Egyptian security forces arrested on Thursday 18 Muslim Brotherhood members, including a former lawmaker, a day after their organization was declared by the government a terrorist group.
Seven were detained for a renewable two-week period in the city of Alexandria and 11 in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig.
They include the son of a deputy leader of deposed president Mohammad Mursi’s movement, the official MENA news agency reported.
Police also arrested 16 suspected Muslim Brotherhood members for passing out leaflets in support of the group and “inciting to violence,” the agency reported.
The government on Wednesday blacklisted the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized all its activities, its financing and even membership to the group from which the country’s ousted president hails.
The announcement is aimed at crippling the Brotherhood and poses a dramatic escalation of the fight between the government and group, which has waged near-daily protests since the July 3 popularly backed military coup that toppled President Mohammad Mursi.
Hossam Eissa, the Minister of Higher Education, said that the decision was in response a deadly bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city which killed 16 people and wounded more than 100 on Tuesday.
The Brotherhood denied responsibility for the Mansoura attack and blamed the notorious security regime of former President Hosni Mubarak of masterminding it.
It said the decision to blacklist it would not affect its activities and vowed to keep up protests.
“The protests will continue, certainly,” Ibrahim Munir, a member of the group’s executive council who is in exile in London, told AFP, adding the move was “illegitimate.”
“This is an attempt to frame the Brotherhood,” Munir said, according to AFP.
The Brotherhood, established in 1928, denounced violence in the late 1970s. Ibrahim Elsayed, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political group, the Freedom and Justice Party, also said the government announcement will have no impact on the work or the beliefs of the group, because it has seen repeated government repression and continued to exist with a moderate view of Islam, Associated Press reported.
“This decision is as if it never happened. It has no value for us and is only worth the paper it is written on,” he told The Associated Press. “It won’t impact us from near and far. Ideas won’t be impacted by false accusations. We uphold this call only for the sake of God.”
The declaration, Eissa said, means that those who “participate in the group’s activities, in the organization or promotion verbally or by writing or by any other means or financing its activities” will be facing punishment according to the law. He said that the government had notified other Arab countries about its decision. The Brotherhood has organizations and political parties in other nations in the region.
Ahmed el-Borai, the Minister of Social Solidarity, told reporters in a news conference that the decision means “all activities of the Muslim Brotherhood group are – banned including the demonstrations.” He said that members who abandon their membership and withdraw from the group “will be pardoned.”
The declaration also gives the armed forces and the police the right to enter universities and prevent protests, as “protection to the students,” el-Borai said.
The decision comes after a sweeping decision Tuesday aimed at draining the Brotherhood’s finances by freezing the funds of more than 1,000 non-government organizations with links to the group and putting more than 100 schools run by the group under government supervision. That directly attacks the grassroots strength of the Brotherhood, where it has much of its power in Egyptian life.
Rifaat Laqoushah, a political analyst, said that the government decision is “procedural” and that it could be overturned by the courts.
“The government should present strong evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood collaboration in terrorism and present it to courts in order to win a court ruling branding the group as a terrorist one,” Laqoushah said.
Earlier Wednesday, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, said in an online statement that it carried out the attack in Mansoura police headquarters attack Tuesday to avenge the “shedding of innocent Muslim blood” at the hands of Egypt’s “apostate regime” – a reference to the security forces’ crackdown on Islamists following the coup, Associated Press reported.
While the claim posted on a militant website could not be absolutely verified, it corresponded with previous messages issued by the group on the same forum. It identified the suicide bomber in Tuesday’s attack by the nickname Abu Mariam.
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis has emerged as the main Sinai-based militant group staging attacks against Egyptian security forces. The group has claimed most major attacks in the Sinai and Suez Canal-area cities in recent months, as well as a failed attempt to assassinate the country’s interior minister in September.
On Monday, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis issued a message threatening more attacks against Egyptian troops, saying it considers them to be infidels because they answer to the secular-leaning government.