CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Monday issued an injunction dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood and confiscating its assets, escalating a broad crackdown on the group less than three months since the military ousted its ally, President Mohammed Morsi.
The ruling, by the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters, amounts to a preliminary injunction shutting down the Brotherhood until a higher court renders a more permanent verdict. The leftist party Tagammu had sought the immediate action, accusing the Brotherhood of “terrorism” and of exploiting religion for political gain. The court ordered the Brotherhood’s assets to be held in trust until a final decision.
If confirmed, the ban on the Brotherhood — Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group — would further diminish hopes of the new government’s fulfilling its promise to restart a democratic political process that would include Morsi’s Islamist supporters. For now, though, it effectively formalizes the suppression of the Brotherhood that is already well under way.
Since Morsi’s ouster, the new government appointed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has killed more than 1,000 Brotherhood members in mass shootings at protests against the takeover and arrested thousands more, including almost all of the group’s leaders. Security services have closed offices of the group and its political party in cities around the country. Members are now sometimes afraid to speak publicly by name for fear of reprisals.
And even before Morsi was overthrown, the police watched idly as a crowd of anti-Brotherhood protesters methodically burned down the group’s gleaming Cairo headquarters — a symbol of its emergence after the 2011 revolution from decades underground. The destruction capped weeks of attacks on its offices around the country.
Some Islamist lawyers said Monday that they would appeal the injunction, but the Brotherhood’s legal status is likely to remain uncertain for some time. Amid the anti-Islamist fervor after Morsi’s ouster, the group now faces several similar legal claims seeking to rescind its license or prohibit its work, and it is unclear how long it might take to resolve them.
In a statement issued from an office in London — out of reach of the Egyptian police — the Brotherhood called the verdict “an attack on democracy,” arguing that the court overstepped its jurisdiction and failed to allow the group to present its side of the case. “It is clearly an attempt to ban the Muslim Brotherhood from political participation,” statement said, accusing the military leaders of “throwing Egypt back into its darkest days of dictatorship and tyranny.”
“We have existed for 85 years, and will continue to do so,” it continued. “We are part and parcel of the Egyptian society, and a corrupt and illegitimate judicial decision cannot change that.”
Laying out its reasoning, the court reached back to the Brotherhood’s founding as a religious revival group in 1928, when Egypt was in the last tumultuous decades under a British-backed monarchy. From its beginning, the court argued, the Brotherhood has always used Islam as a tool to achieve its political goals and adopted violence as its tactic.
The state newspaper Al Ahram elaborated further, declaring on its website that the court found the Brotherhood had “violated the rights of the citizens, who found only oppression and arrogance during their reign” — until fatigued citizens had risen up this summer “under the protection of the armed forces, the sword of the homeland inseparable from their people in the confrontation with an unjust regime.”
Despite the tone of the official news media, it was hard to discern whether the court’s ruling was part of a plan by the generals now leading Egypt or a more ad hoc judicial decision, said Michael Hanna, a researcher who studies Egypt at the Century Foundation in New York. “It could be part of a broader strategy with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood, or it could be that people in the military were as surprised as anyone,” he said.
In a sweeping injunction, the court banned both the Brotherhood itself and “all activities” it organized, sponsored or financed. It immediately returned the Brotherhood to the outlawed, underground status it occupied for most of its 85 years, including the long decades from President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1954 crackdown on the group until the 2011 revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
If enforced, the ruling could take a toll on communities across Egypt where the Brotherhood has often played a philanthropic role. For decades, the Brotherhood has also played an open role in political life by sponsoring candidates who formed a minority bloc of the Parliament.