Egypt court postpones ruling on Muslim Brotherhood's legality

CAIRO Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:43am EDT

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi listens the speech of Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf (not in picture) during a ceremony at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi listens the speech of Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf (not in picture) during a ceremony at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad March 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

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CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court postponed on Tuesday a ruling on whether President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood is illegal, agreeing to the Islamist group's request for more time to present evidence in a case that has put it on the defensive.

Brought by anti-Brotherhood lawyers, the court case points to the deep antipathy some harbor towards a group that was formally dissolved in 1954 and forced to operate underground until President Hosni Mubarak was ousted two years ago.

The impact of any ruling against the Brotherhood is likely to be more political than practical: analysts find it inconceivable that the state will take any measures against a group that is now at the heart of power.

But such a decision could stir more rancor against the Islamists as they face increasingly violent protests.

The court set April 23 as the date for the next hearing in the case brought by lawyers who argue the group is illegal because of its 1954 dissolution by Egypt's military rulers.

Though the Brotherhood dismisses that argument, it has sought to shield itself before the ruling. Last week it registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO), giving it a new legal status.

The move marked a reversal of the group's previous decision not to register as an NGO under existing laws.

Following the registration, the Brotherhood had asked the court for more time last week so it could present new evidence, said Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud, the group's lawyer.

A report by a panel of judges published last week had upheld the view that the Brotherhood has no legal status, pointing to the chances of a ruling against the Islamist group.

Accused by secular-minded opponents of trying to set up a new autocracy, Mursi and the Brotherhood have been the target of violent protests that have erupted periodically since late last year and have obstructed his efforts to revive the economy.

The opposition's complaints against Mursi, who was elected president in June 2012, include his decision to appoint a new prosecutor general late last year, when he triggered a storm of protest by issuing a controversial decree that temporarily expanded his powers.

The Islamists accuse their opponents of failing to respect the rules of the democratic game that brought them to power.

An administrative court ruled on Tuesday that it was not entitled to rule in a case brought by opponents of Mursi and seeking the removal of the prosecutor general, Talaat Ibrahim.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Pravin Char)

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