ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Egypt appears to be at risk of a violent insurgency and a repressive counterinsurgency. This week, following a car bombing at a police building in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, a bombing that claimed 16 lives, the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. That was despite the group's denial of having anything to do with the attack. And in fact, a more militant fringe group did claim responsibility for it.
Today, there were continued protests. And yesterday, a small bomb was exploded near a bus in Cairo. Tamer El-Ghobashy reports from Cairo for The Wall Street Journal and joins us now. Welcome.
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Is the violence getting worse in Egypt?
EL-GHOBASHY: It depends on how you look at it. Violence that we have been seeing since the July 3rd coup was primarily confined to the North Sinai region, which is sparsely populated and has been a kind of flashpoint over several decades in Egypt. That violence is starting to encroach closer to Cairo. We saw that with that bomb that went off near a bus and injured five people yesterday. You know, that came on the heels of the government declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which, as you know, carries with it extreme and quite draconian punishment.
SIEGEL: Secretary of State John Kerry has both condemned the bombings but also been critical of the move to brand the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. I wonder, Tamer, given how many leaders of the Brotherhood have been arrested, how many of its offices and affiliated groups shut down, does the designation really pack substance or is it a case of adding insult to injury?
EL-GHOBASHY: Yeah, certainly. Of course, the top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and much of the middle ranking members are behind bars. This designation seems targeted specifically at the street action that we've seen consistently since July, very specifically the university protests, which have been proven quite difficult for the state security apparatus to suppress for both logistical reasons and public relations reason. I think there's - even though there's a very anti-Brotherhood sentiment among the larger Egyptian population, they're less willing to see police handle university students with some form of brutality.
SIEGEL: But in this - under this decree, students who had staged protests today on a Friday in Cairo, they would be considered engaging in a terrorist activity?
EL-GHOBASHY: Indeed. If, you know, the broad, you know, language of this designation gives the police and the military not only authority to secure government buildings and immediately put down any threat to it but it also contains language that gives them the authority to do the same at universities.
SIEGEL: Let me ask you about this terrorist designation. The Muslim Brotherhood, obviously, lost a lot of support in the country when its member Mohammed Morsi was the president. But it has won all the elections that Egypt has had since Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Can that big a slice of Egyptian society actually be criminalized and designated terrorists even if it's 10 percent of Egyptian society?
EL-GHOBASHY: This is what is remarkable about this designation is that it doesn't only explicitly say that people who are members of the organization are subject to these terrorism laws. No, it says anyone who supports them, anyone who marches on their behalf, anyone who distributes literature in support of them. You know, experts have estimated there are 300,000 active registered members of the Muslim Brotherhood but their support base still remains rather large. So can the Egyptian criminal justice system handle this or are we going to see expedited trials and, you know, political charges? It still remains to be seen.
SIEGEL: Tamer El-Ghobashy, Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, speaking to us from Cairo. Tamer, thank you.
EL-GHOBASHY: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.