December 26, 2013
A bomb exploded near a bus travelling north of Cairo on Thursday injuring five people a day after Egypt‘s interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. A second device was found nearby and defused.
The attacks came after a car bomb tore through a suburb north of Cairo on Tuesday, killing 16, which the country’s leadership blamed on the Islamist group.
The classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group is a marked escalation in the military-led government’s campaign to suppress opposition – an effort it has branded a “war on terror”.
On Wednesday, the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility Tuesday’s suicide bombing on a police headquarters in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo. In a statement, it warned people to stay away from what it said were legitimate targets, including police, military and government buildings.
Egypt’s armed forces have been carrying out military operations in the northern Sinai for several months. Security forces claim to have killed 164 people and arrested more than 500 others on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.
Analysts were divided on what the immediate impact of the statement on the Muslim Brotherhood would be. It has already been listed as a banned organisation and its financial assets seized after a 23 September court ruling.
Most of its senior leadership sit behind bars and former prime ministerHisham Qandil was captured on Tuesday on a desert road en route to neighbouring Sudan, according to security forces.
HA Hellyer, a Cairo-based associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the immediate legal ramifications of Wednesday’s announcement were unclear, but he had not been surprised by the announcement.
“The courts, for months, have been calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation,” he told the Guardian. “And you have the media narrative, which has described the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists for months.
“The difference is that the cabinet and the actual leadership of the state is now saying this. This is the first time the state has directly linked the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism.”
He discounted claims the Muslim Brotherhood was behind Tuesday’s bombing in Mansoura: “You have a large number of people who supported [ousted president] Mohamed Morsi, and they are responsible for the attacks. Those are criminals. Those are terrorists. Those should be targeted by the security forces.”
Hellyer predicted the climate for supporters of the Brotherhood would get worse. He added: “It also increases the likelihood that we will see more acts of violence.”
An immediate concern is the potential for vigilante attacks on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, Hellyer said, as well as those opposed to the military-led interim government.
After the Mansoura bombing, hundreds of local residents vandalised property belonging to Muslim Brotherhood supporters, burning cars and ransacking businesses.
Several Egyptian observers have, however, applauded the government’s move, with some suggesting it was late in coming.
Hisham Kassem, a publisher and analyst, said the government had made the announcement in response to growing criticism over its failure to end protest action and violence connected to those opposed to the government.
“People did not think the state was firm enough,” he said, adding: “The statement will not have any impact because it’s already a full-scale war.”
Kassem referred to threats made by senior Brotherhood figures in the wake of Morsi’s removal in July. “They have made statements that they would burn the country as punishment for removing Morsi,” he said.
“The Brotherhood have made it clear – they refuse to use reason. They have repeatedly threatened to derail the country’s progress,” Kassem added.
Over the past week, reports have circulated of clandestine talks between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unnamed sources quoted in local media claimed the Brotherhood was stepping back from earlier demands that Morsi be reinstated. There was also talk of finding a legal “exit” for the imprisoned Brotherhood leadership.
With Wednesday’s announcement, however, it appears unlikely the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, will be allowed to re-enter Egyptian politics.
• The story was amended on 27/12/2013 as HA Hellyer prefers to be known by his initials, not his first name
Source: The Guardian