Egypt's President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has ratified a law passed by Parliament to allow the government and its agencies to dismiss employees suspected of being Muslim Brotherhood members or of sympathising with the Islamist group.
Parliament, which has many government supporters, said the law constituted an enactment of a constitutional clause obliging the government to protect the nation from terrorism. But critics say the law could be easily abused to settle personal scores or unlawful dismissals.
Mr El Sisi ratified the law at the weekend.
Nearly a decade after the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s drive against the Islamist group and its supporters has yet to lose steam.
The new law does not mention the group by name, however, saying that the legislation is designed to purge “terrorist elements” from government departments to deny them the chance to carry out their “agenda”.
"Terrorist elements" has become Egypt's parlance for Brotherhood members as well as militants and extremists. Pro-government media outlets often use general terms like "terrorist group" or "banned group" to refer to the Brotherhood. Mr El Sisi has not mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood by name in his public comments since taking office in 2014.
Those dismissed under the provisions of the law have the right to appeal.
The legislation is widely believed to be in response to an appeal made to Parliament this year by Transport Minister Kamel El Wazir to adopt a law that facilitates the dismissal or transfer of “extremist elements” from the state rail service.
His call came after a series of train accidents in March and April that killed 50 people and injured hundreds, sparking nationwide uproar over negligence in the service. A retired Army general, the minister claimed in late April that “extremist elements” within the rail service could be using children as part of a sabotage campaign against the country’s trains.
“No one can imagine the pain of a child crying over the loss of a father, brother or family member,” politician Ali Badr, one of the law’s chief sponsors, said in defence of the legislation.
“Everyone must know that we will not tolerate the loss of life because of a state employee whose affiliations are harmful to the state."
The latest legislation was swiftly taken up by the Supreme Council of Universities, which instructed deans to compile lists of faculty members and students suspected or known to have links to the Brotherhood in preparation for their dismissal.
Mr El Sisi was defence minister when the military removed Mr Morsi from office in 2013 amid a wave of street protests against his divisive, one-year rule. His removal was followed by a purge that led to the group’s leaders and thousands of its members being sentenced to jail.
It was outlawed in late 2013 by a court ruling and later declared a terrorist group. The Brotherhood's top leaders were convicted in court on a wide range of charges, including espionage, incitement and murder.
In the seven years since he took office, Mr El Sisi has repeatedly stated his zero tolerance for the group's political and doctrinal discourse, explaining that it provided an ideological base for extremist groups that took up arms against governments in the region.
At the time, his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood soured Cairo’s relations with the group’s main foreign supporters Turkey and Qatar, as well as Barack Obama's US government, which briefly decried Mr Morsi’s removal before relations with Egypt were normalised.