Egypt's military-backed interim government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, criminalising all its activities, its financing and even membership to the group from which the country's ousted president hails.
The announcement is aimed at crippling the Brotherhood and poses a dramatic escalation of the fight between the government and group, which has waged near-daily protests since the July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi.
Hossam Eissa, the Minister of Higher Education, read out the Cabinet statement after long meeting. Eissa said that the decision was in response to Tuesday's deadly bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city which killed 16 people and wounded more than 100. The Brotherhood denied being responsible for the Mansoura attack and an al-Qaida inspired group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing yesterday.
"Egypt was horrified from north to south by the hideous crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood group," Eissa said. "This was in context of dangerous escalation to violence against Egypt and Egyptians (and) a clear declaration by the Muslim Brotherhood group that it is still knows nothing but violence."
"It's not possible for Egypt the state nor Egypt the people to submit to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism," he added.
Eissa offered no evidence in his speech linking the Brotherhood to Tuesday's attack.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, denounced violence in the late 1970s. Ibrahim Elsayed, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political group, the Freedom and Justice Party, said the government announcement will have no impact on the work or the beliefs of the group, because it has seen repeated government repression and continued to exist with a moderate view of Islam.
"This decision is as if it never happened. It has no value for us and is only worth the paper it is written on," he said. "It won't impact us from near and far. Ideas won't be impacted by false accusations. We uphold this call only for the sake of God."
The declaration, Eissa said, means that those who "participate in the group's activities, in the organisation or promotion verbally or by writing or by any other means or financing its activities" will be facing punishment according to the law. He said that the government had notified other Arab countries about its decision. The Brotherhood has organisations and political parties in other nations in the region.
Ahmed el-Borai, the Minister of Social Solidarity, told reporters in a news conference that the decision means "all activities of the Muslim Brotherhood group are - banned including the demonstrations." He said that members who abandon their membership and withdraw from the group "will be pardoned."
The declaration also gives the armed forces and the police the right to enter universities and prevent protests, as "protection to the students," el-Borai said.
The decision comes after a sweeping decision aimed at draining the Brotherhood's finances by freezing the funds of more than 1,000 non-government organisations with links to the group and putting more than 100 schools run by the group under government supervision. That directly attacks the grassroots strength of the Brotherhood, where it has much of its power in Egyptian life.
Rifaat Laqoushah, a political analyst, said that the government decision is "procedural" and that it could be overturned by the courts.
"The government should present strong evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood collaboration in terrorism and present it to courts in order to win a court ruling branding the group as a terrorist one," Laqoushah said.
- © Fairfax NZ News