'Terrorist' Label Is A Massive Setback For Muslim Brotherhood
JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away. I'm Jennifer Ludden. The Egyptian government has intensified its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. This past Wednesday, they officially labeled the political group a terrorist organization and in the last few days, security forces carried out widespread arrests of its members, even as they held protest rallies around the capital. It's a massive downfall for the Muslim Brotherhood since July when the military deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president and a former member of the Brotherhood. For more, we've got Kareem Fahim of the New York Times with us. Welcome.
KAREEM FAHIM: Thanks for having me.
LUDDEN: Tell us what led to this move to brand the Brotherhood terrorists?
FAHIM: Well, the government officially said that it was responding to terror attacks by the Brotherhood. It blamed the Brotherhood for a bombing last week that killed 16 people north of Cairo, though they didn't provide any evidence that the Brotherhood was responsible. But the government has been moving this way for some time. Since ousting President Morsi in July, we've seen repeated crackdowns on the movements, the arrests of thousands of members, virtually all the senior leadership, killings of Brotherhood protesters several times. You know, what seems to have changed is the penalties being imposed are harsher now. Members are subject to up to five years in prison for simply belonging. So, in that way, it's a very sharp escalation.
LUDDEN: Now, back in July, there were millions of Egyptians that really welcomed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, and you heard a lot of assurances that, well, you know, we will get back to a democracy. What is their reaction now?
FAHIM: I think the first thing that needs to be said is that there's been no real public outcry during the sort of escalating steps against the Brotherhood. There's no sense that the public is turning against the government. We've seen opposition to the government's policies spread amongst a small group of people who we've considered sort of anti-government activists over the last three years. And we've seen a lot of non-Islamist activists imprisoned in the last couple of weeks. And so that's new. You do hear a lot of private expressions of concern about the direction of country. The continued struggles of the economy, you know, the fact that for most people things do not seem to be getting better. And you also hear a concern about the idea that we're entering a new military era. People seem to realize that that might represent a real step backwards for the country after all this turmoil.
LUDDEN: Is there worry also that the Muslim Brotherhood supporters might now be more likely to turn to extremism?
FAHIM: Absolutely. The parallel developments during the last couple of weeks is a very sharp up-tick the number of attacks, mostly on police and security targets but also there was a bombing that struck a public bus. We don't know whether it was accidental that that happened or not. And there is a lot of concern about people who follow the movement, about what will happen, especially to its young supporters, and concern that they could be radicalized over time.
LUDDEN: Kareem Fahim of the New York Times speaking to us from Cairo. Thank you so much.
FAHIM: Thank you.