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17 Aug, 2013 06:55

Egypt mulls ban of Muslim Brotherhood as it calls week of protests

The Muslim Brotherhood may be banned in Egypt, the country’s interim prime minister’s spokesman said. The threat comes after the Islamist movement called for a week of protest against a military crackdown that left over 800 dead.

Egypt's current Prime Minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, proposed on Saturday that the Muslim Brotherhood be dissolved. The idea is being mulled, according to a government spokesman.

Beblawi proposed the dissolution to the minister of social affairs who heads up the ministry tasked with licensing non-governmental organisations. "It is being studied currently," Sherif Shawky said.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood brought tens of thousands of people to the streets across the country following traditional Muslim prayers in what it called a “Friday of Rage.” In Cairo and other cities violent clashes erupted.

Overall, at least 173 people were killed Friday across Egypt, including some police and members of the security forces. This included 95 in central Cairo alone, a spokesperson said on Saturday. The official death toll from the violence now stands at more than 800 since Wednesday, when security forces evicted two large pro-Morsi sit-in camps in Cairo. The crackdown was the worst episode of violence in the country in decades, triggering condemnation from a number of international organizations and foreign governments.

The Brotherhood has called for protest demonstrations to continue every day for the next week.

"Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon," the Brotherhood said in a statement.

Hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters barricaded themselves in the El Fath mosque in central Cairo’s Ramses Square, where a major confrontation with the police took place Friday. Police are surrounding the mosque, saying that they would let women and children leave, but want to take male protesters into custody for questioning. The protesters refused these conditions and remained inside as of Saturday morning.

Police and protesters in the mosque are continuing negotiations for a possible resolution of the stand-off. But fears remain high that security forces may eventually storm the building, which would likely cause more casualties.

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and of ousted president Mohamed Morsi runs past a burning vehicle during clashes with security officers close to Cairo's Ramses Square, on August 16, 2013.(AFP Photo / Virgnie Nguyen Hoang)

Egyptian security forces detained more than 1,000 people during Friday’s protests, many of them armed, police said. More than half of the arrests were made in the capital. The streets of Cairo were quiet overnight, as police, pro-interim government militias and neighborhood watches sought to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

As the stand-off continues, both sides are seeking to rally supporters to their cause. Egyptian state TV has depicted the protest leaders as dangerous terrorists plotting against the country, and its footage of the clashes in Cairo showed people shooting firearms at police. 

Meanwhile, Egypt’s  State Information Service (SIS) released a memo accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of “violent and terror acts” aimed at the “killing of innocent people and setting churches and public and private property on fire along with storming police stations and blocking roads.”

The statement also "noticed that some media coverage has steered away from objectivity and neutrality that are internationally common."

Other reports said Morsi supporters used rockets in an attack on a governmental building in El Arish, a city in the turbulent Sinai Peninsula, and tried to shoot down a military helicopter flying over Cairo.

Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi throw stones as they clash with security officers in Cairo's Ramses Square, on August 16, 2013.(AFP Photo / Virgnie Nguyen Hoang)

Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church issued a statement on Friday, saying it supported the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The statement comes after numerous reports of attacks on Christian churches across the country. 

The Muslim Brotherhood has accuses the military of using indiscriminate lethal force against peaceful demonstrations, and have accused the police of sending armed provocateurs into the ranks of the protesters.

Anti-military bloggers on social networks claimed that an army unit had defected to the side of the protesters Friday, taking an armored vehicle with them. The military denied the report as an unfounded rumor coming from the “ill imagination” of the protesters.

#UN under-secretary general Jeffrey #Feltman will visit #Cairo next week to discuss the situation with #Egypt's authorities

— PaulaSlier_RT (@PaulaSlier_RT) August 17, 2013

The killings in Egypt were condemned by many in the West, including the EU and the US government. Washington called off key joint military exercise with Egypt in a show of disaffection with the military’s violent crackdown, but stopped short of cutting off annual military aid of $1.3 billion to the country. Britain and France called an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday to discuss "appropriate measures" in reaction to the violence. Several Latin American countries recalled their ambassadors to Egypt.

Reaction in the Arab world was split toward the Egyptian crisis. Turkey, whose moderate Islamist government is friendly toward the Muslim Brotherhood, strongly criticized the crackdown and called off a joint military drill with Egypt. Criticism also came from Qatar and Tunisia, while Iran voiced concerns that the violence would spread.

The US can't stop $1.3b military aid to Egypt because that would cancel a 30+ year gravy train for US contractors http://t.co/vihqM6aq8b

— Bel Trew - بل ترو (@Beltrew) August 17, 2013

Strongly-worded support for the security crackdown on the Egyptian opposition came Friday from Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by an Islamist monarchy. King Abdullah called on Arabs to stand together against "attempts to destabilize" Egypt and endorsed the use of term “terrorists” to describe the Brotherhood protesters.

Saudi’s support was mirrored by the United Arab Emirates, another gulf monarchy. UAE’s King Abdullah said in a statement he stood against “those who fan up flames of hatred and [think that] chaos will promote the victory of Egypt, Islam and Arabism,” Emirates news agency WAP said.

Similar statements of approval came from Bahrain and Jordan.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, a pro-Morsi demonstration organized by the radical Hamas movement was dispersed by local security forces controlled by the moderate Fatah movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

One key regional player, Israel, remains silent on the situation in Egypt, a country that has played an important part for Israel’s national security since the signing of the Camp David peace accords in 1978.

“Anything we say will be held against us,” an Israeli official said in a comment to The New York Times on condition of anonymity. “If we condemn the violence, we will be accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. And if we say we don’t condemn it, then it looks like Israel is in cahoots with the Egyptian army.”

The deteriorating security in the Sinai is certain to be of great concern to Israel, however. On Tuesday, a rocket from Sinai crossed into Israel, where Islamist militants are increasingly active, targeting the southern resort city of Eilat. The Israelis shot it down with an Iron Dome missile interceptor.