Egypt’s military-installed rulers declared the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohamed Morsi a “terrorist” organisation Wednesday, signalling a wider crackdown after blaming it for a deadly police compound bombing claimed by a jihadist group.
A Muslim Brotherhood leader lambasted the decision and said the organisation would keep up its protests across Egypt despite the unprecedented move against the 85-year-old group, the country’s oldest and largest Islamist movement.
The decision is likely to accelerate a crackdown on the Brotherhood that has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, in street clashes and seen thousands imprisoned since Morsi’s overthrow by the military in July.
The decision lumps together Al-Qaeda-inspired militants who have killed scores of police and soldiers with the more moderate Brotherhood, although authorities have provided no proof of any links between the two.
The announcement came the day after a suicide car bombing of a police headquarters in the Nile Delta killed 15 people and wounded more than 100.
The attack was condemned by the Brotherhood — which renounced violence in the 1970s — and claimed by an Al-Qaeda-inspired group based in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
But the cabinet said “all of Egypt was horrified by the ugly crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday morning, when it blew up the Daqhaleya police headquarters.”
“The government has decided to declare the Muslim Brotherhood movement a terrorist organisation,” it said in a statement, referring to Egypt’s penal code.
“Members who continue to belong to this group or organisation following the release of this statement will be punished according to the law.”
The move caps a dramatic fall for the Brotherhood, which was Egypt’s best-organised opposition group during decades of dictatorship and won a string of polls after the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, culminating in Morsi’s election in 2012.
The group became deeply unpopular during Morsi’s year in power, alienating the military, Christians and secular activists, who accused Morsi of mismanaging the economy and trying to erect a new Brotherhood-led tyranny.
The military forced Morsi from power on July 3 amid massive demonstrations demanding his resignation, and he now stands accused of incitement to kill protesters and colluding with militants to carry out attacks.
‘Attempt to frame Brotherhood’
One of the few senior leaders of the Brotherhood to have avoided prison told AFP the Islamists would continue with their near-daily demonstrations, which frequently set off clashes with security forces.
“The protests will continue, certainly,” said Ibrahim Munir, a member of the group’s executive council who is in exile in London, denouncing the government’s latest move as “illegitimate.”
“This is an attempt to frame the Brotherhood.”
Social solidarity minister Ahmed al-Borei said the government would ban all the Brotherhood’s activities, including “protests.”
The cabinet had come under increasing pressure to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist group following Tuesday’s bombing.
“Egypt enveloped in sadness… and the government waffles,” read the front-page banner of the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia, which strongly supported Morsi’s overthrow and pledged billions of dollars to the military-installed government, condemned the “terrorist acts” and offered its “full support” in a palace statement carried by state news agency SPA.
An Al-Qaeda-inspired group spearheading attacks in Sinai had earlier claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing of the Mansoura police headquarters.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed several high-profile attacks since Morsi’s overthrow, including a September assassination attempt against the interior minister with a car bomb outside his home.
The Brotherhood has long been at odds with more radical groups inspired by Al-Qaeda, which have criticised the movement for renouncing violence and embracing electoral politics, which they view as un-Islamic.
During Mubarak’s reign the Brotherhood had cultivated widespread support, including from non-Islamists who came to rely on its social programmes as public services declined under a state seen as increasingly corrupt and dysfunctional.
But now Morsi and the Brotherhood’s leadership face trial on charges of colluding with militant groups, including the Palestinian Hamas movement, to launch “terrorist” attacks in Egypt.
He is also accused of involvement in attacks on police stations and prisons during the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Morsi and other Islamists imprisoned by Mubarak had escaped during the uprising in mass jailbreaks authorities now say were part of a wider plot to destabilise the country.