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Banning the Brotherhood

Nils Naumann /ai
August 19, 2013

Egypt's government portrays the unrest in the country as a fight against Islamist extremists. Experts warn though that a ban of the Muslim Brotherhood would only radicalize the conflict.

Muslim Brotherhood protester (photo: REUTERS/Louafi Larbi)
Image: Reuters

Only a few weeks ago, they still were at the height of their power. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was ruling the country with Mohammed Morsi, the democratically elected president. Now, the Brotherhood is fighting for its survival. Morsi got ousted by the military, many of the group's leaders were arrested. Their supporters are frustrated, many are becoming ever more radicalized. Hundreds were killed when the army stormed and cleared their pro-Morsi protests camps.

But the Brotherhood won't surrender. "We will give our blood and our souls for Morsi," they shout in chorus during their demonstrations. Despite the many deaths, they want to continue protesting against the coup that ousted the president.

But the military and the transitional government seem just as unwilling to cave. The country was in a "war against terror," they say – in their eyes, the Muslim Brotherhood members are simply terrorists. Transitional Prime Minister Hasim al-Biblawi threatned to ban the Brotherhood: "There can be no reconciliation with those who have blood on their hands."

The body of a victim wrapped in a shroud (photo: REUTERS/Steve Crisp)
The clashes have lead to hundreds of deaths over the last weekImage: Reuters/Steve Crisp

Criticism from the West

This hard line by the new leadership has lead to criticism from the West. "The violence and the killing of these past days can neither be justified" nor quietly tolerated, the EU's Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barrosso said in a statement.

Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino warned not to ban the Brotherhood. "The consequences would be devastating," Bonino said. "It would mean that they would be forced into the underground and it would strengthen the extremist faction. If Egypt slides into chaos and instability, the shockwaves will affect the entire region."

Günter Meyer from the University of Mainz doesn't believe that a ban will do anything to calm down the situation. "There's too much bitterness on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood," the Egypt expert says. "They see their struggle as fully justified because they were democratically elected. Even when banned, they'll do everything to continue their struggle. There's also the danger that they'll go underground. Then we'll have to expect attacks from the underground."

Günter Meyer
Meyer says it's going to get worse before it gets betterImage: Privat

So far, the majority of the pro-Morsi protesters are peaceful. But there are already more and more armed radicals among the demonstrators. In the case of a ban, this could get worse.

What a ban wouldn't achieve though, says Meyer, is to hurt the organization at its core. The Brotherhood has a broad backing in the population, also thanks to a network of social solidarity they built up through schools, mosques and charity for the poor.

The Muslim Brotherhood has a lot of experience with state suppression. Their 85-year history was marked by constant change: Sometimes they were permitted to participate in the political life of the country, sometimes they were locked in violent struggle against the authorities. Many members spent years in prison – like ousted president Morsi.

No end to the violence

On Sunday, Egypt's strong man, military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has once again called upon the Muslim Brotherhood to give up its protest. Instead they should return to the political process. "Egypt has room for everybody," he said. At the same time though the military leader threatened that the security forces would crack down hard on any Islamists that would resort to violence. "We will never watch the country being destroyed."

Meyer doesn't believe there's going to be a deal between the military and the Brotherhood anytime soon. "The unrest that we're seeing right now is by no means the end of it," he says. "A peaceful and political solution to the conflict is currently nowhere in sight." The rift between the supporters and opponents of Morsi is way too big by now , according to Meyer.

Shocking police brutality

With every victim, the hatred grows. What's lost along the way are human rights. "That doesn't play a role for neither of the two sides," Meyer says. The many victims of the brutal clearing of the protest camps back this up, as do the killings of policemen and the attacks on Coptic churches.

A man walks outside the burnt Rabaa Adawiya mosque, the morning after the clearing of a protest camp around the mosque, in Cairo August 15, 2013. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called on followers to march in protest in Cairo on Thursday, after at least 421 people were killed in a security crackdown on the Islamist movement that has left the most populous Arab nation polarised and in turmoil. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Amnesty accuses Cairo authorities of 'excessive violence'Image: Reuters

Philip Luther, Egypt expert with Amnesty International, talks about the "excessive violence" of the security forces against the protesters. While some of the demonstrators were also violent, the police had reacted with unproportional brutality and had made no distinction between peaceful and aggressive protesters. The police violence was directed even against uninvolved spectators. Luther was especially shocked by the use of live ammunition against civilians.

An Amnesty team was visiting many hospitals and morgues across Cairo last week. The reports confirmed that often, victims had been shot directly into the head or the chest. The actions of the security forces need to be investigated immediately , Amnesty demands. This would mean allowing UN inspectors into the country. In light of the attacks on Coptic Christians, Amnesty calls on the authorities to guarantee the protection of Christians and other minorities.