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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 16:13 GMT
Egyptian Islamists on trial
Ramadan lamps for sale in Cairo, Egypt
Human rights activists have condemned the arrests
An Egyptian military court has begun the high security trial of 22 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood arrested in a post-11 September crackdown on Islamist activity.

The charge sheet read out by the presiding judge accused all the defendants of being members of an organisation which seeks to impede the application of the country's constitution.

The accused, who include university professors, doctors and engineers, waited in a metal cage for their hearing to begin at the large, heavily guarded Huckstep barracks in the desert northeast of Cairo.

The BBC's Heba Saleh says some of the defendants are top-ranking Muslim Brotherhood officers.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
The Brotherhood has been banned by the Egyptian Government since 1954

Three of the 22 are accused of having "led or run an illegal organisation".

Eight others are charged with "managing" the same organisation, while the remaining 11 are accused of belonging to it.

The defendants are also accused of trying to exploit anger over recent events in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories to incite students and citizens to rise up against the Egyptian authorities.

Some could face life sentences if they are found guilty.

However, defence lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud told the AFP news agency that, for political reasons, prison sentences in trials of members of the Muslim Brotherhood are generally between three and five years.

Crackdown

Egypt has cracked down on Muslim militants since the events of 11 September, with some 260 suspected militants arrested in the past month.


We deplore this ferocious attack, stressing that it does not serve anybody

Brotherhood statement on the US attacks

The Muslim Brotherhood, despite technically being a banned organisation, remains one of Egypt's most prominent and vocal opposition groups, with 17 members of the organisation holding independent seats in the 454-seat parliament.

The organisation says it seeks the establishment of an Islamic state through peaceful means.

When the men were arrested in early November, the Muslim Brotherhood sharply criticised the Egyptian Government for its timing of the raids after the attacks in America.

"We deplore this ferocious attack, stressing that it does not serve anybody... We also deplore this attack which breaks the national unity," the group said in a statement at the time of the arrests.

The crackdown has prompted international human rights activists to criticise the country for using the US-led war on terror as an excuse to seek vengeance on its political enemies.

Egypt began the transfer of militant trials to military courts in the early 1990s, claiming an overflow in its civilian courts.

But human rights groups say the real reason is that a "guilty" verdict is more easily achieved in military courts.

See also:

13 Nov 01 | Middle East
Egyptian Islamists face trial
06 Nov 01 | Middle East
Egypt cracks down on Muslim group
18 Nov 01 | Middle East
Egypt tries suspected militants
25 Oct 01 | Middle East
Arabs see advantage in terror war
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Egypt orders swift trials for Islamists
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Egypt helps US anti-terror campaign
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The roots of jihad
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