use of force by security forces in clearing the Morsi supporters’ sit-in camps, warning the violence would only breed more violence and play into the hands of extremists. He has since been the target of a media and political campaign accusing him of abandoning the country at a time when his services were most needed. Some questioned his credentials as a politician who could withstand the pressures of politics.
Elsewhere, soldiers killed an Egyptian journalist working for the country’s state-run flagship daily Al-Ahram newspaper at a military checkpoint, security officials said Tuesday. Tamer Abdel-Raouf’s death brings to five the number of journalists who have died in the past week of violence in Egypt.
The military initially said Abdel-Raouf had sped through a checkpoint Monday evening after a nighttime curfew began, and that soldiers fired warning shots before shooting at the car. It said the military did not deliberately shoot to kill.
However, Shaimaa Abu Elkhir of the Committee to Protect Journalists quoted a witness who was in the car with Abdel-Raouf as saying there were no warning shots and the incident took place an hour before the 7 p.m. start of the military-imposed curfew.