It’s as if the Muslim Brotherhood’s website hadn’t heard about the court ruling, even though Egypt’s newspapers loudly announced the decision to ban the movement’s activities and have its property managed by a special committee of ministers. That’s because “the perpetrators of the coup,” as the Brotherhood’s leaders call the army and the liberal movements, lack the authority to make such a decision. Their regime is illegal, so their decisions are to be ignored.
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It’s still unclear whether the Brothers intend to appeal the ruling by the Court for Urgent Matters to the Constitutional Court and what would come of the appeal. In any case, that legal avenue, proposed by a leftist party, has become unnecessary in light of the all-out attack on the Brotherhood. The arrests of the movement’s leaders, including its supreme leader Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and the arrests of thousands of activists prevent the movement from managing its political and financial affairs and coordinating the struggle against the regime.
But even if the court’s decision is declared final, the movement isn’t outlawed, just its activities. Its activists can therefore run for parliament and even for the presidency as independent candidates, as they did for decades.
The main concern is that the court’s decision could drive the organization underground, where it would set up secret cells that could resort to terror. The army sees the Brotherhood as a terror group that engaged in illegal acts harming state security, but as long as the regime doesn’t define the movement as a terror organization – as certain liberal parties are demanding – there’s still a narrow opening for dialogue.
Meanwhile, without a chance of gaining political influence, with its assets in Egypt beyond its control, its fund-raising and organizational abilities could collapse or at least badly erode. The movement has money and assets estimated in the billions outside Egypt, some in the Gulf states and some in Europe. These funds could bolster its propaganda work abroad and provide partial funding for underground activities at home.
The ban on the movement’s activities and the takeover of its assets are nothing new. Since 1954, when the Brotherhood was permanently outlawed (until then it had been temporarily outlawed), the group has had its ups and downs with the various regimes. In fact, all of Egypt’s presidents from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Hosni Mubarak began their careers with cooperation attempts with the Brotherhood, attempts that quickly turned into violent struggles.
These struggles didn’t curb the Brotherhood’s political power, which reached its height in 2005 when the group won 88 seats in parliament. Six years later the group became a victory symbol of the revolution when it won legal status and later gained sway in parliament and the presidency.
Now, too, the Brotherhood has no intention of ignoring the street or the political arena. But opposition is burgeoning in this arena not only from the protest movements that failed to gain power, but within the Brotherhood as well. The “Brotherhood youth,” amorphous groups that do their work on social media, are presenting themselves as the movement’s new leaders, espousing a message of reconciliation and a willingness to negotiate with the regime.