Egypt orders arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader

CAIRO — Authorities escalated their crackdown Wednesday on the Muslim Brotherhood, ordering the arrest of its spiritual leader for inciting violence this week in which more than 50 people were killed in clashes with security forces.

One week after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and began moving against his Muslim Brotherhood movement, prosecutors issued a warrant for the arrest of the group’s supreme leader, Mohammed Badie, as well as nine other leading Islamists.

According to a statement from the prosecutor general’s office, they are suspected of instigating Monday’s violence outside a Republican Guard building that grew into the worst bloodshed since Morsi was toppled.

Members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists have denounced Morsi’s ouster and have refused offers by the military-backed interim leadership to join any transition plan for a new government. They demand nothing less than Morsi’s release from detention and his reinstatement as president.

Foreign Ministry spokeman Badr Abdel-Atti gave the first official word on Morsi in days, saying the ousted leader is in a safe place and is being treated in a “very dignified manner.” No charges have been leveled against him, Abdel-Atti said.

“For his own safety and for the safety of the country, it is better to keep him … otherwise, consequences will be dire,” he added.

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters are continuing a sit-in at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque near the Republican Guard building that was the site of Monday’s clashes that killed 54 people, most of them Morsi supporters. The Islamists have accused the troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Morsi for provoking its forces.

On Friday, Badie delivered a fiery speech near the mosque to tens of thousands of his supporters in which he told them, “God make Morsi victorious. … We are his soldiers. We defend him with our lives.”

Following that speech, thousands of Islamists marched in the streets and clashed with Morsi opponents in the heart of Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, leaving more than 30 dead and 200 injured.

After a week of violence and mass demonstrations, Egyptians were hoping that Wednesday’s start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will significantly calm the streets. The sunrise-to-sunset fast cuts down on daytime activity, although there are fears of unrest at night.

The warrants highlight the armed forces’ zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood and other Islamists. The military already has jailed five Brotherhood leaders, including Badie’s powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Haddad said in his Twitter account that the arrest warrants were the return of “same old police-state tactics.” The Brotherhood was banned under autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, issued a fast-track timetable Monday for the transition. His declaration set out a seven-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers in the meantime.

The accelerated process was meant, in part, to reassure the U.S. and other Western allies that Egypt is on a path toward democratic leadership. But it has faced opposition from the very groups that led the four days of mass protests that prompted the military to remove Morsi on July 3.

The top liberal political group, the National Salvation Front, expressed reservations over the plan Tuesday, saying it was not consulted — “in violation of previous promises.” The Front said the declaration “lacks significant clauses while others need change or removal,” but did not elaborate.

The secular, revolutionary youth movement Tamarod that organized massive anti-Morsi demonstrations that led to his ouster also criticized the plan, in part because it gives too much power to Mansour, including the power to issue laws. A post-Morsi plan put forward by Tamarod called for a largely ceremonial interim president with most power in the hands of the prime minister.

At the heart of liberals’ objections is that they wanted to write a new constitution, not amend the one written under Morsi by an Islamist-dominated panel. That constitution contained several articles that drew fierce criticism from liberal quarters, and helped sparked street protests and violence in 2012. Other objections centered on powers of the interim president.

The only Islamist party that backed military’s ouster of Morsi has been vetoing any rewriting of the constitution.

New Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who was appointed Tuesday by Mansour, is holding consultations on a Cabinet. In what is seen as an attempt at reconciliation, el-Beblawi has said he will offer the Brotherhood, which helped propel Morsi to the presidency, posts in his transitional government.

A Brotherhood spokesman said the group will not take part in an interim Cabinet, and that talk of national reconciliation under the current circumstances is “irrelevant.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns for his security.

The rejection underlines the difficulties faced by the interim leadership in trying to stabilize Egypt and bridge the deep fissures in the country. The nascent government also will soon face demands that it tackle economic woes that mounted under Morsi, including fuel shortages, electricity cutoffs and inflation.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided a welcome boost Tuesday. The two countries, both opponents of Morsi’s Brotherhood, celebrated his ouster by showering the cash-strapped Egyptian government with promises of $8 billion in grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil. On Wednesday, Kuwait said it would offer an aid package worth $4 billion.

The donations effectively step in for Morsi’s Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid during his year in office.

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