CAIRO — Egyptian security forces arrested a key Muslim Brotherhood figure on the run since the July coup that ousted the country's Islamist president after a raid on his hideout early Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said.
The arrest of Essam el-Erian, the deputy leader of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, was the latest in a wide-ranging crackdown and prosecution of both the Islamist group's leaders and its rank-and-file since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who also hails from the Brotherhood.
Morsi, himself in detention, is held at an undisclosed military location since his ouster on July 3. He is facing charges of inciting supporters to murder his opponents while in office. Morsi's trial is due to begin next week, and it is not yet clear if the 69-year old ousted president will appear in court.
El-Erian is also one of the defendants in the Morsi trial, which opens Nov. 4. He is accused of inciting Brotherhood followers to break up anti-Morsi protesters gathered outside the presidential palace late last year.
In photographs aired on state media following his arrest, the 59-year-old el-Erian is wearing a white galabiya, the traditional male robe, and a skullcap, and flashes a smile to the cameras. He is the latest senior Brotherhood leader arrested on warrants from state prosecutors who have drawn up a list of accusations against the group's key figures, ranging from inciting violence to providing weapons to supporters and threatening public order.
The official state news agency MENA said el-Erian was arrested after a raid on an apartment in the eastern suburb of New Cairo, where he had been hiding. He was later transferred to the Torah prison complex in southern Cairo, which is where most of the group's arrested leaders are held.
The agency said he will be interrogated at Torah on accusations of inciting violence in a number of anti-government protests.
While Morsi was in power, el-Erian was a frequent speaker in the media, often causing a stir as he turned from a moderate to a hard-liner member of the group.
During a large-anti-Morsi demonstration last December outside the presidential palace in Cairo, el-Erian went on Misr 25 TV, which is affiliated with the Brotherhood, and called on the group's supporters to head to the scene "in the tens of thousands, to besiege those thugs" and expose an alleged conspiracy against the elected president.
At least 10 people died in subsequent clashes outside the palace. The Nov. 4 trial of Morsi and el-Erian, along with a dozen others, is on charges stemming from that incident.
In other comments that caused controversy, el-Erian — who at the time was Morsi's adviser — in a TV interview in January urged Egyptian Jews in Israel to return home, saying how Egypt was now a democracy and claiming the Jewish state won't survive. Morsi's office dissociated the president from the comments. El-Erian later quit his post as Morsi's adviser.
From hiding, el-Erian had distributed messages to followers, urging them to denounce the coup and demand Morsi's reinstatement. In a recent pre-recorded message aired on the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network, el-Erian criticized the military and the interim authorities and called on supporters, including students, to keep up their protests.
Following Morsi's ouster, the country's new, military-backed authorities cracked down on the group, arresting hundreds of Brotherhood figures and putting top leaders on trial. The authorities are seeking to show through the prosecutions that the Brotherhood fueled violence during Morsi's one-year presidency and after the coup — and to give legal justification for imprisoning its leaders.
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