Until six months ago, the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt. Last week, the interim Egyptian government, backed by the military, declared the Brotherhood a terror outfit. The decision came in the wake of two bomb attacks on government security forces in the Nile Delta in less than a week. Sixteen people were killed and over 100 wounded in the attacks. The Brotherhood condemned the bombings on its Facebook page and it is likely that they were carried out by jihadist groups. This has not stopped the government from taking further steps to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood and its members. Will the ban restore a degree of calm to Egypt?
The Muslim Brotherhood is still influential in many circles and has high-profile supporters and sympathisers who could have made it very difficult for the interim government to pass a new constitution in a referendum in two weeks.
The absence of the Brotherhood could allow for a more orderly referendum process and smooth the path of parliamentary and presidential elections a few months after that. The vacuum left by the Brotherhood may also permit the evolution of other civil political parties, opposed to the authoritarian-military current rule.
In time, the Brotherhood will be allowed back into the political arena once it has learnt to play by the rules. It is currently much less popular than it was two years ago when the party swept the parliamentary elections.
Most of the Egyptian public, according to surveys, is now in favour of declaring it a terror organisation.
The decision is also an indication that the Egyptian regime is determined to continue fighting the terror groups currently active in Sinai and near the border with Israel, and to keep up the pressure on Hamas.
Even in its current situation, the Muslim Brotherhood is still largest and best-organised civil movement in Egypt, the only real political party with extensive social and educational wings and millions of supporters. By labelling Brotherhood a terrorist group, the government has created a major incentive for the majority of its members who so far have not resorted to violence to decide that they have nothing to lose by going underground and forming terror cells.
There is also the danger that the distinction between parts of Brotherhood’s structure and the violent jihadist groups already engaged in a terror campaign against the government will become blurred. Keeping the Brotherhood firmly out of the political conversation in Egypt will close the channels through which a large part of the Egyptian society interacted with the authorities and almost certainly radicalise many.
It will also make it more difficult for Egypt to control Hamas in Gaza, given that the Islamist Palestinian leadership regards the Brotherhood as its parent organisation.