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Monday, December 17, 2012

Anger and an Arrest as a Leader of Egypt\'s Muslim Brotherhood Visits Brooklyn

Video of an Egyptian-American protester being arrested in Brooklyn on Saturday after disrupting a talk by a leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

The tension that has gripped Egypt in recent weeks over a draft constitution written by Islamists briefly erupted on a New York street on Saturday night, with the arrest of a protester who disrupted a discussion of the document by Essam El-Erian, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Erian, who is also the vice president of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told a standing-room-only crowd at the private Noor Islamic School in Brooklyn that the draft constitution would weaken the traditionally autocratic Egyptian presidency and strengthen Parliament.

During the discussion, Mr. Erian reassured Egyptian expatriates, who can vote on the draft in a referendum on Wednesday, that “it is not true when people say it is like the Koran and cannot be changed.”

As Salma Abdou, an Egyp tian-American student at the City University of New York, reported on Twitter, Mr. Erian repeatedly compared the draft with the American Constitution.

Just as Mr. Erian argued that the many amendments to the United States Constitution s howed that such legal frameworks can be changed, protesters began anti-Brotherhood chants, drawing an angry response from the group's supporters in the room. Salma Abu El-Maged, an anti-Brotherhood activist living in New York, began the chants, screaming “liar” and “murderer” at Mr. Erian.

As others around her yelled, “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide,” in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood's top leader, Mohamed Badie, Ms. Maged was forcibly removed from the room by the police.

Kirsti Itameri, an independent journalist in Brooklyn, filmed the scuffle on her phone when she herself was roughed up by “a man my father's age,” she said, who grabbed her by both wrists and violently shook her in an apparent attempt to stop her filming. The incident, which has been reported in the E gyptian news media, happened in front of a police officer, and Ms. Itameri filed a report against the man for harassment, she said.

Ms. Itameri posted video of the incident online, in which she could be heard screaming, “get your people under control and tell him not to touch me!”

As video posted on YouTube showed, Ms. Maged was taken into custody by the police a short time later after she led a small group of protesters in chants of “Down with the Muslim Brotherhood!” The video, which was filmed by another anti-Brotherhood activist named Rani Ghosson, shows that, as she was handc uffed and led away by officers, Ms. Maged shouted: “I have every right to protest! This is my constitutional right! I am an American citizen!”

Ms. Maged told The Lede in an a telephone interview on Monday that she was given a ticket for disorderly conduct and released.

After the incident, Mr. Erian tried to restore order, crying out from the stage, “We are all Egyptians!” and leading supporters in chants of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great,” while the sound of shouting, shoving and slamming doors rang out from the back of the room.

The event continued after protesters were ejected from the room, but members of the audience seated in the women's section continued to pepper Mr. Erian with hostile questions about the Brotherhood's domination of the constitution-drafting process and the protests that have erupted in recent weeks against President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood member who granted himself expanded powers to push the draft to complet ion.

Mr. Erian addressed controversy over his visit on Facebook, writing: “Everything that has been published and broadcast about meetings, consultations, protests and attacks during my short visit to New York have been fabrications and lies. Some people owe me an apology to maintain cordiality.”

When the talk concluded, Mr. Erian's handlers rushed him offstage and out of the auditorium, leaving an agitated members of the crowd to argue among themselves. Angry debates spilled onto a sidewalk on Fourth Avenue, where the police were waiting to disperse the crowd.