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Muslim Brotherhood names new chief as it struggles to rally supporters

The Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that propelled Mohammed Morsi to the Egyptian presidency before his recent ouster, named an interim leader Tuesday.

The move came hours after Egyptian authorities arrested the previous head of the Muslim Brotherhood and as the group appeared to be fracturing under the pressure of a continued government crackdown.

For the third day, the Brotherhood failed to galvanize supporters for mass street demonstrations. It had called for weeklong protests in response to days of violence that have killed roughly 1,100 Morsi supporters and security personnel and that saw thousands of members of the organization arrested.

The crackdown began a week ago. On Tuesday, female supporters of Morsi were among those detained by the military-backed civilian government, McClatchy found, even as police officials denied holding them.

Mohammed Badie, 70, was the latest of at least a dozen top leaders detained or charged by Egyptian authorities since Morsi was bounced from the presidency on July 3.

With its leadership stripped away, the hierarchical Brotherhood appeared to struggle to issue orders and to rally people to the streets. Brotherhood members reached by McClatchy said they were not launching public protests because they were still addressing the repercussions of the events of recent days.

Some in the organization said they were anxious that they could face arrest as part of a government sweep of leaders and rank and file. Others said they were too busy searching for detained relatives or reaching out to international groups for help.

Still more Brotherhood loyalists said they feared being killed by snipers they claim have been stationed by government forces on buildings near their rally sites.

Just days ago, members were saying they were prepared to die in retribution for those killed and to reinstate Morsi as president.

Badie is charged with inciting violence and murder over the killing in June of eight anti-Brotherhood protesters outside the movement’s headquarters in Cairo.

Ali Kamal, a lawyer for Badie and several other Brotherhood members, said Badie had been transferred to Cairo’s notorious Tora prison. It has held the nation’s most prominent criminals. At one point, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was held there. Morsi’s whereabouts remain unknown.

In an apparent effort to humiliate the Brotherhood, the government distributed a video of Badie being detained. He was shown donning a long, gray robe and sitting next to a man holding a rifle.

The Brotherhood announced on its website Tuesday that Mahmoud Ezzat, 69, Badie’s deputy, “will assume the role of supreme guide of the group on a temporary basis after the security forces of the bloody military coup arrested supreme guide Mohammed Badie.”

Like Badie, Ezzat represents the conservative wing of the Brotherhood, which has rejected calls by some members for a more reformist approach by Egypt’s largest political and social movement. Former leaders, such as one-time presidential candidate and former Brotherhood member Abdel Moniem Aboul Fatouh, have proposed a more moderate and wider-reaching approach by the group.

But they’ve failed to gain control. Ezzat was among those who forced Fatouh out of leadership.

Ezzat is a physician who once worked alongside Morsi. It’s unclear how he will lead the Brotherhood through one of its biggest crises in its 85-year history. He made no immediate statement upon taking the leadership post. But his history in the group suggested he would not be open to talks to end the standoff with the new Egyptian government or its patrons in the military.

Government officials have called Ezzat’s followers terrorists, and many Egyptians hold them responsible for the violence that has rocked the nation this month. Some believe the Brotherhood is arming itself and attacking security forces, burning government buildings and churches in an effort to destroy the country after the military announced Morsi’s ouster.

The government also has begun charging liberal activists who had opposed both Morsi and a return to a military-led Egypt. Nobel laureate and one-time vice president Mohammed ElBaradei, who fled to Vienna Sunday after resigning from the military-named government, was charged in a Cairo court Tuesday with “breaching the national trust.” His case will go before the court Sept. 19.

Tuesday proved to be the calmest day since Aug. 14, when security forces raided Brotherhood sit-ins calling for Morsi’s reinstatement. But it was clear the government crackdown was ongoing.

Brotherhood members told McClatchy that women are among those being held by authorities on charges of being armed, instigating violent protests and murders. But government officials have only released piecemeal details of their arrests. In some cases, they’ve denied holding the women.

Khadija Ismail, 19, is among the women being held, her mother said. Arrested Friday, she is charged with willful murder, storming police institutions, throwing rocks and blocking traffic.

Her mother, Manal Abdel Ghaffar, said she visited her daughter Tuesday at the Waili police station in the Abassya section of Cairo. Ismail is being held with at least two other women, her mother said.

“I had to beg them in the station to make me see her. I was about to kiss their feet to make me see her,” Ghaffar said. “What an injustice. How could she have done all those things?”

A McClatchy reporter visited the police station and asked if women were being held. Mohamed Roshdy, the deputy police commander there, denied he had any women in custody and offered to let the reporter to look for herself. But when pressed, he became indignant.

“That means that you don’t trust me,” he said. “Where did you learn about that? From Al Jazeera?” Roshdy described the Qatar-based satellite network as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. “They are all lairs.”

Finally, he told the reporter to come back another day. By then, Ghaffar said, her daughter could be moved.

Amina Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.