Egypt Brotherhood clampdown carries risks: analysts

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New moves by Egypt’s army-installed authorities against the Muslim Brotherhood will not eradicate the movement, merely drive it underground, and run the risk of stoking militancy, analysts say.

An Egyptian court on Monday banned the Brotherhood from operating and ordered its assets seized, in the latest step in an intensifying crackdown since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohammad Mursi on July 3.

Analysts said the move was far from a death blow for a movement which has weathered bans and jailings for most of its existence.

But they warned that the removal of legal avenues for protest risked turning those alienated by Egypt’s many economic and social problems to violence.

“Banning the Muslim Brotherhood legally will not, in practice, eradicate the movement,” said Rabab al-Mahdi, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.

“Under previous bans, they flourished as a movement and gained popularity,” Mahdi told AFP.

Formed in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned for decades until a popular uprising toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Analysts said the court decision, which affects the Brotherhood’s finances and its vast network of social services, which includes schools and hospitals, signaled an assault on its grassroots organization.

“The court decision will not make individual members more prone to arrest, this was already happening. The bigger question is that of assets,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt Director for Human Rights Watch.

“Everything has been about breaking the organisational structure,” she told AFP.

She said the move was “problematic and sweeping,” because it involved everyone associated with the movement.

“What will it mean for some syndicates (which are dominated by Brotherhood members) or for social services” run by the group? she asked.

According to Mahdi, the group’s shadowy structure makes it difficult to measure the impact of such a ruling.

“The problem is that the group is a black box. We don’t actually know how deeply it has been broken,” she said.

The group’s reach extends into institutions, social services and businesses.

Under Mubarak’s 30 year rule, “the organization was knit together not only by the bonds of ideology and identity but also through networks of common interests: business and economic ties, personal and familial relationships, and regional loyalties,” said Ashraf al-Sherif, non-resident associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The Brotherhood developed transnational connections, loyalties, and interests,” he said.

The court’s ruling is subject to appeal and could be overturned by a higher court, but analysts warned that if upheld, it carried major risks and would do nothing to resolve Egypt’s real problems.

“The problem is political and cannot be resolved by court rulings,” said Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University.

“It can have dangerous consequences but we’ll have to wait and see what the final ruling is,” he said.

The prospects for the country look bleak, some say, with the key grievance that led to the 2011 revolution -- social justice -- still largely unaddressed.

“What we’re looking at now is either the prospering of revolutionary forces or of radical Islamists in the current climate,” Mahdi said.

“People are disenfranchised. They need to be provided with a new alternative or this pool of frustrated youth could turn to radicalism,” she said.

Sherif warned that the bloody storming by security forces in August of the main Cairo protest camp set up by Mursi’s supporters added grist to the mill of those Islamists who argued there was no future in electoral politics.

“Those actions vindicated the extremists’ claims that efforts to establish peaceful politics are futile and that the anti-Islamist regime is exclusivist and keen on exterminating the Islamists altogether, a situation that renders violence as the only feasible option,” he said.