Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 45 Moslem fundamentalists since Friday in a crackdown against growing pressures to implement strict Islamic law in Egypt.
Among those arrested is Sheik Hafez Salama, the fundamentalist leader spearheading the campaign for immediate application of sharia, the Islamic legal code dating back 1,300 years.
Salama was charged with a number of violations, including "issuing inflammatory statements which instigate against the authorities," and possession of illegal pamphlets, a state prosecutor said today. Salama was detained Saturday.
According to Salama's lawyer, Abdel Halim Ramadan, the white-bearded sheik has denied the charges and claims the illegal materials were planted in his office by state security officials.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the town of Fayoum, fundamentalists were arrested for trying to prevent the government takeover of private mosques.
In recent weeks, the government has started implementing a 1981 decision to put all mosques under the control of the minister for religious endowments. Mosques considered to be centers of fundamentalist agitation have been targeted in the campaign.
In Fayoum, worshipers tried to stop a government-appointed religious leader from leading prayers Friday, and in Alexandria, they tried to prevent the prayers from occurring at all. Those arrested face a number of minor charges, including disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
The crackdown is a result of strong public warnings issued recently against the fundamentalists by President Hosni Mubarak, following repeated calls by Salama to stage a peaceful demonstration in support of sharia.
On June 14, Salama worked a crowd of about 3,000 worshippers into an intense religious fervor, before finally backing down from his call for a protest march, scheduled to occur after the sermon. Salama later said he wanted to avoid conflict with about 1,000 police, armed with truncheons and tear gas, who had surrounded the mosque.
Last week, however, Salama won a court case against the government. The judge, Abdel Minem Gira, ruled it was Salama's constitutional right to hold an "Islamic conference" in one of Cairo's public squares.