Egypt: No immediate move to dismantle Brotherhood

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military-backed government on Tuesday signaled it was in no rush to dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood, preferring to wait for a ruling outlawing the ousted president’s group to be upheld by a higher tribunal.

The group rejected Monday’s court verdict and vowed to appeal it. But with much of their leadership in prison and public opinion appearing to run strongly against them, analysts said the Brotherhood can do little more.

In New York, meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said that future support for Egypt would depend on its progress in pursuing democracy.

In the nearly three months since a coup ousted President Mohammed Morsi after millions took to the streets demanding his removal, the government has rounded up around 2,000 top leaders, mid-level organizers, and rank-and-file members of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails. Many have been charged with inciting of violence.

Hundreds have been killed in government crackdowns on protest camps and demonstrations, while Morsi supporters have attacked churches and police stations in retaliation.

The media depicts the interim government as waging a war on terror, and public opinion appears to support the crackdown as well as extraordinary measures, like a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew, that the state says is necessary.

Monday’s court verdict, which orders that the group be outlawed and its assets confiscated, was widely seen as a dramatic escalation in the campaign against the Brotherhood, a prelude to the draining of its funding and the closure of its elaborate network of social services, schools and hospitals. These have been crucial to the group’s effort to build grassroots support, and are credited with a major role in its election victories.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s state-run news agency reported that the Cabinet has “postponed taking any decisions” to implement the court order, deciding instead to await “final court rulings out of respect for the judiciary.”

Ibrahim el-Sayyed, a senior official of the Brotherhood’s political arm — the Freedom and Justice Party — said the group will appeal the verdict although it rejects it.

“This is an attempt to terrorize (group) members, ” he told The Associated Press. “Nothing will stop us,” he said, alluding to previous crackdowns on the Brotherhood throughout its 85-year history. He said Brotherhood-affiliated hospitals and schools would continue to work.

But others said the movement’s options were few. “The Brotherhood is dying,” says Ammar Ali Hassan, a scholar of Islamic movements. “The ban order was welcomed by the people after the group lost public support … Now their hands are tied and there is little they can do.”

The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was outlawed 20 years later and again in 1954 by the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who imprisoned and executed several of its top leaders.

The Brotherhood’s fortunes rose dramatically in the wake of the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. It quickly formed a political party and won a series of elections, including the 2012 ballot that brought Morsi to office. However, its legal status remained hazy. In March, it registered as a non-governmental organization, but its entire network was not brought under the association’s aegis.

The verdict ordered a ban of the group itself — including the official association it registered earlier this year — as well as “any institution branching out of it or … receiving financial support from it.”

Egypt’s official MENA news agency said Minister of Social Solidarity Ahmed el-Borai, who is in charge of registering NGOs, has presented a bill to “disband” the Brotherhood as a non-governmental group.

Several other courts are looking into similar suits. Egypt’s Administrative Court is also looking into the legality of the group’s registered non-governmental organization. The court is holding its next session on Nov. 12.

Meanwhile, security forces continued a campaign against Islamist strongholds that have resisted the interim government’s authority. On Tuesday, special forces conducted house-to-house raids in search of wanted suspects in the village of Nahya, just west of Cairo.

Officials said they were looking in particular for those behind the brutal killing last month of 15 policemen in the adjacent town of Kerdasa that followed the deadly crackdown on the pro-Morsi protest camps.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, a spokesman for the 50-member panel tasked to amend the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution suspended by the July 3 coup said a subcommittee has made “big and core changes” to trim the powers of the president.

Among proposed changes, Mohammed Salmawy said, the president’s oath of office will include a clause saying he respects the constitution and the law.

“The oath includes a clear clause on (him) protecting the constitution, and if he violates it, therefore, it is a breach,” Salmawy told reporters.

According to the official Al-Ahram daily, other amendments included that the president is no longer supreme commander of the police as it has been customary, a change that is designed to protect the force from being manipulated by the head of state.

Meanwhile, in New York, Obama said that future support to Egypt will depend upon “Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path,” hoping to maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government in Egypt while avoiding choosing sides.

Obama told the U.N. General Assembly that the U.S. will continue to offer support to Egypt in areas such as education, which benefits the Egyptian people. But he says the U.S. has held up the delivery of certain military aid.

The U.S. provides Egypt with about $1.5 billion a year, mostly in military aid. The president’s top national security aides have recommended suspending much of the money.

In an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Cairo’s relations with Washington were currently “turbulent” and the Egyptian public has adopted “unprecedentedly negative views” on the United States.

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