CAIRO — Egyptian authorities raided homes of Muslim Brotherhood members today in an apparent attempt to disrupt the group ahead of mass rallies by supporters of country’s ousted president.
Under the banner of an anti-coup alliance, the Brotherhood said it will hold a demonstration in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in southern Cairo later today. Authorities already stationed armored vehicles and troops at the building, which could turn into another focal point of street violence.
Rallies also are planned across the country by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, deposed in a July 3 coup.
More than 800 people have been killed nationwide since Wednesday’s dismantling of two encampments of Morsi supporters in Cairo — an act that sparked fierce clashes. Some 70 police officers were killed in clashes with protesters or retaliatory attacks during the same period, according to the Interior Ministry.
In an attempt to cripple the Brotherhood’s protest plans, authorities carried out sweeping raids early today, detaining at least 300 mid-level officials and field operatives in several cities, according to security officials and group statements.
In Egypt’s second-largest city Alexandria, the Brotherhood said on its official website that security forces stormed houses of 34 officials and former lawmakers, but only arrested seven. Among those targeted was Medhat el-Haddad, the brother of top Morsi’s aide Essam el-Haddad.
In Assiut, 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Cairo, 163 of the group’s officials and operatives were rounded up in different towns in the province, security officials said. They said those arrested face charges of instigating violence and orchestrating attacks on police stations and churches.
In the city of Suez, nine people were arrested after being caught on film attacking army vehicles, burning churches and assaulting Christian-owned stores, officials said.
In ancient southern city of Luxor, more than 20 Brotherhood senior officials were detained, officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly to journalists.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has begun deliberations on whether to ban the Brotherhood, a long-outlawed organization that swept to power in the country’s first democratic elections a year ago. Egypt’s Cabinet held an emergency meeting today to discuss the government’s next move against the group.
A possible ban — which authorities say would be implemented over the group’s use of violence — would be a repeat of the decades-long struggle between the state and the Brotherhood. It also would drain the group’s financial resources and allow for mass arrests of its members that would diminish chances for a negotiated solution to the crisis and push it again underground.
The Brotherhood faces increasing public criticism and blame over the ongoing violence in Egypt. Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the powerful head of Al-Azhar mosque, Sunni Islam’s main seat of learning, issued an audio statement asking Brotherhood members to stop the violence.
“The scenes of violence will not grant you any rights and the bloodshed nor chaos spreading across the country will give you no legitimacy,” el-Tayeb said.
El-Tayeb supported the military ousting Morsi after millions took to the streets demanding the president to step down.
The violence in Egypt also has sparked deep concerns worldwide.
In a joint statement today, the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council said it was the responsibility of the army and the interim government to end the violence, warning against use of force. They said EU will “urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt.”
“We regret deeply that international efforts and proposals for building bridges and establishing an inclusive political process ... were set aside and a course of confrontation was instead pursued,” the statement by Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy read.
They warned: “This path will not succeed.”
Nearly two weeks of international diplomacy by the EU, U.S. and Arab nations failed to broker a peaceful end to the standoff.
Meanwhile today, Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s former vice president who resigned over Wednesday’s bloodshed, left Cairo for Vienna. He declined to speak to journalists at the airport as he left Egypt, where pro-military news outlets have become increasingly hostile toward him for his dovish stance.