In Egypt yesterday, the ominously named Cairo Court for Urgent Matters ordered a total ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, recently deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s political party and activist group. The ban extends to all groups that associate with the Muslim Brotherhood or receive its financial backing, and calls for the seizure of all of the Brotherhood’s assets.
The Muslim Brotherhood has existed since the late 1920s, and the organization is devoted to advocating for the adoption of conservative Sunni ideology in both private and public life. It’s been met with resistance from the Egyptian government since its inception, and has been outlawed for most of its existence.
Despite the massive protests that led to Mohammed Morsi’s deposal at the hands of the Egyptian military, it is likely that the Muslim Brotherhood still retains a great deal of support within the Islamist population of Egypt. Ninety percent of the population are Muslim, and—as evidenced by elections and counter-protests—many of them vote along religious lines.
It’s not hard to understand why the Brotherhood is the object of such political pressure: Adherents of the organization stand accused of burning Christian Churches (a claim which many protesters deny), murder, and financing terrorism both in Egypt and abroad. And at the very least, personal freedoms were disappearing under the increasingly non-secular law that Morsi and his party had been implementing. An absurd example arose when the Egyptian analogue of Jon Stewart—Bassem Youssef—was arrested for criticizing the regime in his comedy routine.
These demographics mean that by outright banning the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been labeled a terrorist organization, the Egyptian government may well be encouraging Islamists, giving them a cause to fight. The Brotherhood will almost assuredly become an underground movement and what little transparency it had as a result of being publicly active will be lost. Egyptians, if they were truly interested in combating radical Islam, would be wise to do so while maintaining freedom of speech and freedom of association. Most sensible would be prosecuting violence and terror on a case-by-case basis. As it is, the ban perpetuates a seesaw movement between one ruling set of autocrats and another.