The military-backed government of Egypt has taken the drastic step of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. The pretext was the suicide bombing of a police station in the Nile delta city of Mansoura, which killed 16 and wounded more than 100. The bombing may or may not have been an action of the Brotherhood (Ansar Jerusalem, a separate jihadist group, has claimed responsibility for the bombing), but the declaration is conveniently timed. In mid-January, Egyptians vote on a new constitution that, if approved, would increase the power of the military and ban religious political parties. There is now no middle ground in Egypt.
Hossam Issa, the interim minister of higher education and a deputy prime minister, said on state-run al-Masriaya television, “The government reiterates that there will be no return to the past under any circumstances and Egypt, the state and the people, will never succumb to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood whose crimes have gone far beyond all moral, religious and human limits.” Anyone providing financial aid to the Brotherhood would be punished, and all demonstrations by the organization are banned.
The Brotherhood, of course, put hundreds in the streets of numerous Egyptian cities right after the broadcast. The group issued a statement on line that read in part, “The terrorist coup authorities that are agents for the Zionists announced the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, similar to declaration made against the Palestinian resistance movement by Israel. The coup is terrorism.” When each side calls the other “terrorist,” there isn’t much hope for meaningful discussions.
The American government aimed for that non-existent middle ground. “We think it is essential for Egypt to have an inclusive political process; it is the best means of restoring the stability that the Egyptian people want and that is necessary to the country’s economic recovery,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department. “There needs to be dialogue and political participation across the political spectrum.” CNN notes “She repeated the United States’ condemnation of the bombings, noting the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the bombing and Ansar Jerusalem, in Arabic called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, had taken credit for the attack. She said the United States has designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist group.”
Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement, too, that echoed this pointless optimism, “Political differences, no matter how sharp they may be, should be resolved by peaceful means in the ways of a broad dialogue with the participation of leading political and social forces of the country.”
That is not what is going to happen. President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate who won Egypt’s first free elections, remains in the custody of this unelected government, and show trials are inevitable. The Brotherhood’s absence from the constitutional campaign will undermine the legitimacy of the result, and the military now has a freehand to arrest anyone for suspected membership or suspected financial support.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood’s more radical members will become less controllable and violent. Egypt’s revolution is moving along just as the French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian ones did. Purges and terrors lie ahead, which is not how this started out, but it was entirely predictable from the moment President Mubarak fell.