Feature

Banning the Muslim Brotherhood might backfire on Egypt's leaders

The Islamist movement knows how to survive, and thrive, underground

Egypt escalated its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday, when a court banned all of the Islamist organization's activities and ordered the country's military-backed government to seize its assets.

The ruling essentially declares open season on any group even remotely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, giving the army and the interim government carte blanche in pursuing a crackdown that began on July 3, when the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Brotherhood elected in 2012.

Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed and thousands of Brotherhood members, including the group's leaders, have been arrested. And now, the court's ban, says Stephanie McCrummen at The Washington Post, amounts to a "devastating blow" to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The court even targeted the organization's social programs, including a vast network of health clinics and schools, further reducing the already extremely remote chance of reconciliation. "A ban represents a blunt approach in which there is no space for the Brotherhood in political and social life," Michael Hanna, an Egypt specialist with the New York-based New Century think tank, tells Middle East Online.

The ruling wasn't exactly unexpected. As Quentin Sommerville notes at BBC News: "Since President Morsi's ousting, the group's days have been numbered." But the ban went farther than many expected by casting doubt on the future of the Brotherhood's social programs. That, along with a proposed ban on political parties affiliated with religious groups, could drive most of Egypt's Islamists completely underground.

The move could easily backfire, however. It will now be far easier for Islamists to convince Egypt's impoverished masses — at least those who benefited from the Brotherhood's social programs — that the government and the military are responsible for their misery.

And the Muslim Brotherhood has proven it can stay alive in the shadows. The 85-year-old Islamist movement was banned in 1954, but hung around for more than a half century until Hosni Mubarak's 2011 ouster.

The new ban also means the military owns all of the country's other problems moving forward. Long before the court stepped in, the Muslim Brotherhood discredited itself in the eyes of Egyptians when given a chance to lead, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, by trying to "hijack the legislative and judicial institutions they fought to free." Now the Brotherhood is being forced back into the shadows, he says, where it "survived and even thrived as a quasi-secret society in Egypt."

With access to the democratic process and other work in the public sphere now officially off limits to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the group branded as a terrorist organization by authorities, young Islamists will have more reasons than ever to join insurgent groups that could dog Egyptian authorities for years.

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