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Egypt's rulers slap terror label on Muslim Brotherhood

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Ahmed Ashraf/AP

(Read caption) An Egyptian policeman stands guard at the scene of an explosion at a police headquarters building that killed at least a dozen people, wounded more than 100, and left scores buried under the rubble, 70 miles north of Cairo, Dec. 24. The country's interim government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, branding it a 'terrorist organization.'

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A daily update on terrorism and security issues

A public bus was bombed in Cairo today, bringing civilians into the crosshairs of a campaign of violence that also targeted a police compound in the Nile Delta two days ago. In the interim between those attacks, Egypt's new government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, potentially sending the nation's powerhouse political group deeper underground than any in recent period.   

The military-backed government would have Egyptians believe that the series of events go hand-in-hand, despite the fact that a militant group with no ties to the Brotherhood claimed responsibility for Tuesday's police bombing.

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There have been regular attacks against security targets since the July military takeover of the government, which expelled Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi. But today's bus bombing was the first to hit something other than a police or military target, and the police bombing on Tuesday was the deadliest attack since July, with 16 killed, according to the Associated Press.

Journalists and other observers commented on Twitter that the bombings were becoming the "new normal" of Egypt.

In today's attack in the Cairo district of Nasr City, a homemade bomb went off as a public bus drove by, shattering the windows on the bus. At least one more bomb was found nearby, likely intended to be defused as security forces arrived at the scene, Egyptian state TV reported

No group has claimed responsibility yet, but Tuesday's attack was claimed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the "most prominent" of the Sinai-based militant groups that have been gradually escalating their campaign against the state. AP reports that the group "announced it carried out Tuesday's suicide bombing in Mansoura 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."

The New York Times reports that it threatened similar attacks in the future in posts on online militant forums, "warning Egyptians to stay away from security buildings 'to preserve your sacred lives and blood'."

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The Christian Science Monitor reported Tuesday that the Al Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for many attacks in urban areas, including the attempted assassination of the interior minister in October, and that there have been more than 260 attacks in the Sinai peninsula since the military takeover

Although various militant groups have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks since July, and the Brotherhood has repeatedly denied involvement, the government "contends that the Brotherhood is a national security threat, working with militant groups to organize the campaign of violence, though it has provided no evidence," according to AP. 

Tuesday's attack on the police compound in Mansoura seemed to hand a propaganda victory to the government. After months of branding Brotherhood members and supporters "terrorists," on Wednesday it officially designated it as a terrorist organization. The group's political affiliate polled ahead of other parties in Egypt's first free parliamentary elections held in 2012, underscoring its popular appeal after decades of operating underground. 

The organization has been besieged since July, with its top leaders -- including Mr. Morsi -- either imprisoned or driven underground. In September the group was formally outlawed

Thousands of members and supporters have been imprisoned, and hundreds have been killed, The New York Times reports. But Wednesday's terrorist designation is a blow, even by those standards.

With Wednesday’s decision, the government signaled its determination to cut off any air to the 80-year-old Islamist organization.

Analysts called it the most severe crackdown on the movement in decades, requiring hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood members to renounce the group or face prison, and granting the military and the police new authority to violently suppress the movement’s protests.

The decision could also outlaw hundreds of social and charity organizations run by Brotherhood members, and makes it a crime to promote the Brotherhood “by words.”

Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington who studies the Brotherhood, warned that the government's move could set Egypt on a path toward "civil conflict." “This is a big miscalculation from the government,” he told The New York Times. “It is a massive social movement, whose supporters might retaliate or fight back.”

An exiled leader of the movement,  Ibrahim Munir, told Agence France-Presse from London that protests would continue, calling the designation "illegitimate."

Reuters sounds the alarm in an analysis piece surveying Egypt's political landscape:

The most populous Arab country enters the new year with deeper divisions in its society and more bloodshed on its streets than at any point in its modern history. The prospects for democracy appear bleaker with every bomb blast and arrest.

The army-backed government says it will shepherd Egypt back to democracy and points out that the state defeated Islamist militants when they last launched waves of attacks in the 1990s. But this time around there are more weapons and harder ideologies, and a bitter example of a failed democratic experiment to toughen positions on all sides.

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With much of the public feverishly backing the government's calls to uproot the Brotherhood, talk of political accommodation is non-existent. Analysts see little or no chances of a political deal to stabilize a nation in turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's downfall in 2011.


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