By AYA BATRAWY
CAIRO — Egyptian authorities detained more than 60 people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in less than 24 hours, including relatives of the group’s leaders, officials said Wednesday.
The crackdown on the group, from which ousted President Mohammed Morsi hails, started shortly after the July 3 coup. It intensified this month after security forces cleared out two of the group’s sit-ins, killing hundreds and sparking unrest that killed more than 1,000 people in a few days. The Interior Ministry says more than 100 policemen and soldiers have also been killed since mid-August.
The local media, in close step with the new leadership after Morsi, repeatedly describe the actions of the Brotherhood and its supporters as acts of terrorism. Many have been charged with inciting violence. Security forces have arrested much of the Brotherhood’s senior and midlevel leadership, while others remain in hiding.
Some in Egypt fear the Brotherhood’s once powerful political party and its allies could be barred from politics and be forced underground again.
In an interview late Tuesday with the Arabic satellite channel MBC Misr, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said dissolving the group is not a solution and warned against taking dramatic decisions during turbulent times. He suggested it is better that the government monitor political parties rather than force any to operate secretly, as the group had done for decades.
But in a widening campaign, police have started going after members’ relatives, including the son of Khairat el-Shater, a Brotherhood deputy and financier charged in relation to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. A U.S. citizen, the son of a fugitive Brotherhood figure, was also detained this week.
It was not immediately clear why police detained el-Shater’s 23-year-old son. Officials only said Wednesday that police had arrested Saad el-Shater and that he had threatened to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. Officials did not elaborate.
The brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested in the latest sweep on charges he incited violent protests aimed at toppling the military-backed government that took over after Morsi. Police officials said Saeed Zaki Eissa and two others known to be affiliated with the Brotherhood were detained in Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria after prosecutors ordered their arrest.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Morsi was Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president after the uprising against his predecessor, longtime autocrat and air force pilot Hosni Mubarak.
In a symbolic move, the country’s military-backed interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree published Wednesday that changed the military oath, removing a line that has soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers now will only be required to pledge loyalty to their “leadership” — which includes top generals — and the country, instead of directly to the presidency.
In Egypt, the president is the supreme commander of the country’s armed forces. Egypt’s former leaders, except Morsi, all came from the military.
Morsi’s group accused the defense minister and general commander of the armed forces, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, of betraying the presidency by removing Morsi in the coup. El-Sissi said he acted to oust Morsi after millions protested for days demanding the president steps down.
The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.
A statement by military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali on Wednesday said two protesters were shot dead during a march of about 500 people against Morsi’s ouster in the province of Bani Sueif. The spokesman alleged that the marchers had attacked a security patrol belonging to the military, prompting soldiers fire gunshots “in the air” to disperse the crowd late Tuesday.