By declaring the Muslim Brotherhood "terrorist organisation," the interim government seems to have put an end to any possibility of reconciliation with this group and to any potential participation by its members in legal political activities, including the upcoming legislative and presidential elections, scheduled in the first half of 2014.
The government's decision, announced 25 December, brings the Brotherhood and its members under the thumb of Article 86 of the Egyptian Penal Code that defines the crime of terrorism and the heavy penalties incurred by its perpetrators. It expands and strengthens the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and renders them outlaws. All those who fund or support the Brotherhood verbally, in writing or by any other means also face severe penalties. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim has indicated that those involved in the protest marches held regularly by the Brotherhood against the interim government, the army and the police, now face five years in prison. Those who hold administrative positions within the group, finance it or provide it with information risk sentences of forced labour.
One need to go back to the 1950s, after the failed assassination attempt against President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, attributed the Brotherhood, to find such fierce repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, which claims one million adherents. It is, however, the first time that the Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organisation.
The government's decision comes in the wake of the deadliest attack since the ouster 3 July of president Mohamed Morsi, against the security directorate of the governorate of Daqahlia in Mansoura, leaving 16 dead, mainly police officers, and some 140 wounded. Although the attack was denounced by the Muslim Brotherhood, who denied any involvement, and was claimed by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdess (Supporters of Jerusalem), a terrorist group based in North Sinai, which had previously claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against the interior minister in September, the government claimed a direct link between this terrorist act and the Brotherhood. Despite the fact that it has provided so far no evidence of the involvement of the Brotherhood in the Mansoura attack, or in previous deadly attacks, it believes that the Muslim Brotherhood provides political coverage and legitimacy for terrorist attacks, on the rise since the overthrow of Morsi.
The Mansoura attack was the straw that broke the camel's back. Subject to public and political pressure and accused of hesitation or even weakness, the interim government was considering the possibility of declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation since the 23 September decision by a Cairo court to ban the "Association" of the Muslim Brotherhood — legalised in March 2013 under Morsi — and bodies affiliated to it, and to freeze their assets, now managed by a government committee. The verdict of the court was made following a lawsuit filed by the leftist Tagammu Party, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of terrorism and of exploiting religion for political purposes.
The government hastened its decision after the Mansoura attack, but mainly justified it legally by the Cairo court verdict, the violence resorted to by members of the Brotherhood in their protests, and the charges recently brought against Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the courts, including incitement to murder and sharing intelligence with foreign entities (the Palestinian Hamas, the Lebanese Hizbullah and the Iranian Guardians of the Islamic Revolution). These charges are punishable by death.
The government's decision is, however, disputed by legal experts because of its administrative nature. For them, it can be easily cancelled by a decision of the administrative court, if the Muslim Brotherhood decides to appeal. They consider that the decision should be based on irrefutable evidence, and the judgement of the judiciary. Other legal experts believe instead that the decision is part of the so-called "sovereign" prerogatives of government related in this case to safeguarding civil peace, and cannot be reviewed and repealed by the courts.
But beyond these legal considerations, the decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation was accelerated, as a result of the bombing of Mansoura, by supporters of a hard line against the Brotherhood in the government. Security services, which lost much of their political influence after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, seem to have pushed in this direction.
Based on the limited results of the strategy of street protests and the lack of impact of student demonstrations, whose aim is to disrupt the academic year, the Brotherhood seems to have opted more for targeted attacks against the military and police. Intelligence services, including those of Western countries, believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has chosen, in connivance with jihadist groups based in Sinai, this strategy of targeted attacks to derail the roadmap announced by the army last July.
This strategy, if confirmed, would mark the ascendancy of radicals within the group — supporters of underground action. The decision of the government will also act in this direction, giving pretext and reason to radicals who believe that the government is seeking to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, the multiplication of deadly attacks reinforces popular support for an exclusion of the Brotherhood. This reduces to nil any chance of reconciliation with the Brotherhood group, or its reinstatement in political life.
One of the direct consequences of this radicalisation of positions, the upsurge of bombings and the possible deterioration of the security situation, is to weaken the chances of civilian presidential candidates and to strengthen the political and popular pressure for the candidature of Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. The more the security situation is deteriorating and the military option prevails, the more great the political and popular need will be for a man with an iron fist, a military man, to hold the reins of power.