CAIRO // An Egyptian court yesterday banned the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered the confiscation of its money, assets and buildings.
The ruling covers “any institution branching out of it or … receiving financial support from it”, which could hit the movement’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
In a damning indictment the judge said the Brotherhood used Islam as “a cover to activities that violate Islam and its rulings. It violated the rights of citizens”.
Under the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi “citizens lost their basic rights for social justice and security” and “Egyptians found only repression and arrogance”.
The ruling by the Court for Urgent Matters is the latest blow to the Islamist group since the removal in July of Mr Morsi, a former Brotherhood leader.
Last month, security forces stormed two Cairo protest camps, sparking clashes in which hundreds of Islamist demonstrators were killed.
Yesterday’s ruling was on a lawsuit filed by the leftist Tagammu party that accused the Brotherhood of being “terrorist” and “exploiting religion in political slogans”. The court did not address the terrorism accusation, beyond calling on Al Azhar, the Sunni world’s premier religious authority, to confront “extremist thought that supports terrorism”.
The judge also said an independent committee should be formed by the cabinet to manage the Brotherhood’s money until final court orders are issued.
The Brotherhood has been outlawed for most of its 85 years. After the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 it emerged to work openly, opened a formal headquarters, formed a political party for the first time and rose to power in a string of post-Mubarak elections.
Nevertheless, its legal status remained hazy. In March, it registered as a non-governmental organisation, but its entire network was not brought under the association’s control.
“This is totalitarian decision,” a leading Brotherhood member, Ibrahim Moneir, said yesterday. “You are losers, and the Brotherhood will remain with God’s help, not by the orders by the judiciary of El Sisi.” Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the defence minister, led the overthrow of Mr Morsi after mass protests by millions demanding he step down, accusing him of power abuse and allowing the Brotherhood and other Islamists to monopolise rule.
Since then, security forces have arrested about 2,000 of the group’s members, including many of its senior figures and many of its middle ranks. Mr Morsi, held in secret military detention, faces trial on charges of inciting the killing of protesters during his year in office.
The Brotherhood’s top leader and his deputies are also on trial, others are expected to be referred to courts soon, and assets of many senior memers have already been frozen. Officials and sympathetic media accuse the group of fomenting a wave of violence in retaliation for Mr Morsi’s removal.
The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have continued protests demanding his reinstatement, but the rallies have grown weaker under the army’s crackdown.
The group insists its protests are non-violent but dozens of churches and police stations came under attack and armed Morsi supporters exchanged gunfire and clashed with security forces in two Islamists strongholds.
“This time, the group will return to darkness but much weaker than before after losing popular support,” said Abdullah El Moghazi, a former parliamentarian who sat on a consultative body that advised the military generals who ruled Egypt for more than a year after Mubarak’s fall and before Mr Morsi’s election.
He said that after Mubarak’s removal the Brotherhood was never formally legalised but military leaders “turned a blind eye”, allowing it to create a political party without formalising its legal status.
Essam El Islambouli, a legal expert, said the ruling would probably mean the disbanding of the Freedom and Justice party, although the verdict did not specifically mention it.
Perhaps most importantly, the ruling — if upheld in later stages — would give authorities a legal basis for moving against the Brotherhood’s network of businesses, schools, hospitals and charities that has been the foundation of its political power, provided it with financing and recruits and built popular grassroots support.
Several other courts are looking into similar lawsuits. The Administrative Court is examining the legality of the Brotherhood’s registered non-governmental organisation. A non-binding panel of judges recommended that it be dissolved and the Brotherhood headquarters closed on the ground that it was operating outside law. The court is holding its next session on November 12.