Egypt arrests dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

CAIRO — Egypt stepped up pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood a day after declaring it a terrorist group, using the new classification to detain dozens of its supporters on Thursday, while one person died in street clashes ignited by political tension.

A bomb blast in a Cairo suburb wounded five people — the second attack this week when a suicide bomber killed 16 people north of the capital on Tuesday.

Army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who led the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsy in July, said Egypt would be “steadfast” in the face of terrorism.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and “expressed concern” about the terrorist designation of the Muslim Brotherhood and recent detentions and arrests in Egypt, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Kerry condemned the bomb attacks but “underscored the need for an inclusive political process across the political spectrum that respects the fundamental human rights of all Egyptians in order to achieve political stability and democratic change,” Psaki said.

The Cairo bomb, which blew out windows on a bus, appeared to be the first aimed at civilians in a recent wave of attacks. But there was no claim of responsibility to say what had been targeted. A second device found nearby was defused.

The government declared Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group on Wednesday in response to the suicide attack that targeted a police station a day earlier in the city of Mansoura. It accused the group of carrying out the bombing, which the Brotherhood condemned.

The move gives the authorities wider scope to crack down on the movement that propelled Morsy to the presidency 18 months ago but has been driven underground since the army deposed him upon mass protests against Brotherhood rule.

Ahmed Imam, spokesman for the Strong Egypt Party founded by ex-Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, warned that the terrorism label “leaves the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters only one choice, which is violence.”

Both sides are showing “a great deal of stupidity,” he said, blaming the Brotherhood for failing to firmly distance itself from terrorist violence and the government for closing doors to reconciliation.

Nearly three years since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a historic uprising, Egypt stands more dangerously divided than at any point in its modern history, with terrorist attacks, shootings and arrests undermining hopes for democracy.

Tensions spilled into the streets of Cairo late Thursday, when student supporters of the Brotherhood clashed with residents of an area where they were demonstrating, the Interior Ministry said. Birdshot gunfire was exchanged, and one person died before police fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse protesters, the ministry said in a statement.

A U.S. official said the Egyptian government was going “way too far” in the crackdown on the Brotherhood, but added that the Obama administration was not planning to take any action against Cairo in response.

The state news agency reported that 16 of the people arrested under the terror law were accused of “promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood group, distributing its leaflets and inciting violence against the army and police.”

Security sources gave a countrywide total of at least 38 Brotherhood supporters arrested for belonging to a terrorist group.

From now on, anyone taking part in Brotherhood protests will be jailed for five years, Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif told state TV. Jail terms for those accused under the terror law stretch up to life imprisonment.

“The sentence could be death for those who lead this organization,” he said.

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