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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Divides Over Response To Killings


It's been more than two years since Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted. He's been sentenced to death, and thousands of people from his organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been thrown in jail. Now, the group is fragmenting, and some of its members are turning to violence. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report from Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: After a bloody attack by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the restive Sinai Peninsula that killed at least 21 soldiers this month, Egypt security forces killed nine people they said were terrorists in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood say, they were leaders in their group and had nothing to do with the Sinai attack. In a statement, they condemn the violence in Sinai, but warned of serious repercussions for the slayings of their members. It called for a revolt. Later in an interview with an online Arabic news channel, an exiled Muslim Brotherhood member, Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar, clarified.

ASHRAF ABDEL GHAFFAR: (Speaking Arabic).

FADEL: He says that some violent acts like attacking electricity stations are legitimate at a time when people are being targeted in their homes by the state. But it's unclear whom Abdel Ghaffar represents. The Muslim Brotherhood is a group that renounced violence decades ago and worked to become part of the political establishment. It's been a conservative middle-class movement, and it proffered the country's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. But since Morsi's ouster in 2013, things have changed.

IBRAHIM EL-HOUDAIBY: You cannot speak of the brotherhood as an organization today.

FADEL: That's Ibrahim el-Houdaiby, an Egyptian political analyst and researcher. Most of the brotherhood leaders have been killed, jailed or exiled. Even the young woman who merely served as Morsi's spokeswoman has been sentenced to death in absentia. Officials, judges and state-backed media vilified the brotherhood lumping it in with ISIS. And more than 800 brotherhood members or supporters were massacred during 2013 protests. And the group's been outlawed and labeled a terrorist organization amid an ongoing crackdown. Again, Houdaiby.

EL-HOUDAIBY: So the leadership vacuum is leading to very serious fragmentation, also a moment of anger where people are protesting all the time.

FADEL: Houdaiby says the organization whose traditional leadership is publicly committed to peace, can't necessarily control factions or members who want violent revenge. On pro-brotherhood online channels, some people have openly called for the killing of Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, or attacks on the police. Houdaiby says it's worrying, but not surprising. And it's an extremely dangerous moment, says Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. He's the head of Egypt's Strong Party and a former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, who broke with them in 2011.


FADEL: He says continued suppression of peaceful religious currents will force some people to extremism and violence against the state. He says it scares him and an even wider crackdown will only make it worse. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Cairo.

GOODWYN: And in other news out of Egypt - this morning an explosion at the Italian Consulate, in downtown Cairo, killed at least one person and wounded 10 others. So far, there's been no claim of responsibility. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.