CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s prosecutor general on Monday ordered the arrest of five prominent political activists he accused of inciting violence against President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, a move the opposition decried as a reversal for democracy.
The arrests seemed certain to deepen mistrust in an already polarized political landscape, further complicating Mursi’s efforts to build bridges with his opponents ahead of parliamentary polls the opposition has threatened to boycott.
Those ordered arrested included Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a leading blogger who rose to international prominence during the protests that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The five were also banned from travel. A sixth was summoned for questioning.
Abd El-Fattah, who was arrested under Mubarak and the military council that replaced him, said in a statement he would head to the prosecutor general’s office on Tuesday.
A symbol of the uprising that swept Mubarak from power, he described the warrant as proof of the “corruption of the case and the prosecutor general’s bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood”.
The prosecutor’s office said in a statement the five stood accused of inciting “aggression against people, the destruction of property and disturbing civil peace” in street battles near the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters on Friday.
The arrest warrants follow a threat on Sunday by Mursi to take steps to protect the nation following the clashes. Mursi said “necessary measures” would be taken against any politicians found to be involved.
At least 130 people were hospitalized in the fighting.
The two sides traded blame for the fighting. It was the latest in a series of violent demonstrations targeting Mursi and the Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled him to power in last June’s election.
“We feel under threat. We feel this a total reversal for democracy and we expect the worst,” said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front, an alliance of non-Islamist parties that came together last year to oppose Mursi.
The rift between the Brotherhood and its secular-minded opponents has deepened since Mursi was elected president and spasms of street violence have obstructed his efforts to revive an economy battered by unrest.
Mursi’s opponents accuse him and the Brotherhood of seeking to dominate the post-Mubarak era. The Brotherhood has in turn accused the opposition of failing to respect democratic rules.
The arrest warrants followed a formal legal complaint filed by the Brotherhood on Monday against 169 people, including leaders of political parties, it accused of inciting or carrying out Friday’s violence.
Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud, the Brotherhood’s lawyer, submitted 54 video clips and 155 photos as evidence, adding in a statement that last Friday’s violence “had nothing to do with the blessed January 25 revolution” - a reference to the uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Mursi’s remarks on Sunday were in part seen as a response to anger within Brotherhood ranks: their offices have been routinely ransacked and torched in recent months.
“The greater issue now for them is how to manage the anger of their base and their members. These members are agitating to fight back,” said Yasser El-Shimy, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The leadership has to show its base that there are other routes to combat the attacks,” he said.
April 6, a pro-democracy activist movement, echoed criticism against the prosecutor general. He was appointed late last year by Mursi in disputed circumstances and his removal is one of the opposition’s demands.
“To the prosecutor general - why do arrest warrants only happen when there are clashes at the Brotherhood headquarters?” it wrote on its Facebook page.
Mohamed Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said: ”I am really, very worried about political freedom, media freedom - they are in extreme danger.
“The possibilities of having free elections are getting narrower and narrower. In this situation, how can you have free elections in Egypt?” he said in a telephone interview.
Opposition fears were compounded on Sunday evening by what witnesses said was a violent protest by Islamists at the headquarters of privately owned TV stations critical of Mursi.
They attacked three cars trying to pass through the gates. “We saved ourselves by a miracle,” said Hassan Nafaa, a prominent commentator who was in one of the vehicles attacked, along with Hafez Abu Seada, a leading rights activist.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, which is headed by Abu Seada, filed a complaint to the prosecutor general’s office over the attack.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Jon Hemming