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Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Opposition Group, Jailed Before Election

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CAIRO — Egyptian security detained 65 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday while they were hanging election posters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria for next month's parliamentary vote, police said.

The arrests are the latest in the government's crackdown on the popular Islamist group, the strongest opposition to Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party.

Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker and candidate Hussein Ibrahim said the campaigners were arrested while hanging posters for one of the group's four female candidates.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media, said the workers violated an election law banning the use of religious slogans.

Hussein said the posters contained the phrases "God is great" and "Praise be to God," common phrases not associated exclusively with the group. He accused the government of targeting the group.

"This is the beginning of a blatant election fraud since the ruling party candidates' posters were left untouched although they contained full verses of the Quran (Islam's holy book)," he said.

The ban on religious slogans by Egypt's Electoral Committee forced the group to forgo its longtime slogan "Islam is the Solution" in favor of substitutes like "Change Is Our Path."

Tuesday's arrests bring the number of Brotherhood members arrested to about 250 since the group announced on Oct. 9 its decision to participate in the elections. Police say they have detained 160 in the past week alone. Thirty remain in custody.

Brotherhood candidates are running for up to 30 percent of the 508 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the Nov. 28 vote, ignoring calls by other opposition groups to boycott the election.

Alexandria, the site of Tuesday's arrests, is a Brotherhood stronghold likely to have one of the most heated races.

Two government ministers – Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mufid Shehab and Mohammed Abdel-Salam Mahgoub, state minister for local development and a former Alexandria governor – lead the ruling party's slate. The Muslim Brotherhood has fielded nine candidates, including one woman.

The Brotherhood has been outlawed since 1954 but gets around that by fielding its candidates as independents.

The outgoing parliament is dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, or NDP.

Beside the NDP and the Brotherhood, three opposition parties are contesting the vote.

The election will for the first time introduce women-only electoral districts – 32 nationwide – to ensure that women fill 12 percent of seats in the new legislature.

Elections in Egypt are routinely marred by widespread fraud and low turnout although the government routinely pledges a fair and clean vote. It rejects calls for international supervision, arguing that such a move will infringe on its sovereignty.

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