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Egypt’s political spectrum divided on Brotherhood terrorist designation

Some Islamist parties were not in favor of the decision while it was welcomed by political parties that supported the June 30 protests

Sonia Farid

Published: Updated:

A few hours after the deadly blast that hit the Interior Ministry’s headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, the Egyptian interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

According to the cabinet statement issued on Dec. 25, such a move was not only attributed to the previous incident, but also to the history of the Brotherhood since it was established in 1928.

In fact, the statement lists the major assassinations, bombings, and acts of violence in which the Muslim Brotherhood has been involved till the present moment to illustrate that “violence is the only tool the group uses to achieve its goals.”

The statement stressed that “there is no going back” and that “the Egyptian government and people will never give in to the Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorism even as their crimes cross all moral, religious, and human redlines.”

The statement explained that the decision was made in accordance with article number 86 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which defines terrorism as “the use of force, violence, threat, or terror to engage in an individual or collective criminal offence for the purpose of destabilizing national security, terrorizing people, harming the environment, obstructing communications and transportation, destroying public and private property, disrupting work in government facilities and educational institutions, attacking places of worship, and hindering the implementation of the constitution and the law.”

According to the statement, the penalties stated in this article, which range from five-year sentences to the capital punishment depending on the crime, would apply to anyone who takes part in, promotes, or funds the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and anyone who joins or remains a member in the Muslim Brotherhood after its designation as a terrorist organization.

According to article 68, the capital punishment applies certain cases; for instance, if the terrorist attack results in the death of its victim(s) or is the result of collaboration with a foreign country. However, Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif said in a press statement that anyone who leads a Muslim Brotherhood protest will be executed “even if it is a woman.” Other group members taking part in protests, he added, will be sentence to five years in jail.

Welcoming the decision

The decision was welcomed by political parties that supported the June 30 protests and the military-backed ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi. Mohammadi Abul Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said that after the series of terrorist attacks the Muslim Brotherhood has been carrying out across the country, “Egyptians breathed a sigh of relief when the government made this decision.”

For Abul Ghar, in order for the decision to be effective, it has to be internationalized. “If the decision is implemented on the international level, Muslim Brotherhood branches outside Egypt will be unable to operate,” he said in a TV interview.

“Conspiracies by countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood will also be aborted.” He specifically named Turkey and Qatar. The Free Egyptians Party hailed the decision as “historic” and argued that it “marks the end of one of the most fascist groups in modern history.” The party argued in a statement it issued following the cabinet’s declaration that declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization was necessary to purge the Egyptian society from the destructive ideologies on which the group was based. The party was also for taking the decision to the international level.

“The party calls upon the Foreign Ministry to track the Muslim Brotherhood’s accounts and sources of funding, to take the step to the Arab and international levels, and address the UN and the Interpol to hunt down group members and branches abroad,” the statement said. The Wafd Party echoed the same sentiment even though it argued that the move was taken a little bit too late. “The party had always been calling for declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. This came too late, but better late than never,” said party spokesman Ahmed Ezz al-Arab, adding that the government was under so much pressure from the people to take such a step.

Legality of the decision

The legality of the decision is, however, highly disputed and its implementation is, therefore, likely to be faced with several obstacles. According to Law Professor Amr al-Shalakany, the prime minister does not have the power to make such a decision in the first place. “Even Article 86 of the Penal Code does not give him the right to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist group,” he said, adding that the decision can be revoked at the Administrative Court.

Lawyer and rights activist Malek Adly agreed and explained that only the interim president retains the right to issue laws and that is why it is, for him, a purely political decision with no legal basis. “It would have been better to wait for the court to issue a verdict to categorize the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization,” he said.

Adly added that in all cases the implementation of the decision is bound to be extremely challenging, especially that there is nothing to prove whether someone is or is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. “How can you identify members of the Muslim Brotherhood when there are no official lists of Muslim Brotherhood members? Its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, has a list of members but being a member in the party is not an official crime,” he explained. Another obstacle, said human rights lawyer and director of al-Haqanya Law Center Mohammad Abdel Aziz, is that according to the Penal Code article under which Brotherhood members will be tried no one can be accused of terrorism without having committed a certain crime.

“Accusing any person or organization of terrorism is a decision made by the judicial authority only after evidence is found, according to article 86 of the Penal Code,” he said. Professor of international law Ayman Salama has a totally different view as he argues that declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization falls under the category of “sovereign decisions,” therefore cannot be appealed. “According to article 17 of the Judiciary Law, courts do not directly or indirectly look into sovereign decisions.” Sovereign decisions, Salama explained, are those taken in cases where the country’s national or international security is jeopardized.

Islamist parties

Islamist parties were not in favor of the decision for a variety of reasons. The formerly-militant al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, also a member of the pro-Mursi Alliance to Support Legitimacy, labeled the move “unfair” and warned of its ramifications. “This decision will have a catastrophic impact on the future of the country and the security of its people and will abort all remaining opportunities to reach a settlement for the current political crisis,” the group said in a statement.

The statement added that the decision was “uncalled for” since another group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, had already claimed responsibility for the Interior Ministry bombing. The ultra-conservative al-Nour Party, which took part in the roadmap that followed the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, saw the decision as an obstacle to national reconciliation. “It also helps the third party to implement its scenario of chaos and will bring about more violence and counter-violence,” said Talaat Marzouq, the party’s deputy chairman for legal affairs. He did not specify what he meant by the “third party,” though.

As for members of the Muslim Brotherhood, they have so far decided to ignore the decision. Brotherhood spokeswoman Wafaa al-Banna argued that the decision is only a “media stunt” since the group has anyway been treated as a terrorist group since the ouster of Mohammad Mursi. She, however, insisted that the group will never be repressed like it had been before. “There is no way for the scenarios which were implemented in the 1950s to work in the 21st century,” she said, in reference to the persecution of the group by late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Ibrahim Mounir, a leading London-based Muslim Brotherhood member, described the decision as “illegitimate” and stressed the group will not abide by it. “The protests will continue,” he said. The stance of the Muslim Brotherhood on designating the group as a terrorist organization could be summed up in the words of Hamza Zobaa, spokesman of the Anti-Coup Alliance that calls for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammad Mursi: “It’s like nothing happened!”