By Wael Nawara:
Reprinted from Al-Monitor.
The interim Egyptian government is threatening to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and place it on the terrorist organization list in Egypt. Blaming a defiant Brotherhood for the deadly confrontations, attacks on churches, police stations and government buildings, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi proposed dissolving the group. The Brotherhood’s assets may be confiscated, operations prohibited and membership criminalized. This move could usher in mass arrests of members countrywide. If considered a terrorist organization, the Brotherhood will be excluded from the political process. How did we get to this point and what does this mean to hopes of returning to calm and an end to violence in Egypt.
Few people know that the Muslim Brotherhood organization had always been banned in Egypt since 1948. After several assassinations and bombings which took the lives of several prime ministers, judges and even disavowed members of the Brotherhood itself. The long list included Ahmed Maher, al-Nokrashy, al-Khazendar and Fayez Halawa. In 1954, the Brotherhood made an attempt on Gamal Abdel Nasser, then Egypt’s prime minister. Following that, many of theBrotherhood leaders were arrested and received long prison and even death sentences. In the 1970s, Sadat allowed the Brotherhood and Islamists to regroup in an effort to use them against Nasserists and socialists as the group had been used in the 1940s, against communism. It was ironic for Sadat to be killed at the hands of Islamists in 1981. Most Islamist terrorist organizations that exist in the world today are spin-offs of the Brotherhood which was never legally resurrected since the 1950s. In Egypt, the Brotherhood started again to operate as a clandestine organization owning businesses, manipulating unions and syndicates, operating charities often linked to mosques and also having its own militias. Money poured from local and overseas operations which the Brotherhood had in 80 countries. Despite having no legal political party, the Brotherhoodwas allowed by the Mubarak regime to field candidates in parliamentary elections since 1983. In 2005, it managed to get around 20% of the seats.
After the January 2011 revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to form a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), without being asked to review the legal, or rather illegal, status of its clandestine cancerous operations. Combining a legal party with a secret international organization, meant that the Brotherhood could have the best of both worlds and enjoy tremendous financial and organizational advantages over its political competitors. Utilizing the Brotherhood’s strong organizational capabilities and vast financial resources, FJP managed to get 46% of the parliament’s seats and their presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, earned 25% of the votes in the first round and 52% in the run off. Here is where things get a little weird.
Even after the Brotherhood reached power, it made no effort to legalize its operations, or even separate the FJP from the Brotherhood. The spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, which had no legal standing as a political party, or any legal entity for that matter, continued to set the political directions of the country, meet with foreign leaders, direct the parliament and tellMorsi what to do. Gradually, Egyptians realized that the illegal Muslim Brotherhood organization was the real ruler of Egypt while Morsi was no more than a façade, a mere representative of that organization in the presidency. Protests would often chant for the downfall of the “Morshed”, Mohamed Badei, the supreme guide of the Brothers, now in custody under investigation for his alleged role in ordering the killing of protesters, and not Morsi, whom as they came to discover was a puppet figure at best. In March 2013, after tremendous public pressure, the Brothers filed to register a charity under the name “The Muslim Brotherhood.” But on the books, none of the businesses owned by the Brotherhood appeared on record, since it is illegal in Egypt for political parties or NGOs to own businesses.
Can the government dissolve the Brotherhood? In practical terms, the government cannot dissolve the Brotherhood’s real organization, as opposed to the façade FJP or the newly-formed dummy NGO, because the real organization has no legal status, books or registration of any kind. All of its assets are owned and/or registered in someone else’s name, usually that of a trusted member. Like mafia organizations, it is usually difficult to track what a secret underground organization does or holds. All the government can do is investigate these businesses and associations and review their books. The government can, however, dissolve FJPif evidence suggested it engaged in violence or illegal activities.
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