Egypt detained a leading opposition figure and allies on Tuesday on charges of plotting to bring down the government, but opposition groups said the arrests aimed to stymie their preparations for parliamentary elections next year.
Zyad Elelaimy, a prominent member of the Social Democratic Party and the Civil Democratic Movement, was held along with at least seven others, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Elelaimy, who was also a leading member of the 2011 protests that unseated long time ruler Hosni Mubarak, was arrested minutes after leaving a friend’s house in Cairo’s Maadi district around 2:20 a.m., eyewitnesses said.
“About two minutes after he left we heard him calling us. We looked from our balcony and we saw him being pushed into a civilian car by a large number of people in civilian clothes,” a friend, Soha Bayoumi, told Reuters.
“It seems that they were waiting for him, it was an ambush,” Bayoumi added, saying that the people who arrested Elelaimy identified themselves as national security agents.
The interior ministry accused Elelaimy and seven others of involvement in a plan fomented and financed through Muslim Brotherhood leaders abroad “to carry out violent and disorderly acts against state institutions simultaneously with creating a state of revolutionary momentum.”
The Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), a coalition of Egyptian opposition parties and figures, denied Elelaimy and the others arrested had any connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned and declared a terrorist organization in Egypt in 2013.
One of Elelaimy’s colleagues said he believed the arrest was linked to the coalition’s move to seek more members to prepare for parliamentary elections next year.