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An Egyptian court on Monday banned the Muslim Brotherhood's activities and ordered its assets confiscated, in a dramatic escalation of a crackdown by the military-backed government on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The lawsuit against the Muslim Brotherhood that resulted in the ban claimed the group represented "harm to national security" and disrupted "public safety and harmony."
The ruling, which can be appealed, opened the door for authorities to track and halt the Muslim Brotherhood's elaborate network of social services, dealing a blow to programs that helped popularize the group among ordinary Egyptians.
While the court's decision to ban the Muslim Brotherhood's activities restricts its ability to stage antigovernment protests, it does not outlaw the group itself. However, it does put the Muslim Brotherhood's assets under government control until a final ruling on its status is reached.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said it will allow protests to continue as long as they are peaceful, but the Muslim Brotherhood's affiliated groups, like charity organizations, appear to be targeted by the court's decision, said Al Jazeera’s special correspondent in Cairo.
"It certainly seems that they really don't want to inflame the situation," our correspondent said. "They're already being criticized for increased oppression, for not allowing political expression or opposition."
Mustafa Khateeb, a representative for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political body, told Al Jazeera that the court's ruling had been anticipated.
"It was an expected ruling, and it is a continuation of what the military coup's leaders are doing now in Egypt against any real opposition, against what they did on July 3," he said. "Now most of the freedoms are banned again."
Egypt's military, supported by mass protests, staged a coup on July 3, removing Morsi from office.
There are several cases pending against the Muslim Brotherhood. While some aim to limit the group's activities, others want it banned outright.
"There are a lot of cases going on. Essentially they are all trying to do the same thing, which is to ultimately crack down on the group and try and get (the dispute) resolved," our correspondent said.
Junior members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- most senior members are in prison or on the run -- told Al Jazeera that they had no plans to end the group's activities and described the Muslim Brotherhood's approach to the ruling as "business as usual."
Abdullah al-Arian, an assistant professor of history at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told Al Jazeera that the ruling is "neither new nor surprising" and that it is in line with recent actions proceedings.
"This is only trying to give formal legal cover for actions that have already been in progress for the better part of the last couple of months," he said.
Al-Arian pointed to the Muslim Brotherhood's history of being outlawed and said that "it is used to being underground." What is new, he added, is that the current regime is trying to use popular support to justify eliminating the group from society.
Monday's lawsuit was filed by Mahmoud Abdullah, a lawyer who works with the hard-line socialist Tagammu party, a secular group that collaborated with former president Hosni Mubarak's regime against the Muslim Brotherhood and is known for its antireligious agenda.
The court adjourned until Nov. 5, requesting time to study a report submitted by the Advisory Board of Commissioners of the State Council, which recommended the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed for most of its 85 years in existence. But after the 2011 ouster of the autocratic Mubarak, it was allowed to work openly, formed a political party and rose to power in a string of elections. In March it registered as a recognized nongovernmental organization.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press
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