Egypt’s military-backed government extended its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday, arresting the group’s spokesman and sparking fears that harsh Egyptian jails could prove a recruiting ground for terrorist groups.
Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Arif became the latest of the movement’s leadership to be arrested, CNN reported. More than 100 Brotherhood officials, including Mohamed Badie, the group’s spiritual leader, have been arrested this week.
The arrests have some analysts worried.
“If the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood ramps up, … we will see a greater likelihood of alliances between al Qaeda and the radicalized fringes of the Brotherhood,” Dalia Dassa Kaye, a political scientist at the Rand Corp. think tank, told The Washington Times. “There is some concern [the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups] may move underground.”
She noted that one of the founders of al Qaeda — its current leader, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri — and others in the terrorist network were radicalized in Egyptian jails in the 1990s.
At that time — under strongman Hosni Mubarak — arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and torture were the norm for followers of Islamist groups such as the Brotherhood that work for the imposition of Muslim religious law, or Shariah, and an Islamic political system.
Mr. Mubarak later allowed the movement to operate more or less openly, but it was prohibited from formally organizing or running official candidates in elections.
After Mr. Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, won a majority of seats in the legislature and rammed through an Islamist-inspired constitution. Its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won the presidential election but was himself ousted by the military July 3.
Last week, security forces of the military-backed interim government broke up protest camps of Morsi supporters in Cairo with live ammunition and bulldozers, killing hundreds.
The crackdown continued through the weekend, with violence being used to smash Brotherhood demonstrations and hundreds of members and supporters arrested.
More than 1,100 people, including scores of police and security personnel, have been killed in the clashes, according to official figures.