An Egyptian court designated the Palestinian group Hamas as a "terrorist organization," judicial sources said on Saturday, part of a sustained crackdown on opposition groups. In a separate case earlier in the day, a court sentenced the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's top leader, Mohamed Badie, to life in prison, while other members of the group received the death penalty.
Saturday's ruling comes just days after Egypt adopted a new anti-terrorism law allowing the authorities to close the premises of any declared "terrorist" organisation, and to freeze its assets as well as those of its members.
Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities in Egypt have also declared a "terrorist group." The army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Morsi, from the presidency as part of a 2013 coup. Morsi himself is facing several trials on charges that are punishable by death. Some 22,000 people have been arrested since Morsi's ouster, including most of the Brotherhood's leaders, as well as secular activists swept up by police during protests.
The relationship between Egypt's authorities and Hamas has soured since Morsi’s ouster. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt since the military coup in 2013. Since then, Egyptian authorities have accused Hamas of aiding armed groups, who have waged a string of deadly attacks on security forces in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
In January, an Egyptian court also declared Hamas' armed wing al-Qassam Brigades a "terrorist" group. The case was based on allegations that al-Qassam staged attacks to support the Muslim Brotherhood, and carried out deadly operations in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, allegations that the group denied. Armed groups in Sinai have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since Morsi's overthrow, vowing revenge for a crackdown on his supporters that has left more than 1,400 people dead.
"The Egyptian court's decision to list the Hamas movement as a terror organization is shocking and is dangerous, and it targets the Palestinian people and its factions of resistance," Hamas said in a statement after the ruling.
"It will have no influence on the Hamas movement," Hamas said.
The ruling Saturday by Judge Mohamed el-Sayed of the Court For Urgent Matters said Hamas had targeted both civilians and security forces inside the Sinai Peninsula, and that the group aimed to harm the country.
"It has been proven without any doubt that the movement has committed acts of sabotage, assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians and members of the armed forces and police in Egypt," the court wrote, according to state news agency MENA.
While a court ruled in January that Hamas' armed wing was a terrorist organization, Saturday's broader ruling against the entire group has potentially greater consequences for the relationship between Cairo and Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip on Egypt's border.
After the January decision against Hamas' Qassem Brigades, a source close to the armed wing signaled the group would no longer accept Egypt as a broker between it and Israel. Cairo has for many years played a central role in engineering ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, including a truce reached between the sides in August that ended a 50-day Gaza war.
A spokesman for the Egyptian government declined to say what actions the government would take to enforce the ruling.
Meanwhile, Badie, the top leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, was among 14 who were sentenced to life, alongside deputy leader Khairat El-Shater and leading figure Mohamed El-Beltagy. Four lower-level members were sentenced to death for inciting violence that led to the killing of protesters demonstrating outside a Brotherhood office days before Morsi's ouster.
Two of those sentenced to death and three sentenced to life were tried in absentia. The death sentences are subject to appeal and many of the defendants are already serving lengthy sentences on other charges. Badie has already been sentenced to multiple life terms, and was one of hundreds given the death sentence in a mass trial that drew international criticism of Egypt's judicial system.