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Egyptian Court Bans Muslim Brotherhood Activities

  • Elizabeth Arrott

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi holds onto barbed wire as he shouts slogans against the military and interior ministry near El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Sept. 20, 2013.

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi holds onto barbed wire as he shouts slogans against the military and interior ministry near El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Sept. 20, 2013.

An Egyptian court has ordered a ban on all activities by the Muslim Brotherhood, driving the group that gave the country its first freely-elected president further from the national stage.

The ban encompasses all the Islamist group's activities, including demonstrations, institutions and associations, and orders a seizure of the group's assets.

The case, brought by the leftist political party Tagammu, centered on the Brotherhood's non-governmental organization status, its role in politics and whether it posed a threat to national safety.

It did not address the issue of an outright ban on the group itself. A second, pending lawsuit against the Brotherhood seeks to take that step.

Monday's ruling could be appealed.

Still, the move marks a further blow to the organization which, since the beginning of July, went from influence in the highest offices of the land to outcasts.

In addition to political activities, the court order targets the Brotherhood's extensive network of hospitals, schools and social services, the kind of basic care lacking in the impoverished country and that brought the group millions of supporters over the decades.

Some, including prominent pro-democracy activist and blogger Wael Khalil, thinks the ruling will be unenforceable.

“It's a useless, meaningless verdict. We've seen many like it before. The Brotherhood has been working for years while being illegal, so it doesn't change much,” said Khalil.

President Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood, was ousted July 3 by the military following mass demonstrations against his rule. In mid-August, government forces moved against protests camps set up by Morsi's supporters. An estimated 1,000 people were killed in the crackdown.

Much of the Brotherhood's leadership is now in custody or in hiding, part of what state media and officials have called a “war on terror” that has received broad popular support.

Yet Brotherhood-led protests continued in the weeks that followed. For the most part, police and security forces have let demonstrations go forward.

Monday's ruling would likely change that.

The Brotherhood, formed 85 years ago, was banned in 1954. After Egypt's 2011 revolution, it was allowed to take part in politics and dominated a series of parliamentary elections, culminating in Mr. Morsi's ascension to the presidency last year. After questions about its legal status, the movement applied for NGO status earlier this year.

Activist Khalil, who protested against Morsi and the Brotherhood, nonetheless argues that trying to crack down on its activities is counterproductive.

“The Brotherhood has never lost such support than the year they spent above ground and in power because this is how you deal with politics. You expose, you deal with it as a concrete alternative, but by banning it and attacking it, you are really creating martyrs out of them which is something they really, really don't deserve,” he said.

He said he hopes the government will not follow through on what he considers such “a stupid option,” and warns that the rest of the country could suffer dire consequences if it pushes the more extreme elements toward violence.

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