Egyptian authorities on Thursday rounded up dozens of members of the Muslim Brotherhood after listing it as a terrorist group, while one person died as tensions spilled onto the streets of Cairo.
A bomb blast hit a bus in northern Cairo earlier on Thursday, wounding five people and prompting condemnation from US Secretary of State John Kerry.
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry had also “expressed concern” about the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, in a telephone call with Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy.
Kerry “underscored the need for an inclusive political process across the political spectrum that respects the fundamental human rights of all Egyptians in order to achieve political stability and democratic change,” Psaki said.
The intensified crackdown on the Brotherhood, which prevailed in a series of polls held after the 2011 overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, came after the military-installed government blamed it for a suicide bombing against police on Tuesday that was claimed by a jihadist group.
Army General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who has ridden a wave of popularity since ending former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s divisive year-long rule in July, meanwhile vowed to eliminate terrorism as he urged Egyptians to trust the military.
The explosion on Thursday shattered the windows of a red and black bus as it passed near a busy intersection in the capital’s Nasr City neighborhood.
Construction worker Mahmud Abd al-Al described scenes of panic after the attack, saying the victims were “covered in blood” and that one man lost a leg.
Police General Mohamed Gamal showed reporters a defused pipe bomb he said had been placed inside a nearby advertising display and primed to explode when police arrived at the scene.
“It was set to go off remotely,” Egyptian Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif said, adding that the bombs were “meant to terrorize people before the referendum.”
The interim government has billed the referendum next month on a new constitution as the first step in a democratic transition ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.
In the wake of Wednesday’s terrorist designation, authorities announced a raft of tough new measures against the Brotherhood.
“Whoever leads this group can be punished with up to a death sentence,” Abdel Latif told state television, adding that anyone taking part in Brotherhood protests could be sentenced to five years in prison.
Defiant student supporters of the Brotherhood took to the streets on Thursday night, clashing with anti-Morsi residents in an incident which left one person dead, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said seven Brotherhood supporters had been arrested after police intervened with tear gas.
The latest moves cap a dramatic fall for the Brotherhood since Morsi was overthrown on July 3 amid massive protests accusing him of betraying the 2011 “revolution” that toppled Mubarak by allegedly consolidating power in the hands of the Islamist group.
The Brotherhood still organizes almost daily protests, despite the fact that more than 1,000 people, mainly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes in recent months and thousands more arrested, including the Brotherhood’s top leadership.
On Thursday, Egyptian prosecutors ordered at least 18 Brotherhood members, including a former lawmaker, held on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, state media reported.
The country’s bitter political divisions were laid bare at the scene of Thursday’s attacks, where dozens of angry men and women chanted slogans against the Brotherhood as police tried to keep them away so investigators could probe the wreckage.
“The Muslim Brotherhood people are dogs,” chanted 40-year-old Fadiya as police pushed her away.
“My country is bleeding. Everybody is scared now in Egypt, even the police are scared,” she said.
“This is not the city I used to know,” taxi driver Ihab Abdelmoneim said after Thursday’s bombing. “Today, I am scared of the passenger who sits in my taxi and he is scared of me.”
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