Egypt Islamists in hiding ahead of vote

A government crackdown has forced dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members into hiding ahead of local elections in Egypt.

 Egypt Islamists in hiding ahead of vote
House-to-house searches and dawn ambushes by police this month placed behind bars about 750 prominent Brotherhood members, many of whom were hoping to run as candidates in the April 8 balloting.

The sweep has even drawn the ire of the Bush administration, which, though it did not name the Brotherhood, criticized the crackdown.

The U.S. is "concerned by a continuing campaign of arrests in Egypt of individuals who are opponents of the current governing party and are involved in the upcoming local elections," White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters Wednesday.

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud, the Brotherhood's chief lawyer, said the police raids in past two weeks had forced Brotherhood members underground. Several prominent figures also switched off their mobile telephones, making them less accessible.

"It's just unprecedented," said Abdel Maksoud.

Abdel Gelil el-Sharnoubi, who runs the Brotherhood's Web site, called Ikhwanonline, has not returned home since Tuesday, when security forces stormed his apartment at dawn and confiscated several books and CDs.

"I will not return home, at least not until this campaign calms down," el-Sharnoubi said over the phone from an undisclosed location.

The Brotherhood won a large and surprising victory in Egypt's 2005 legislative elections, winning 88 seats in the 454-member parliament. The government then postponed 2006 local elections for two years, apparently fearing more Brotherhood gains.

Since registration for local balloting started March 4, few of the 10,000 Brotherhood hopefuls have managed to officially register as candidates, and hundreds have turned to the courts to appeal the government's decision to deny their candidacies.

In the Brotherhood's stronghold in the northern Nile Delta provinces, supporters of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party have been lining up in large numbers outside candidate registration centers, simply to delay Brotherhood candidates from registering, said Abdel Maksoud.

The lawyer said there were also reports of applications snatched away from Brotherhood candidates, beatings by plainclothes police and government-appointed election employees refusing to accept registration documents from Brotherhood members.

Mufid Shehab, government minister of legal and parliament affairs, dismissed allegations that the Brotherhood was being hindered, saying even NDP candidates have complained of difficulties in registration.

"The government is doing its best to remove those obstacles," Shehab told the pro-government Al Ahram daily.

Egyptian officials had no comment Thursday on the U.S. criticism.

Local councils have long been dominated by Mubarak's ruling party. Largely ignored in the past, the councils gained new importance after a constitutional amendment in 2005 required presidential candidates to obtain endorsements from 250 parliament and local council members.

Thus, the local councils could influence future presidential candidates.


Agencies
Last Mod: 14 Mart 2008, 15:16
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