In Widening Crackdown, Egyptian Court Bans Muslim Brotherhood

An Egyptian court ruling on Monday banned the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered the government to seize all the assets of the Islamist group. This is the latest move in a widening crackdown on the group that ruled Egypt just a few months ago.

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In Egypt today, a court banned the Muslim Brotherhood. It also ordered the government to seize all the assets of the Islamist group. This is the latest move in a widening crackdown on the brotherhood that ruled Egypt just a few months ago. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, most of its leaders are in jail, and their money is gone, and their ability to function is dwindling.

NPR's Leila Fadel joins us from Cairo. And first, Leila, what can you tell us about what this court ruling says.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, basically, this court ruling is extremely sweeping. Not only does it ban the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization, but it says that any organization that it has founded or emanates from it is also banned. So this goes to basically any organization that has taken any financing from an Islamist organization that's 85 years old. But the verdict is something that the Muslim Brotherhood can appeal, and some legal experts are questioning whether the judge really has the purview to rule in such a broad way.

SIEGEL: Well, let's say that the ruling stands. What does that mean for the brotherhood?

FADEL: The Muslim Brotherhood has long been an organization that draws its membership from its grassroots work, through its charity work, selling discounted meat, vegetables, giving charity. And if they have no assets, no money, how do they reach out to the masses? So this will - if they were allowed to run in elections, it will definitely hurt them. Human rights groups say that this is just the latest weapon in a real widening crackdown that began months ago. This is Heba Morayef from Human Rights Watch.

HEBA MORAYEF: We've already, over the last few weeks, seen arrests of hundreds and hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood purely on the basis of affiliation to the group. The brotherhood was being treated de facto as an illegal organization. And, in fact, in some cases, some of the charges brought against some of the members was membership in an illegal organization that, you know, has terrorist aims.

SIEGEL: So the brotherhood has plenty of problems before this court ruling. What's been the reaction from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood?

FADEL: Well, basically, people are saying this is just a further crackdown on us, a fear that we will, in fact, win another election, going forward. They called the decision corrupt. They say they will appeal it. But keep in mind that much of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership is in jail. And one of the main complaints about this organization that had long been shadowy, long been banned under past regimes was that their finances weren't public, that they were opaque and nobody really knew where they got their money from.

SIEGEL: But this was the group that managed to elect Mohamed Morsi president of Egypt, and they dominated in the parliamentary elections that were held. What does it mean for the political future of the brotherhood and for Egypt?

FADEL: And that's really the big question. If this is a country that is going to follow a democratic path, can you exclude a portion of society? The Muslim Brotherhood may not be popular with many Egyptians today, but it does have a solid base. They have a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. And it's unclear now, under this new ruling, is that political party banned? And how can you have a pluralistic and representative government if one organization like this is not involved?

SIEGEL: Let's say this ruling sticks and the Muslim Brotherhood can't provide cheap food or medical care for people or cash for that matter in election time, is that going to hurt poor Egyptians who've come to depend on their provision of services?

FADEL: Well, I mean, it could. One of the reasons that the Muslim Brotherhood has such support, especially outside Cairo and in poorer districts, is because it provided things that the government didn't. So it's unclear somebody else will come and fill in that gap. The aim of this decision really, when you go after the brotherhood's money, is to break the organization because this is where its power came from. As you pointed out, they tried to help the poor fill in those gaps, and that got them the electoral gains that we've seen in the past. So if they can't do that, who does provide that? And so, will they be able to survive politically?

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo.

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