The government’s reaction to the latest violence in Egypt runs risks of further inflaming political divisions. Little hope remains that the generals who ousted elected president Mohammed Mursi six months ago might knit society back together.
A decision to brand his Muslim Brotherhood movement a terrorist organisation, however, has plenty of public backing.
One Cairo resident said: “I support the government decision, though it’s a bit late. The Muslim Brotherhood has been a terrorist organisation for 80 years, and has always survived through killing.”
Another resident told us: “It’s a good decision, but late. This is the most appropriate punishment for them, because we are now in a state of war.”
Yet while many Egyptians approve the crack-down on the group, the Muslim Brotherhood says it remains committed to peaceful resistance. At the same time, being labelled a terrorist organisation pushes the brothers deeper underground.
But they have only ever been half legal, at most – banned in the late years of former president Mubarak’s rule.
Its followers, however, were able to participate in elections, with candidates running as ‘independents.
Their organisation grew strong enough to win the first free elections after the end of the Mubarak regime, making Mursi president.
But since his overthrow in July this year, the state has killed hundreds of his supporters in the streets and arrested thousands more. Mursi and other top Brotherhood leaders last week were charged with terrorism and plotting with foreign militants against Egypt. They could face the death penalty. Their defenders chanted ‘down with the military judges!’
In mid-January Egypt is due to hold a referendum on a new constitution. Already before this week’s developments the Brotherhood had called for non-participation.
With their designation as a terrorist organisation, many fear hardliners could get the upper hand inside the movement.
Brotherhood spokesman Amr Farouk said just days ago: “The national alliance supporting legitimacy announces it’s decision to boycott this invalid referendum that is being conducted by the bloody fascist coup authority.”
The referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential polls, with army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi widely tipped to win, if he runs, and if Egypt does not spiral out of control.