By Edward Yeranian
The Muslim Brotherhood opposition group in Egypt says Egyptian Security Forces arrested hundreds of its activists across the country Friday and Saturday, after skirmishes took place during a number of campaign rallies.
The Associated Press reported at least 10 party members injured. Tensions are running high in the lead up to parliamentary elections on November 28 in which the Muslim is fielding candidates and running them as independents. Egypitian authorities have not confirmed either the large number of arrests or the injuries.
The reported arrests of Muslim Brotherhood activists follow what eyewitnesses are calling ugly clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian security forces both Friday and Saturday after rallies for a number of Brotherhood candidates. Reports speak of a charged atmosphere in many towns and villages in the lead up to parliamentary elections on November 28.
Al Jazeera TV showed images of clashes between demonstrators and security forces overnight, saying that tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up one noisy demonstration in the port city of Alexandria. Pictures on the official Muslim Brotherhood website showed several bruised and bloodied demonstrators whom the group claims were wounded by police.
The Egyptian press agency MENA reported that Muslim Brotherhood activists threw stones at police. The report was corroborated by several images thought to be from the demonstration. Brotherhood supporters also wrote defiantly on a Facebook support group that they “would not bow to government pressure.”
Police reports indicate that several hundred people were arrested in towns north of Cairo and in areas surrounding Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood website, IkhwanOnline claims that 250 Brotherhood members around the country were arrested.
The website also claims that police and security forces have forbidden further electoral rallies or demonstrations in favor of Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Although it is officially banned in Egypt, the Brotherhood is running candidates as independents for around 30% of the seats in Egypt’s People’s Assembly.
Veteran Egyptian publisher and human rights activist Hisham Kassem says that recent electoral campaigns have degenerated into violence and he fears that this one could be even worse. “Given the past two elections and the increase of the level of violence everybody running now is running there with that in the back of their minds, and a lot of the candidates now have hired thugs and so I would expect this is going to be probably the ugliest election we’ve had in the last thirty years,” he said.
Images of another electoral rally by the rival Wafd Party in Alexandria, however, showed supporters gathering peacefully and with no indication of violence. Reports in the Egyptian press say the Muslim Brotherhood is angry because it may lose many of the 88 seats it now holds in parliament.
Analysts are expecting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to win a majority in the new parliament. Most believe the election will set the stage for next year’s presidential election in which President Mubarak is expected to seek a sixth term.
The U.S. urged Egypt on Monday to allow peaceful political gatherings and open media coverage. It also asked Egypt to allow international observers to monitor the parliamentary vote. Egypt accused the U.S. of meddling in its internal affairs.