CAIRO — Egypt’s military-backed authorities arrested the supreme leader of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, dealing a serious blow to the Islamist group at a time when it is struggling to keep up street protests against the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in the face of a harsh government crackdown.
The Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie, was arrested in an apartment in the Cairo district of Nasr City, close to the site of a sit-in encampment that was forcibly cleared by security forces last week, triggering violence that killed hundreds of people.
Badie’s arrest is the latest move in an escalating crackdown by authorities on the Brotherhood, which has seen hundreds of its members taken into custody.
The group’s near-daily protests since Morsi’s ouster have diminished in recent days, with scattered demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere attracting mere hundreds, or even dozens, of protesters. On Tuesday, several hundred Morsi supporters staged protests in Helwan, an industrial suburb north of Cairo, and in Ein Shams, a residential district on the opposite end of the city, shortly before the nighttime curfew went into effect at 7.
Morsi has been detained in an undisclosed location since the July 3 coup that ousted him, after protests by millions of Egyptians against his rule. He is facing accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising and complicity in the killing and torture of protesters outside his Cairo palace in December.
Badie’s last public appearance was at the Nasr City protest encampment last month, when he delivered a fiery speech from a makeshift stage in which he denounced the military’s removal of Morsi. His arrest followed the killing of his son Ammar, who was shot dead during violent clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters in Cairo on Friday.
Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shater, are to be tried later this month on charges of complicity in the killing in June of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood’s national headquarters in Cairo.
Badie was taken to Torah prison in a suburb south of Cairo, where a team of prosecutors was questioning him, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Torah is the same sprawling complex where ex-president Hosni Mubarak, ousted in the 2011 popular uprising, is being held, along with his two sons. Several Mubarak-era figures are also imprisoned there, as are several Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood released the text of Badie’s weekly message to the group’s followers. Quoting heavily from the Quran, he warned that anyone who supports the current “oppression, suppression and bloodshed” — including Arab and foreign governments — will soon regret their stand.