CAIRO – A mob armed with knives attacked a senior lawmaker from Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood on Monday hours after he accused the government of already rigging next week's parliamentary election, the group said.
The crowd swarmed a car carrying Saad el-Katatni in southern Egypt, slashing the tires, breaking windows and injuring his driver, said another Brotherhood member, Walid Shalaby. Onlookers intervened and the lawmaker was not hurt, he said. The attack took place as el-Katatni returned to his home constituency of Minya.
Earlier in the day, he and other top Brotherhood members held a news conference in Cairo where they asserted that a police crackdown on the group before Sunday's election threatens to turn the polls into a sham.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the top rival to the ruling party of President Hosni Mubarak heading into the vote, which comes amid widespread discontent over rising food prices. Mubarak has been in power for 30 years and has long been accused of presiding over a police state. Presidential polls follow next year.
A Brotherhood spokesman, Mohammed Morsi, accused police and local members of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party of hiring thugs to attack el-Katatni. He said police just a few steps from the car did nothing to stop the attack.
An official with the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police and security forces, refused to comment late Monday.
The Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best organized opposition group, said in recent weeks more than 1,200 of its members and sympathizers had been arrested. Amnesty International on Saturday urged the government to stop harassing the group.
The Brotherhood alleged the government was rigging the polls in different ways, including moving polling stations from their original locations and removing Brotherhood candidates without giving a reason.
"What is happening right now is the actual rigging of the vote," el-Katatni told reporters earlier at the group's parliamentary headquarters in Cairo. "The regime is sending a message that there will be no election."
El-Katatni is contesting elections in the southern city of Minya. He said 100 Brotherhood candidates had been excluded from the elections.
"The police smashed the Brotherhood in all constituencies all over the country," el-Katatni said.
Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said the Islamist group's rallies were aimed at provoking confrontations with the police to try to "implement their agenda, which violates the interests of the state." He did not elaborate.
Over the last few days, processions and campaign rallies for the group's candidates across the country have been disrupted by police. Footage of Brotherhood supporters bleeding or struggling with tear gas was shown at the media conference.
"Under clouds of tear gas and rubber bullets, our candidates are campaigning," said Morsi, the Brotherhood spokesman.
Despite calls from within the group to boycott the elections, el-Katatni said it would persevere with its campaigns and shame the regime.
"This is a political and constitutional struggle and the street is with the Brotherhood and we will not let them down," he added.
The Brotherhood came out of the 2005 elections with a fifth of the seats in parliament, the largest bloc for the opposition, but it is expected to fare much worse in next week's contests because of the government pressure.
The group is officially outlawed but its members contest elections as independents.