An Egyptian court on Tuesday banned all Hamas activities in Egypt.
Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist group and which they have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Morsi, from the presidency in July.
The Hamas government dismissed the court decision, saying it would only serve Israel’s interests.
“This is a political decision that only serves the Israeli occupation,” Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Hamas government, said.
The Hamas government was in touch with the Egyptian authorities to clarify the court decision, he added.
Ghissin said that Hamas does not have any offices or property in Egypt.
“This decision is politically motivated,” he claimed. “It has no legal basis.”
Another Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, also denied that his movement has any offices or institutions in Egypt.
“The Egyptian authorities knew about all our meetings and visits,” said Abu Marzouk, who lives in Cairo and may be at risk of arrest after the court decision.
“The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role toward the Palestinian cause. It reflects a form of standing against Palestinian resistance [to Israel],” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Gaza-based organization.
Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said there are Hamas representatives in the Israeli legislature.
“The courts in Egypt declared Hamas illegal. We still have Hamas representatives in the Knesset,” Liberman wrote on Facebook, not specifying who they are.
The Yisrael Beytenu chairman vowed that his party would work to make it illegal for said Hamas representatives to be MKs.
Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said Liberman’s comments revealed his true face.
“Liberman is diplomatically moderate when facing the Americans so that he can boost his prestige, while at the same time being racist against Arabs in a cheap bid for popularity and votes. This is the new Liberman – the racist moderate,” Zahalka said.
During his year in power, Morsi treated Hamas as a brother movement, angering many secular and liberal Egyptians who saw this as part of a creeping Islamist takeover following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Hamas held secretive internal elections in Egypt in 2012.
The military-buttressed authorities now classify Hamas as a significant security risk, accusing it of supporting an Islamist insurgency that has spread quickly since Morsi’s fall, allegations the Palestinian group denies.
Security officials said in January that after crushing the Brotherhood, military rulers planned steps to undermine Hamas.
The court also ordered the closure of Hamas offices in Egypt, one of the judges overseeing the case said. The judge stopped short of declaring Hamas a terrorist group, saying the court did not have the jurisdiction to do so.
The case against Hamas was filed, after Morsi’s removal, by a group of Egyptian lawyers who asked for it to be outlawed in Egypt and designated a terrorist organization.
Since seizing power, Egypt’s military has crippled Gaza’s economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels that had been used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave.
Egyptian officials say it could take years to undermine Hamas.
But they believe working with Hamas’s main Palestinian political rival, the Western-backed Fatah movement, and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza will weaken the group, several security and diplomatic officials have said.
In early January, Cairo publicly hosted the first conference of a new anti-Hamas youth group called Tamarud (“rebellion”), the name used by the Egyptian youth movement behind last year’s mass protests against Morsi.
Egypt has arrested almost all the Brotherhood’s leaders and thousands of its followers, while security forces have killed hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators in the streets.
The wave of detentions has also netted some secular protesters, some of whom have alleged that they were tortured while in custody.
An Egyptian court on Tuesday released two such activists held on charges of “incitement to protest without a permit” based on a strict new law against demonstrations, saying there was insufficient evidence to keep them jailed pending their case.
Morsi is on trial facing several charges, including inciting the murder of protesters during his presidency and collaborating with Hamas to stage terrorist attacks in Egypt.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.