CAIRO -- Egyptian authorities early Tuesday arrested the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, another demoralizing blow to the Islamist organization amid a crackdown by the military to silence dissent and build support for its control of the nation.
Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was arrested in a Cairo apartment. Dressed in a gray tunic, the 70-year-old spiritual leader looked shaken, sitting next to a bottle of water in police custody. The image distilled the desperation the world’s most influential Islamist organization faces against an army that appears determined to crush it.
Most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, including Khairat Shater, its chief strategist and financier, and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup last month, are in detention or have gone underground. Much of the group’s strategy appears to have shifted to the Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella group the Brotherhood organized to protest Morsi’s downfall.
The army’s crackdown on the Brotherhood has been ferocious. Police raids on two Brotherhood sit-ins last week and the protests and violence that ensued killed more than 900 Morsi supporters, many of them shot by live ammunition fired by security forces that have shown little restraint.
"When the hand of oppression extends to arrest this important symbol,” the Brotherhood said in a statement regarding Badie, “that means the military coup has used up everything in its pocket and is readying to depart."
Western governments and human rights groups have condemned the violence, but the Egyptian military, led by an increasingly confident Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, has framed the struggle as one between terrorists and a patriotic state. Millions of Egyptians support this narrative, and the Brotherhood in recent days has been unable to muster the large street demonstrations it has promised.
Public sentiment has deepened against the group, especially after Monday’s killing of 25 police officers by Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula. Those deaths appeared to be retaliation for the suspicious deaths one day earlier of at least 36 Brotherhood members who were in police custody.
More than 1,000 Brotherhood members in major cities and across the provinces have been arrested in recent days. Its communication has largely been reduced to Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. The group has also faced personal tragedies: Badie’s son, Ammar, was killed in protests on Friday, and the daughter of prominent member Mohamed Beltagy died in a police raid last week.
Badie’s replacement as supreme guide is Mahmoud Ezzat. The Ahram Online news website described Ezzat as a member of the group since the 1960s who has been arrested several times over the decades for his opposition to the government.