Trump’s Brotherhood move likely to embolden Cairo

The Muslim Brotherhood became the Egyptian state’s enemy No. 1 in 2013 when its militias attacked against state institutions, police stations and churches.
Sunday 12/05/2019
Maintained pressure. Members of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood are seen inside a glass dock during their trial in Cairo, last July. (AFP)
Maintained pressure. Members of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood are seen inside a glass dock during their trial in Cairo, last July. (AFP)

CAIRO - An expected designation by the United States of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organisation could embolden Egypt to take fiercer measures against the Islamist movement, analysts said.

These measures would help Cairo abolish the movement, make its financing run dry and eliminate it from public memory, they added.

“Egypt has gone a long way in eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood already,” said Hesham al-Najjar, a specialist in Islamist movements. “Nonetheless, the designation would give Egyptian efforts in this regard a huge impetus.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, an 80-year-old Islamist movement that is believed to be the foundation of political Islam and an ideological term of reference for all Islamist movements, became the Egyptian state’s enemy No. 1 in 2013 when its militias attacked against state institutions, police stations and churches.

The attacks followed the ousting of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a Brotherhood member, during an army-backed popular uprising, after he failed to deliver on electoral promises to salvage the economy and unify Egyptians, one year after he was elected president.

In recent years, Brotherhood-linked militias have killed many policemen and burned dozens of churches.

Following Morsi’s ouster, a Brotherhood senior executive revealed the presence of coordination between the movement and a branch of the Islamic State in Sinai. Attacks against the Egyptian Army in Sinai, Mohamed al-Beltagui said, would end immediately after Morsi was returned to power.

“The movement’s violence and links to terrorism are beyond doubt,” said Najjar, a former member of the Brotherhood.

Egypt countered the terrorism by sentencing a huge number of Brotherhood members, including most of its leaders, to prison. Egyptian authorities disbanded almost all Brotherhood militias.

In late 2013, the Egyptian government declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist group.” In September 2018, the government confiscated the funds of hundreds of Brotherhood members and companies. The act included millions of dollars, 188 companies, 1,113 charities and 104 schools. The entities were said to be important financing methods for Brotherhood activities.

However, as it maintained pressure on the Islamist movement, Cairo always had an eye on external attention on the crackdown.

International reaction to Morsi’s ousting ranged from sharp criticism to warm welcome. The administration of US President Barack Obama criticised the move and withheld military aid from Egypt. There was similar criticism in many European capitals. In most of the Arab Gulf, especially where the Brotherhood was a security threat, there was welcome.

“There was a huge international reaction to the popular uprising against Morsi,” said Ashraf Amin, a former assistant to the Egyptian interior minister. “This was why Egypt knew that it did not work in a vacuum as it clamped down on this movement.”

However, the possible US terrorist tag on the Muslim Brotherhood would exempt Egypt from worries over what the world thinks or reacts as it tries to dismantle the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is deeply rooted in the Egyptian society. It runs schools and nurseries that were important recruitment grounds. The Brotherhood sent its educated members to mosques around Egypt to offer free tuition to pupils.

Most of the nurseries and the schools are in state hands now and Brotherhood control over the mosques is something of the past.

Nevertheless, Egypt needs to get to the roots of Brotherhood financing, with the organisation having a strong stream of finance from channels that are, on the surface, unrelated to the movement. These channels include business activities that are not registered in the name of Brotherhood members, analysts said.

They added that the transnational nature of the Brotherhood, which has branches in many countries around the world and secret investments, makes elimination of the funding sources of the movement next to impossible.

“Some of these funding sources are present outside Egypt,” said retired police General Farouk al-Megrahi. “This means that the Egyptian government cannot control them.”

The possible American terrorist label for the movement would punish those with links to it, including companies that do business for or with the movement. This, analysts said, would make Egypt’s mission of choking the organisation to death a lot easier.

“Funding is the buzzword for any terrorist activity,” Amin said. “The American terrorist label would tighten the noose around the Brotherhood financially, which will significantly facilitate Egypt’s mission of ending this movement once and for all.”

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