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After a bomb blast at a police station in Mansura , the government in Cairo has listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Observers worry it will radicalize militant members of the group.
Former President Mohamed Morsi is in prison. His head of government Haschim Kandil was recently arrested: practically the entire leadership of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is behind bars. They are accused of playing a role in the deaths of protesters, high treason and terrorism. Some of their trials are already under way, others are being prepared. Since September, the Brotherhood is de facto banned through a court decision.
Now, the transitional government backed by the military has taken things further than even former dictator Hosni Mubarak ever did. The Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization. This decision, said Günter Meyer of the Center for Arabic Studies in Mainz, was in line with all the other measures aimed at eliminating the Brotherhood as a political factor.
The organization was founded in 1928 and until recently was seen as the best organized political force of the country. With the election of their candidate Morsi as president, the Brotherhood seemed at the height of its power.
Banned as terrorist organization
The decision to list them as a terrorist organization comes in response to a bomb attack on Tuesday (24.12.2013) outside a police building in the town of Mansura at the Nile Delta. Sixteen people were killed and more than 100 were injured. Although an Islamist group operating from the Sinai called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the blast, the government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The government will never give in to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which goes far beyond the moral and religious boundaries," Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa said in a statement on Wednesday. Member of the Brotherhood or those involved in its actions would be prosecuted, he added.
The "Liberal Constitution Party" of former Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei also put the blame for the blast on the Brotherhood. The Tamarod youth movement, which protested against Morsi earlier this year, welcomed the government's decision only criticizing that in fact it had come too late.
Terror spreads from Sinai
The Mansura bombing was the most serious attack since Morsi was ousted by a military coup in July. The Islamist terror had largely been limited to the Sinai. This, Meyer said, was now over. Also on Thursday (26.12.2013) there's been an attack on a bus in the Cairo quarter of Nasr City. No one was killed, but five people were injured.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, considered to have close ties to al Qaeda, said it carried out the blast in Mansura to avenge the "blood spilt by innocent Muslims," who'd been victims of the regime. They refer to the harsh hand of the security forces in clashes with pro-Morsi protesters.
So far, the government has failed to provide evidence that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is indeed linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Samy Magdy, an Egyptian journalist with the website "Masrawi," told DW that the government claims that during Morsi's presidency, conversations between some Brotherhood member and the terror group had been intercepted that indicated close links between the two groups.
While presented as a reaction to the bomb attack, the government's decision was another step against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. "The ban of the Brotherhood has already driven many of their militant members into the underground," Meyer said, adding that the latest measure would only result in increasing the number of those ready to use violence.
Reports suggest that the desert area of Libya was used for several training camps where militant members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafists were being trained for terrorist attacks.
"There are said to be already as many as 1,000 members of the Brotherhood," Meyer said.
There still is also substantial backing for the Muslim Brotherhood among ordinary Egyptians, so that there's a large potential to find new recruits. The Brotherhood itself denies any links to terrorist organizations.
Ahmed el-Borai, the minister of social solidarity, told journalists that demonstrations held by the Brotherhood would be banned and that members who left the organization now would be spared prosecution.
But Muslim Brotherhood members still took to the streets on Thursday. "The protests are in the streets despite a law restricting them - and killings and prison sentences. All this has not changed the will of the people," Ibrahim Elsayed, member of the Brotherhood's political group, the Freedom and Justice Party, told the AP news agency.
Listing the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist group means that the government can step up its repression of the organization. Funds of NGOs suspected of having links with the Brotherhood have already been frozen. That way, the government wants to undermine one of the Brotherhood's strengths, namely its charity activities which win them support in the populations.
"The lines are hardened," Magdy said. "Currently, there's no hope of the government and the Brotherhood coming closer again."
On January 14 and 15, a new constitution will be voted on. Both the military and the government want things to go smoothly.
"We have to expect the situation to get more tense," Meyer said. Security staff could now arbitrarily target the Brotherhood. "This can not be helpful on the way to a civil society and democracy."