Egypt's government escalates campaign to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World.
Let's check in on Egypt, because it's been a week of heightened tensions and violence there. Today, police forces clashed with pro-Islamist protestors in several Egyptian cities. That came after two high profile bombings this week. One of them, an apparent suicide bombing on Tuesday in the Nile Delta region that killed 16 people. After that blast, the military-backed government in Cairo declared the Muslim Brotherhood "a terrorist organization."
Wall Street Journal reporter, Matt Bradley, is in Cairo. He says the government is trying to do away with the Muslim Brotherhood as a political movement, once and for all.

Matt Bradley: It's been tried before, under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, in the 1950s and 60s. He moved very strongly against the Brotherhood, and essentially tried to imprison as many of them as possible, and tried to sort of cleanse the society of this Islamist group. As we've seen, that failed. That was 60 years ago, when the Muslim Brotherhood was the strongest political entity on the political scene, as about two years ago, right after the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak. A lot of people are saying that this has been tried before and that it's probably not going to work because the Muslim Brotherhood just has way too many in-roads into society, in places that the government simply is absent.

Werman: Right, give us an example or two of that.

Bradley: Well, for example, the Ministry of Social Solidarity just yesterday announced that they had seized over a thousand different non-governmental organizations, here in Egypt, that were connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. These organizations provide services for the poor, they provide food, they provide education, healthcare, all things that the government offers but doesn't always--isn't always able to follow through on, because the public health system, the public education system, they're somewhat derelict in this country. So the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations step in to fill that gap. And so now, what we're seeing is a really concerted effort, not just to attack the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership, not just to suppress protests, but to dismantle the organization and, some would say, the benefits that it provides to society.

Werman: So how will this crackdown actually help the Egyptian government? It seems like it would be completely counterproductive.

Bradley: Well, it will help the Egyptian government by ridding the political field of the strongest competitor to the regime. If the Islamists are no longer on the political scene, then the regime - the military backed regime that came in on July 3rd, when mister Morsi, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted - they will have a lot less to worry about. They won't have to be concerned so much about an actual electoral competition from the Muslim Brotherhood. We have to remember that when Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood has batted a thousand in every election since then.

Werman: I mean, this has been a crazy year for Egypt, Matt. Ouster of President Morsi, renewed support for the military and General el-Sisi, and now the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood. And yet today, fresh protests in parts of the country from the Muslim Brotherhood. Where does this leave the revolution, you know, that heady moment that began all of this almost three years ago?

Bradley: Well, that has been one of the great questions for a lot of these sort of secularist activists. Pro-democracy activists who, they were in the streets to protest against Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. They've been pushing for having elections, they've been pushing for a fair system that allowed for the Egyptian public to vote who they preferred into office. But then they also, a year after Mohamed Morsi was elected, they rallied behind the military, and many figures from the former regime, to push the Muslim Brotherhood out of office. And now many of them are in a very uncomfortable position, where they have to be cheerleading on one of the greatest suppressions of the Muslim Brotherhood in modern Egyptian history. So there's been some, sort of, ideological acrobatics that have been going on, in order to accommodate what is essentially an undemocratic move to oust Mohamed Morsi in the name of a democratic revolution.

Werman: Yeah, pretty wild. Wall Street Journal reported, Matt Bradley, speaking with us from Cairo. Thank you, Matt. Have a great weekend.

Bradley: Thank you.