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Cynthia Johnston, Cynthia Johnston and Mohamed Abdellah26 Feb 2008 15:49
An Egyptian military court has delayed by a month a verdict on 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood who face charges of belonging to a banned group, Brotherhood officials said on Tuesday.
Egyptian police arrested 17 more Brotherhood men during house raids outside Cairo, the latest in a series of detentions ahead of local elections due in April, the group said. Security sources confirmed the arrests.
Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud said the court set March 25 as the new date for a verdict for the men, the first from Egypt’s strongest opposition group to face a military trial since 2001.
“The court finished everything, and the verdict should have been issued today [February 26],” said senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian.
“It is unjust, because these are innocent men ...
Any additional day [in jail] is unfair.”
The men, including the Brotherhood’s third-in-command Khairat el-Shatir, have already spent well over a year in jail, with the exception of six who are being tried in absentia.
Most of the serious charges initially brought against them, including terrorism and money laundering, were reported dropped in December, leaving only lesser charges pending like belonging to a banned group and having anti-government literature.
Local and international rights groups including Amnesty International have criticised the military trial as unfair.
The new date set by the court means a verdict, if issued on time, will come shortly before local elections in which the Brotherhood is seen as the most serious challenger to the ruling National Democratic Party’s traditional dominance.
Seats on local councils could be important at the national level if the Brotherhood wants to field an independent candidate for a presidential run in the future.
“Of course we are approaching local elections on April 8, and the rulings were delayed to only around two weeks before the elections. So this will affect public opinion,” Erian said.
Independent candidates for the presidency need endorsements from 140 members of local councils to run for president, in addition to votes from the upper and lower houses of Parliament.
Egypt postponed local council elections for two years in 2006 after the Brotherhood performed better than expected in a 2005 parliamentary election.
Egypt has also stepped up arrests of Brotherhood members this month, with roughly 200 detained since mid-February. The Brotherhood said those arrested on Tuesday were mid-level officials in Giza, just outside Cairo.
Security sources said the men were accused of belonging to a banned group, holding unauthorised meetings and possessing anti-government literature.
The non-violent Muslim Brotherhood, which holds a fifth of the seats in the lower house of Parliament through members who ran as independents, seeks an Islamic state through democratic means and operates openly despite a decades-old ban. - Reuters
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