Deposed ex-Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi and 14 fellow Muslim Brotherhood members are to face trial for inciting violence and murder. Experts have criticized the move.
Mohammed Morsi has been charged with inciting violence and murder, along with 14 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian prosecutors referred Morsi to a Cairo court on Monday.
The charges relate to an incident in December 2012, when Morsi and his fellow Muslim Brothers allegedly forced demonstrators in front of the presidential palace to disperse. According to the Egyptian authorities, several people died.
Observers say the transition government is using the indictment to strengthen its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. "It shows that the current government and its leaders are using every legal instrument at their disposal to force the Muslim Brotherhood underground," Joachim Paul, Head of the North Africa section of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Tunis, told DW.
Muslim Brotherhood hunted down
In July, the Egyptian military overthrew then-President Morsi and took power in the country. His supporters maintain that his ouster was a coup and demand his reinstatement.
The situation escalated in mid-August when security forces cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, killing at least 900 people. After that, police arrested around 2,000 Morsi supporters.
Ronald Meinardus from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation's office in Cairo calls the government's actions a "campaign of criminalization" - scores of leading figures within the Brotherhood were arrested, "sometimes in spectacular cloak-and-dagger operations," Meinardus says.
The military puts the Brotherhood on a par with terrorists, says Karim Bitar of the Paris Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS).
Justice for an enemy of the state?
How the judiciary deals with detainees became apparent last weekend when Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed al-Beltagi was beaten and mocked in prison, according to the party.
Al-Beltagi had been one of the main speakers during the protest in front of the Rabea al-Adawiya mosque.
Meinardus believes that, because of the tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the transition government, it is highly unlikely that the judiciary will be fair to the detained Muslim Brothers. Joachim Paul agrees: "The Egyptian judicial system tends to polarize. I can't imagine that the judiciary will suddenly conduct completely neutral and independent trials under the rule of law."
It remains to be seen whether the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood - the Freedom and Justice Party - can stage a comeback. There are several reasons why not. One is that the Muslim Brothers will not and do not want to be involved in a new constitution for Egypt.
With the exception of the Salafist al-Nur party, all Islamist parties refused to participate in the constitutional committee after Morsi was ousted.
Secondly, as so many of their top figures have been arrested - their spiritual leader Mohammed Badie among them - the Muslim Brothers have what Karim Bitar calls an "acute organizational problem," adding that their normally very efficient avenues of communication are no longer getting to the people.
Meinardus also says the organization is "badly damaged" and "disintegrating politically." Some of the protests are now being organized abroad and via social networking sites.
At a crossroads
What does the future hold for a party that managed to get a slim majority of the vote in Egypt's first free elections last June? Paul und Meinardus think that the Muslim Brotherhood will split in two - one faction will take part in the political process and the other, smaller, faction will be driven underground and radicalized.
But both experts also see a silver lining. It looks like the transition government "is willing to approach" the moderate arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. "I'm pretty sure that despite the extreme mutual demonization in public, there are attempts to mediate between the two parties," Paul says, although he is not sure how successful these attempts may be.