Muslim Brotherhood leader held in Egypt for 'inciting murder'

Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, joins other Islamist leaders in jail as crackdown continues. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

Mohamed Badie, 70, is the latest Islamist leader to be detained in a wide-ranging crackdown on what Egypt's interim government refers to as terrorism.
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CAIRO // The supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood faces trial within a week on charges of incitement to murder after he was arrested early yesterday.

Mohamed Badie, 70, is the latest Islamist leader to be detained in a wide-ranging crackdown on what Egypt's interim government refers to as terrorism.

Several Brotherhood leaders and supporters have been detained on charges linked to the turmoil of recent weeks in which more than 1,000 people have died.

They include the former supreme guide, Mohamed Mahdi Akef, deputies Khairat Al Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, and leading members of the Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, and its political allies.

Several western nations, including the United States, have condemned the crackdown, and yesterday American officials said that military aid to Egypt had been stopped pending a decision on future US policy.

The detention of Mr Badie coincided with a lull in furious protests against the removal and detention of of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and his government. Whether the reduction in number and frequency of demonstrations is a sign of exhaustion, fear of more deaths, confusion in the wake of loss of leadership, or a hiatus for a rethink of strategy is not known.

Some analysts have pointed out that the group, which was well organised and won five consecutive parliamentary and presidential elections after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, may now suffer from the decapitation of its leadership.

"The Brotherhood cannot function effectively once its top leaders have been apprehended," said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"After all, the Brotherhood is at its core a hierarchical vanguard, in which legions of fully indoctrinated cadres are organised under a nationwide, pyramidal chain-of-command," Mr Trager said.

Mr Badie's role at the head of the Brotherhood will be taken by his deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, 69. An American-educated engineering professor and a Brotherhood member since 1962, Mr Ezzat was imprisoned several times during the Mubarak regime, but has also made contact with Christian leaders during his time as deputy.

Khalil Al Anani, a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute, said that while the Brotherhood was a structured group, it was organised so that mid-level leaders should be able to continue to operate even in the absence of their higher leaders.

"It has different levels and each level can operate independently," he said. "There are no strong communications between the leaders and grassroots now, but they have a very strong underground network and structure. They will be less effective but this will not end the movement."

He said an outpouring of support from offshoots of the Brotherhood from Tunisia to Yemen was unlikely to help the movement, as Arabian Gulf countries including the UAE and Saudi Arabia had pledged moral and substantial financial support to the military-backed authorities.

In Washington, a senior Senate aide said the transfer of military aid had been stopped in practice, although this was not necessarily official policy, and there was no indication of how long it would last.

A National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, denied that there had been any policy change on Egypt. "As the president has said, we are reviewing all of our assistance to Egypt. No policy decisions have been made at this point regarding the remaining assistance," she said.

A Cabinet-level meeting was taking place in Washington last night, involving the secretary of state John Kerry, to discuss cutting some of the $1.5 billion US aid to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia made clear on Monday that the Gulf states would make up any shortfall.

Mr Al Anani said the Brotherhood was perfectly used to operating under varying degrees of internationally backed state pressure. Since its foundation in 1928, it has a history of resilience in the face of adversity. But there was no doubt that this was a deep crisis for the movement. He pointed out that this was the first time since 1984 that a supreme guide of the movement had been detained.

"And the grassroots is not controllable," he said. "This can lead to some splits." Islamist leaders have warned that if the Brotherhood is outlawed, then people disillusioned with democracy could easily turn to violence.

When he appeared on television yesterday, humbled in a plain kandura and flanked by armed men, Mr Badie looked dignified but defeated.

Six weeks ago he was on a podium outside the Rabaa Al Adawiyya mosque in front of thousands of supporters, preaching a fiery message of defiance in the face of the military removal of the Brotherhood-supported president Mohammed Morsi.

"God is greater than all those who sold out the blood of martyrs. God is our witness," he declared. "I did not escape an arrest warrant. Such accusations are mere lies.

"We are not cowards, we are revolutionaries." Every inch the demagogue, he shouted into the microphone and gesticulated furiously.

With that podium burned to the ground a week ago in a police operation that killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters, and Mr Badie set to face trial next week for inciting violence, his grandiloquence seems a distant memory. His son Ammar, 38, was killed in violence last Friday.

The Egyptian authorities insist there are armed elements among demonstrators, and there has been a wave of sectarian attacks on churches across the country, as well killings of security forces, particularly in the unstable Sinai area.

Egypt marked the first of three days of mourning yesterday for 25 conscripts in the Central Security Forces who were shot dead early on Monday in an ambush near the Egyptian-Israeli border. The interim president Adly Mansour extended condolences to their families.

Speculation continued to grow yesterday that Hosni Mubarak may be freed after a court reviews a petition for his release today.

He is standing trial for a second time for corruption and failing to stop the killing of protesters, but his lawyers say that because he has been in prison for two years without a conviction, he must be released on bail.

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