On a dusty stoop in a nearby village where locals have long depended on the Brotherhood for everything from cooking oil to wedding funds to the sweeping of dirt streets: “The Muslim Brotherhood?” said a skinny man who quickly walked away. “I don’t want to talk politics.”
A visit to this Nile River governorate suggests that a sweeping court ruling Monday effectively banning the group and all its activities merely cemented the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to the shadows of Egyptian society, perhaps more damaged than ever.
Since the popularly supported military coup that swept Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July, government forces have killed hundreds of his Muslim Brotherhood backers, arrested thousands more — including the group’s top leaders — and waged a propaganda campaign to demonize Brotherhood members as terrorists.
If the military-backed interim government follows through with the recent court-ordered ban, it would mean that authorities are willing to go even further than former president Hosni Mubarak did to crush the group.
The ruling was written broadly and appears to apply not only to the Brotherhood’s political and religious work, but also to the empire of hospitals, schools and charities that has been the basis of its support among millions of poor Egyptians for decades.
“This is our social capital,” said a worried local official with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, who at first gave his name but later pleaded that it not be published because, he said, security forces were investigating him.
“We are afraid they will remove our people from these charities and bring others instead,” he said. “The situation is very sensitive.”
Only a year ago, he was part of the Brotherhood network swept into power as voters in this agricultural governorate elected Morsi’s Islamist allies to 14 out of 18 parliamentary seats. They also gave Morsi two-thirds of their votes in the first presidential election after the 2011 ousting of Mubarak.
Now the official sleeps in a different place nearly every night to avoid local security forces that have arrested dozens of local Brotherhood members.
Among those arrested were wealthy individuals who funded charities, doctors who helped treat the poor, teachers who instructed kids in the Koran, and engineers who repaired houses, power lines and sewer systems in the poorest neighborhoods and villages, he said. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, preemptively shuttered its most visible projects, including a program to deliver school supplies.
“The people here need a lot of help,” said the official.
He suggested visits to what he described as a local charity that was picking up the slack in the Brotherhood’s absence and to a Brotherhood-affiliated school.