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Egypt escalates a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood

Thursday - 7/11/2013, 6:00am  ET

Egyptians break their fast during the first day of Ramadan outside Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. 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.(AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

SARAH EL DEEB
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's military-backed government tightened a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday, ordering the arrest of its revered leader in a bid to choke off the group's campaign to reinstate President Mohammed Morsi one week after an army-led coup.

The Brotherhood denounced the warrants for the arrest of Mohammed Badie and nine other leading Islamists for inciting violence Monday that left dozens dead, saying "dictatorship is back" and vowing it will never work with the interim rulers.

Leaders of the Brotherhood are believed to be taking refuge somewhere near a continuing sit-in by its supporters at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo, but it is not clear if Badie also is there.

The Brotherhood is outraged by the overthrow of Morsi, one of its own, and demands nothing less than his release from detention and his reinstatement as president.

Security agencies have already jailed five leaders of the Brotherhood, including Badie's powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.

The prosecutor general's office said Badie, another deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, senior member Mohammed El-Beltagy and popular preacher Safwat Hegazy are suspected of instigating the clashes with security forces outside a Republican Guard building near the mosque that killed 54 people -- most of them Morsi supporters -- in the worst bloodshed since he was ousted.

The Islamists have accused the troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Morsi for attempting to storm a military building.

The warrants highlight the armed forces' zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood, which was banned under authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

"This just signals that dictatorship is back," said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref. "We are returning to what is worse than Mubarak's regime, which wouldn't dare to issue an arrest warrant of the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood."

The Brotherhood's refusal to work with the new interim leaders underscored the difficulties they face in trying to stabilize Egypt and bridge the deep fissures that have opened in the country during Morsi's year in office.

Morsi has not been seen since the July 3 coup, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti gave the first official word on him in days, saying he 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.

Badie had appeared at the Rabaa al-Adawiya rally Friday, a day after an earlier arrest warrant against him was issued, also accusing him of inciting violence. On Wednesday night, he delivered a message to the crowd through a senior Brotherhood leader, an indication that he didn't want to make an appearance and endanger his security.

He spoke of Monday's violence, calling the troops that carried it out "traitors."

"They didn't just betray their people ... their leader (Morsi), but they also betrayed God," said Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, a Brotherhood leader, reading from Badie's message.

He urged supporters to stay camped out in the sit-in and mosques, using the holy month of Ramadan to pray for Morsi's deliverance. Badie also sought to dismiss accusations that his group used violence.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has struggled for Egypt's freedom from occupation and oppression. It was and will remain faithful to its promises and peaceful in its positions," the message said.

On Friday, Badie had delivered a fiery speech at the rally in person, telling those in the crowd that they will bring Morsi back to the palace on their shoulders.

"We are his soldiers. We defend him with our lives," Badie said before disappearing.

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

In one of the most dramatic instances of violence that day, two Morsi opponents were killed when they were pushed off a roof by supporters of the ousted president in the second-largest city of Alexandria. Hamada Badr was stabbed and thrown off the roof, his father said. According to amateur video accessed by The Associated Press, a second man was hurled to his death and Morsi supporters were seen beating his lifeless body. The video appeared consistent with AP's reporting from the area.

Since then, both sides appeared to be running a campaign of fear. The military and supportive media have depicted the Brotherhood and its backers as promoting violence and endangering national security. The Brotherhood and pro-Morsi protesters have portrayed Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as head of a "militia" that is seeking to annihilate Islamists, waging a fight akin to the civil war in Syria.

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