Cairo, Egypt - The Muslim Brotherhood continues to mobilise its supporters and call for mass protests against Egypt's military coup, less than a week after the Ministry of Social Solidarity decided to officially disband the Brotherhood as a group. The move did away with the last thread of the group's legal existence.
"What is the Muslim Brotherhood group under Egyptian law now? It doesn't exist," said Mahmoud Abdullah, a lawyer affiliated with the socialist al-Tagammu Party.
Abdullah had filed a lawsuit with the Court of Urgent Matters in Cairo to ban "all activities" of the Brotherhood and seize its members' funds, and the court ruled in his favour on September 23. The Ministry of Social Solidarity's subsequent decision was based on the court's verdict.
"We submitted evidence including pictures and testimonies of the group's members carrying weapons and resorting to violence," Abdullah said.
The statement issued by the Ministry of Social Solidarity said the violations committed by the Brotherhood include using its headquarters to store weapons, firing live ammunition from its headquarters and using violence against the public. The Brotherhood has reiterated in several statements that it is peaceful and will continue to fight peacefully against the coup.
Filing a complaint
According to its lawyers, the Brotherhood wasn't allowed to defend itself against the ban. "We were not even adversaries in this case," said Mamdouh Ahmed, a lawyer representing the Brotherhood. "That's why we're going to file a complaint to an administrative court after Eid, demanding that the verdict against us is not acknowledged."
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Ahmed said the Ministry should have waited until October 22, when the court will issue a ruling on whether to implement the verdict to ban the Brotherhood's activities, before moving to dissolve the group.
However, the court's verdict is only temporary. Legal experts explain that the Court for Urgent Matters issues swift, temporary verdicts in cases in which citizens are deemed to be at danger, which are in effect until normal courts issue a verdict on the case, which usually takes much longer.
A separate court is also reviewing a case to dissolve the Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), because of claims it is based on religious references and ideologies. No verdict has been issued in this case yet.
Ahmed speculated that the Brotherhood would lose both of these legal battles. "All the judiciary is politicised now, and it's leaning towards eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.
The Brotherhood's current position marks a stark reversal of fortunes: Just a few months ago, the group was the most powerful political organisation in Egypt, having won a string of elections, and was supported by the president himself.
But now, ousted President Mohamed Morsi is being held in an undisclosed location, and has been referred to trial on charges of murder, attempted murder and inciting violence during clashes at the presidential palace on December 5, 2012. Around 2,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, and most of the group's leaders are either behind bars or on the run.
This isn't the first time the group has been shut down by the state. In 1954, the Brotherhood was banned after being blamed for a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser. However, the Brotherhood continued to flourish underground.
During President Hosni Mubarak's reign, the Brotherhood was allowed to operate from its headquarters, and its members participated as independents in parliamentary elections, despite frequent crackdowns. In 2005, its candidates won 20 percent of the seats in parliament.
"We were a banned group before the January 25 revolution, yet we worked publicly and with the people," said Mohamed al-Sisi, a member of the FJP's legal committee. "They can call us a banned group again all they want … we gain our legitimacy from the streets and from integrating with the people."
The group has been involved in charity and social work for decades, helping create a base of supporters that backed it in several elections following the 2011 revolt.
In March 2013, the group formally registered itself as a non-governmental organisation to legalise its position for the first time.
Failed reconciliation attempts between the Brotherhood and the government made headlines this week, following a meeting on Friday between constitutional expert and former minister Ahmed Kamal Abul Magd, members of the Brotherhood, and the Anti-Coup Alliance - an umbrella group that opposes the Egyptian military's July 3 takeover and includes the Brotherhood, Morsi supporters, and self-defined Islamist groups like Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya.
Mohamed Ali Bishr, a leading Brotherhood member and a former minister of local development, attended the meeting and said in statements posted on the FJP's official website that the conditions of dialogue announced by Abul Magd, which include acknowledging the current government's legitimacy and ending media campaigns against the leaders of the coup, had not been discussed in the meeting.
He added that these points were "unacceptable" as the beginning of a real dialogue.
But Omar Ashour, the director of the University of Exeter's Middle East Graduate Studies programme, said the Brotherhood's leaders had few options, adding that they were willing to offer concessions in exchange for releasing their members and including them in the political process.
"However, the military generals are the ones who call the shots and they don’t want to negotiate with the [Brotherhood]," Ashour said. "The military has the power to remove the president, commit mass murder and suspend the constitution, without being held accountable."
'The people's will'
Bishr said, "The only condition the Alliance has [for dialogue] is the return of constitutional legitimacy, which is the people's will".
This does not necessarily mean restoring Morsi to serve out the remainder of his term. "We want the elected president to come back even temporarily - and he can hold early presidential elections or a referendum on whether he should stay in power or leave … that's the path to democracy," the FJP's Sisi said, adding that those responsible for killing the anti-coup protesters had to be held accountable for their crimes.
With more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters killed since July 3, the Brotherhood is not likely to acknowledge the military-backed leaders' legitimacy and accept their roadmap without getting anything in return.
Despite the security crackdown on the Brotherhood and the Anti-Coup Alliance, the groups have managed to hold significant protests across the country on an almost daily basis. Ashour estimates that the Brotherhood has at least five million core supporters out of Egypt's 90 million people.
For the time being, said Ashour, the Brotherhood's best option is to continue protesting on the streets and pursuing those responsible for the bloodshed. But this, he said, will be a long-term process.