The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters last Monday ruled to disband the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Association and ordered the confiscation of its capital and assets.
The court ordered the “banning of the activities of the MB in Egypt and all activities emanating from it, the Association and any other institution branched from it, belonging to it or receiving financial support or any kind of support from it.” It also ordered the interim government to seize the Brotherhood’s funds and form a panel to administer its frozen assets until any appeal had been heard.
The court ruling was prompted by a lawsuit filed by the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party, commonly known as Tagammu, which accused the Brotherhood of being “terrorist” and “exploiting religion in political slogans”.
It is not clear what the verdict means for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the MB.
The Brotherhood was founded as a religious, anti-Western organisation in 1928. It grew to assume a political role, engaging in terrorist operations and a series of political assassinations during the 1940s. The MB supported the 1952 Revolution that ended the monarchy and British colonial influence in Egypt, but was outlawed in 1954, following an attempt on the life of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser who would not allow them an active political role. The group leaders and members were imprisoned.
In the 1970s, Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat, in an attempt to counter his leftist opponents, pardoned the MB leaders and allowed them freedom to operate. But they went back to their coercive, terrorist practices, and assassinated Sadat in 1981 for having made peace with Israel.
The group was gradually allowed a degree of freedom to operate under President Hosni Mubarak on condition that it renounced violence. Although never formally legalised till 2012, its members established a significant bloc in parliament in elections in 2005 by standing as independents. It finally emerged from the shadows after the 2011 revolution. It won a majority in Parliament and, in June 2012, one of the members of its Guidance Office, Muhammad Mursi, became Egypt’s president. After one year in office he was overthrown by massive public protest and military intervention, for having curtailed freedoms and imposed an Islamist hegemony.
Commenting on the ruling, a number of political figures have demanded that the government should officially declare the MB a terrorist association, and ban any demonstrations under the slogans of the MB.
But Mohamed al-Mohandis, former spokesman of the Islamist-leaning Strong Egypt party, said that the court should have declared the legal reasoning behind its ruling, and should have cited the evidence of MB involvement in all the violent deeds witnessed in Egypt throughout the Mursi time as president. “But the ruling,” he believes, “will not make any difference to the MB. They are used to go underground.”
The Islamist intellectual, Nageh Ibrahim, says that calls for disbanding Islamist parties are nothing but impatience with the opposition on the part of the current government. Islamist TV channels and newspaper have been banned, and there is a tendency towards a blackout of opposition. This finally threatens the Egyptian State.
“What if we have parties with religious basis?” Mr Ibrahim says. “Pluralism is the essence of political life, and the exclusion of religious parties is in the first place an exclusion of the concept of democracy.”
Religious-based political party
Islam al-Katatni, founder of the movement of “We Love This Country” and a former MB member, told Watani that disbanding the MB political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), at this timing comes against the principle of “No exclusion” which the various political forces have called for. “In all cases,” Mr Katatni says, “the new Constitution should put an end to this predicament when it decides whether or not political parties may be founded on religious basis or reference.”
If the religious parties are disbanded at this point in time, Mr Katatni says, without constitutional backing, “we would be in for more violence by the MB and other Islamic parties who would mobilise their supporters in order to pressure the State to approve their demands.”
Mr Katatni believes that, if the MB really wishes to move on with a political future, they should separate their political activity from their time-honoured preaching and social service role.
Maged Hanna, a lawyer, told Watani that disbanding the MB would work to create public sympathy for it. “The State should be careful not to take any abusive procedures against the MB,” Mr Hanna says, “but at the same time, should they ever make a move that wrongs Egypt or Egyptians, they should be penalised.
“The constitution which is being now written should be very clear about religious-based political parties. There should be no confusion or ambiguity there.”
Rejected by mainstream
“I do not think that the current government has the spine to properly confront the MB,” Seti Shenouda, a researcher of political Islam, told Watani. “It is too feeble and hesitant, not strong enough to tighten its control on the MB and Islamist militants, meaning that the recent court ruling will not have a tangible effect on the ground. The MB will probably continue to operate, albeit banned” he says.
General Ali Zein al-Abedein, professor of criminal law at the Police academy, said that, contrary to law of the civil associations, the MB operated in politics, imposing its opinion, and undermining the basic principles of Egyptian society. “The outcome is that the MB has now lost its once extensive popular base and is rejected by the mainstream Egyptian community,” he says.
25 September 2013