Egypt's military-backed interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group on Wednesday, criminalizing all its activities, its financing and even membership in the organization, from which the country's ousted president hails.
The announcement is a dramatic escalation of the fight between authorities and the group, which has waged near-daily protests since the July 3 military coup that toppled democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi.
Hossam Eissa, the minister of higher education, read out a cabinet statement after a long meeting, saying: "The cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood group and its organization as a terrorist organization."
He said that the decision was in response to Tuesday's deadly bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city, in which 16 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. The Brotherhood has denied responsibility for the attack in Mansoura, for which an al-Qaeda inspired group claimed responsibility on Wednesday.
Egypt was horrified from north to south by the hideous crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood," Eissa said. "This was in context of dangerous escalation to violence against Egypt and Egyptians [and] a clear declaration by the Muslim Brotherhood group that it is still knows nothing but violence.
"It's not possible for Egypt the state nor Egypt the people to submit to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism," he added.
Eissa offered no evidence in his speech linking the Brotherhood to Tuesday's attack.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, denounced violence in the late 1970s. Ibrahim Elsayed, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said the government announcement will have no impact on the work or the beliefs of the group, because it has seen repeated government repression over the years and has continued to exist with a moderate view of Islam.
"This decision is as if it never happened. It has no value for us and is only worth the paper it is written on," he told The Associated Press. "It won't impact us from near and far. Ideas won't be impacted by false accusations."
The declaration, he said, means that those who "participate in the group's activities, in the organization or promotion verbally or by writing or by any other means or financing its activities" will be facing punishment according to the law. He said that the government had notified other Arab countries about its decision. The Brotherhood has organizations and political parties in other nations in the region.
Ahmed el-Borai, the minister of social solidarity, told reporters in a news conference that the decision means "all activities of the Muslim Brotherhood group are banned, including the demonstrations."
The declaration gives the armed forces and the police the right to enter universities and prevent protests, as "protection to the students," el-Borai said.
The 83-year old Brotherhood had been banned under president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled from 1981 to 2011, and under earlier Egyptian regimes, but was mostly tolerated. The new crackdown is a dramatic turn in fortunes, particularly after the group rose to prominence as Egypt's best-organized political movement to win the country's first free parliamentary elections and successfully bid for the country's highest office in last year's presidential vote.
Since the coup, prompted by massive protests calling for Morsi's removal, Egypt has been in continual unrest. Morsi supporters have been holding continual protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands of Brotherhood members.
Meanwhile, a wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Islamic militants have targeted Christians and security forces, and the Sinai Peninsula has been the centre of a mounting militant insurgency.