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Case Analysis 14 January, 2014

The Ramifications of Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as Terrorist Group


The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 

On December 25, 2013, Egypt’s deputy prime minister appeared on national television to announce that his government has decided to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as “a terrorist group at home and abroad”. In doing so, the Egyptian government has effectively eliminated any possibility for reaching a settlement for the country’s political crisis, which intensified in the July 3, 2013 military coup. The announcement came two days only following an explosion targeting the al-Mansura security headquarters in the Daqhaliya governorate had taken place, resulting in the death of dozens of security officers.

The Salafi Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group, which operates in the Northern Sinai region, claimed responsibility for the bomb attack. The group’s official statement said that the operation is a response to “the new apostate regime’s going against Islamic Sharia”. In September 2013, the same group struck at Egyptian Army targets, as well as other security agencies, in the Sinai, and attempted to assassinate the Minister of Interior Mohammad Ibrahim.

Although the group is an ideological adversary of the Muslim Brotherhood—having excommunicated the deposed President Mohammad Morsi—the military-backed Egyptian government used the incident to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood and thereby eradicate it from Egyptian politics.

The Surrounding Circumstances

The statement branding the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization was read in a blistering manner by one of the government’s Nasserist ministers. The idea was to exploit the anti-democratic atmosphere to pass a resolution that was made long before the Daqhaliya bombing.

 Barely a day after the bombing, Arab and Egyptian news media disseminated a statement attributed to Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, claiming that the attack was “a response to the acts of violence that have been practiced against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt”.[1]The original statement, however, made no mention of the Brotherhood; rather, it focused on accusing the regime of apostasy, combating Islam, and shedding the blood of Muslims.

In fact, the Egyptian government has already taken measures to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood and punish those who sympathize with the group or oppose the military coup and the restriction of public freedoms. Following the Rabia al-Adawiya massacre, administrative decrees have been issued and security measures aiming to liquidate those who oppose the military coup have been taken. The Administrative Court started this trend in September 2013 when it ordered the Muslim Brotherhood to disband and confiscated its assets. The court also targeted students, minors, and political activists who participated in the January 25, 2011 Revolution, including the April 6 Movement.  Judges who rejected the new regime’s policies have also been prosecuted.

Anti-revolution media have contributed to creating a fascistic environment against the Islamic movement, wherein anti-coup protestors have been dubbed as “allies of terrorism”, in reference to the sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood. The youth who participated in overthrowing Mubarak in particular have been targeted. In the midst of this exclusionist and anti-democratic atmosphere, local security officers in rural areas waged a witch-hunt campaign against Brotherhood members in order to gain favor with the new regime,[2] further solidifying the culture of hatred nation-wide.

The pro-government media presented the protests against the military coup as “a struggle between the nation and the Muslim Brotherhood”. In so doing, those opposing despotism have been presented as if they are opposing “the will of the people”. Calls for the government to strip political opponents of their citizenship have been made by Egyptian satellite channels on the grounds that these individuals were contacting foreign enemies.  These claims found their way to the judicial system, wherein political opponents have been detained and charged with treason.

The decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization was a natural reaction of a regime that draws its legitimacy solely from its opposition to the Islamic movement. Post-Morsi regime is composed mainly of Mubarak’s National Party and the traditional opposition, including nationalist, Islamist, and leftist figures, who were taken off guard by the January 25 Revolution and who never truly adopted the principles of the revolution or revised their stance toward democracy. Since arriving to power, the regime has made membership of the Brotherhood a crime, and has given itself the power to define who a “Brotherhood member” is. In reality, the regime is adverting the January 25 Revolution’s achievements, including the role of young activists..

From “Emergency” to “Terrorism”: Re-instating the Security Agencies

According to the official Egyptian Gazette, the Egyptian government named the Muslim Brotherhood as “a terrorist group in accordance with Article 86 of the penal code.” In doing so, the government has applied the terrorism law to the largest political party in the country; a party that received around 40 percent of the seats in the dissolved parliament and over a quarter of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential elections in May 2012.

In its first article, the resolution broadly stated that “the legally-sanctioned punishments for the crime of terrorism should be applied to those who participate in the activities of the group or organization, or promote it through speech, writing, or any other method, or finance its activities”. This broad definition places millions of Egyptians under the threat of prosecution since many do not acquiesce to the policies of repression and prosecution of Brotherhood members. In addition, this law would likely apply to those calling for conciliation with the Brotherhood since the wording of the text allows for a large margin of interpretation.

The point here is not that the Egyptian government will punish every single member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that it has the ability to do so; that it has armed itself with a “weapon” that can generate an atmosphere of intimidation. The law becomes an unsheathed sword in the hands of the government, permitting it to treat any political opponent as a suspected Brotherhood member and to prosecute him according to the anti-terrorism law. This law has, undoubtedly, created a fascistic atmosphere in a country where anti-terrorism laws have been designed to combat a specific political party, a party with a broad social and political base.

The dangerous ramifications of this law can be seen by tracing the violations resulting from the anti-terrorism laws which have been introduced in some Arab and non-Arab countries following the September 11, 2001 attacks and President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”. In some of these cases, citizens were arrested for mere suspicion of being a terrorist. Furthermore, governments are given the power to detain suspects indefinitely, or until sufficient proof of innocence was provided. The text of the Egyptian penal code’s Article 86 was inspired by these concepts, originally envisioned by the neo-conservative movement and its global War on Terror.

In that sense, the law contradicts the basic rule of justice which asserts that a person is “innocent until proven guilty”. In Egypt, a country ruled by a despotic regime, this law carries additional risks, particularly as it gives the security apparatuses the ability to detain any citizen until one proves that he is not a member or a sympathizer of the Brotherhood. Furthermore, anyone who opposes the military coup could be targeted according to this law under the pretext of combating terrorism.

One of the major achievements of the January 25 Revolution was limiting the effects of the emergency law, enforce for 30 years and under which thousands have been tried and convicted by military tribunals during Mubarak’s era. After the revolution, it was no longer possible to extend the state of emergency for more than a month without a parliamentary approval. The military regime, however, negated this achievement when it passed the law of protest—promulgated by Egypt’s temporary President Adly Mansour—and the terrorism law. These measures have given the regime absolute authority in terms of prosecuting, detaining, and presenting political opponents before military courts. Thus, the objective behind these new laws is not merely the eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, but the re-creation of the state of emergency, thereby legally providing the regime’s security agencies free reign. Ultimately, the new regime’s goals are the elimination of any resistance in the face of dictatorship and the reinstatement of the security establishment’s unlimited powers.

Future Possibilities

The Egyptian government’s decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is a setback  for democracy and national reconciliation, and a major  blow to the Minister of Defense, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s, roadmap to resolve the crisis.

While some believe that the regime aims merely to pressure the Brotherhood to accept a political settlement that legitimizes the military coup and the ensuing effects, the exclusionist tendencies within the new regime have become all too clear.

Finally, this exclusionist policy, culminated in declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, puts an end to more than two decades of hard work by Arab intellectuals to reconcile Islamic and secular thoughts. Indeed, the policy of the regime will make some fear and withdraw from the political domain, while others will resort to peaceful means to protest. Many Islamic movements will, however, go underground and resort to violence after being deprived of the right to express themselves through peaceful means. Ultimately, the state that treats a sizable section of its population as terrorists is, in fact, pushing them towards that exact end.

**This Assessment was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version published on December 28th, 2013 can be found here.


 [1] To view the falsified version of the statement, see: Bawwabat Akhbar al-Yawm, December 24, 2013. http://goo.gl/Mu1Q7p. For an authentic version of the statement, see: http://alplatformmedia.com/vb/showthread.php?s=dad49e20560fe106c9ce51a0e4322a0d&t=33959.

[2] See, for instance, al-Masri al-Yawm’s November 25, 2013 publication in which the director of the Farshut police station, a village in the Qina governorate, announced the capture of a Muslim Brotherhood leader who had on him “a sum of money equaling 790 pounds, and a receipt for the transfer of a foreign currency into Egyptian pounds”. The report was headed by a photograph of the police chief. See the following link: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/346311.