by: MAGGIE MICHAEL and TONY G. GABRIEL
CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities are considering disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood group, a government spokesman said Saturday, once again outlawing a group that held the pinnacle of government power just more than a month earlier.
The announcement comes after security forces broke up two sit-in protests this week by those calling for the reinstatement of President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader deposed in a July 3 coup. The clashes killed more than 600 people that day and sparked protests and violence that killed 173 people Friday alone.
Cabinet spokesman Sherif Shawki said that Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who leads the military-backed government, assigned the Ministry of Social Solidarity to study the legal possibilities of dissolving the group. He didn't elaborate.
The Muslim Brotherhood group, founded in 1928, came to power a year ago when its Morsi was elected in the country's first free presidential elections. The election came after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011.
The fundamentalist group has been banned for most of its 80-year history and repeatedly subjected to crackdowns under Mubarak's rule. While sometimes tolerated and its leaders part of the political process, members regularly faced long bouts of imprisonment and arbitrary detentions.
Since Morsi was deposed in the popularly backed military coup, the Brotherhood stepped up its confrontation with the new leadership, holding sit-ins in two encampments for weeks, rallying thousands and vowing not to leave until Morsi is reinstated.
On Wednesday, security authorities swept through the two protest camps, leaving hundreds killed and thousands others injured. The violent crackdown sparked days of street violence across the country where Islamist supporters stormed and torched churches and police stations.
In the most recent standoff, Egyptian security forces exchanged heavy gunfire Saturday with armed men at top of a minaret of a Cairo mosque. The security forces fired tear gas, stormed the mosque and rounded up hundreds of Islamists supporters of Morsi who had been barricaded inside overnight.
The confrontations Friday — around a Brotherhood call for a "Day of Rage" — killed at least 173 people, said Shawki, the Cabinet spokesman. He said 1,330 people were wounded in the protests.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said in a statement that a total of 1,004 Brotherhood members were detained in raids across the country and that weapons, bombs and ammunition were confiscated with the detainees.
Among the dead Friday was Ammar Badie, a son of Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, the group's political arm said in a statement.
Also Saturday, authorities arrested the brother of al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri, a security official said Saturday. Mohammed al-Zawahri, leader of the ultraconservative Jihadi Salafist group, was detained at a checkpoint in Giza, the city across the Nile from Cairo, the official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to brief journalists about the arrest.