Egypt Considers Outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood

The military crackdown on pro-Morsi protests in the country continued on Saturday as exchanges of gunfire erupted around the Fateh mosque in Cairo.

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The military crackdown on pro-Morsi protests in the country continued on Saturday as exchanges of gunfire erupted around the Fateh mosque in Cairo. And as loyalists to deposed (former) president Mohamed Morsi — the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups who also supported the former president — become more isolated in Egypt, the Prime Minister has proposed dissolving the party altogether.

On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi sent a proposal to the government that would remove the group's NGO status, essentially dissolving the organization in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood was last dissolved in the '50's, and only just registered legally as an NGO in March, according to Reuters. The group's political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, was registered in 2011. Meanwhile, the Egyptian presidency has started referring to pro-Morsi protesters as the "enemy," with the insinuation that the protests are instigated or influenced by foreigners.

The presidency, in a press conference held in English, also referred to a "war by the forces of extremism", and vowed to fight "extremism and terrorism through security measures."

According to the latest official figures from Saturday, 173 people died in Egypt yesterday, in addition to the over 600 killed in the first 24 hours of a brutal crackdown against pro-Morsi supporters in the country, who have staged sit-ins around Cairo since the July uprising that led to the military deposition of Egypt's most recent democratically-elected leader. As many have noted, Saturday's presidential press conference seemed aimed right at the international community, who have protested (to some extent) the military crackdown on supporters of former president Morsi on humanitarian grounds.

But in Egypt, the Brotherhood does not see popular support.

As Egypt announced a deeper crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — they've arrested over 1,000 leaders of the group so far — the military exchanged heavy gunfire with pro-Morsi protesters holed up in the Fateh mosque. According to Al Jazeera, many of the protesters had been there since Friday, and were worried that the anti-Morsi crowds outside of the mosque wouldn't let the leave safely. One witness, speaking from inside, told the station that she believes the military fired at the mosque after a sniper in the minaret fired on security forces.

Reuters has a more detailed account (though, caveat, it relies on a single witness) of what allegedly happened outside the mosque before the gunfire erupted:

Tensions started to run high when a woman wearing a niqab - the full head to toe black veil - tried to walk out of the mosque, said a Reuters witness.

A group of about 10 soldiers had been telling people to leave the mosque and that they would be in no danger.

When the woman approached them, people in the mosque could be overheard saying she was the wife of a Brotherhood leader and was in danger of being arrested. She walked back into the mosque, looked up and said something to a group of pro-Mursi gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

That is when the shooting started.

Photo: Reuters, inside the mosque.

Photo: Reuters, security forces inside the mosque. 

A number of reporters were on the scene of the siege at the mosque. After the crowds began to turn on them, it looks like the military detained them for a period of time.

While there are no indications of the casualty toll from the shootings yet, reports indicate that the situation at the mosque has since calmed down now that the military has 'cleared' the mosque. But it's not clear how long that calm will last: the Muslim Brotherhood has called for daily protests against the military crackdown, and the ouster of Morsi.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.