A man wears the headband for al Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

Story highlights

An Egyptian court had ruled Hamas a terrorist organization a few months ago

An appeals court overturns that ruling, saying the other court "lacked jurisdiction"

Hamas has faced criticism, had some members arrested since military takeover

CNN —  

Hamas should no longer be classified as a terrorist organization in the eyes of Egyptian authorities, an appeals court ruled Saturday, overturning a decision made months earlier about the Palestinian Islamist group.

The appeals court in Cairo threw out the February 28 decision by a lower court because it “lacked jurisdiction to issue the … ruling,” the state-run Ahram Online news outlet reported.

This development could be significant given the makeup of Egypt’s current government – which took over after the military ousted Muslim Brotherhood leader-turned-president Mohammed Morsy – and Hamas’ prominent, controversial place in the Middle East, including its control of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Hamas evolved from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, having formed in 1987 with a goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of Israel, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

That hasn’t happened, though Hamas managed to takeover Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas is in charge of the West Bank. Gaza borders Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which has seen considerable violence – including the recent killing of three judges and their driver as they headed to a courthouse – since Morsy’s 2013 ouster.

This bloodshed can’t all necessarily be pinned on Hamas, which denies interfering in Egyptian internal affairs. One group blamed for the killings of hundreds security personnel in Sinai, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has been tied to ISIS.

Still, Hamas controls Gaza. The Cairo government has accused it of supporting the insurgents, and Hamas – and especially its military wing, al Qassam Brigades – has received substantial criticism for allegedly spearheading violence.

When the U.S. State Department created its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997, Hamas was one of the first names on it. The Egyptian government has been at odds with the group repeatedly, with longtime President Hosni Mubarak lashing out at the group and refusing to recognize Hamas’ rule in Gaza.

The relationship between Hamas and Egypt improved significantly during Morsy’s brief time in power, only to deteriorate rapidly when the military took over.

In fact, Morsy was sentenced to death last month for having allegedly collaborated with Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to break into several prisons across Egypt in January 2011. These actions, at the start of the revolution that spurred Mubarak’s fall, facilitated the escape of Morsy and 20,000 others.

Saturday’s Ahram story noted a court early this year ruled al Qassam Brigades specifically a terrorist organization because it “supports and finances terrorist attacks in Egypt.”

And several Hamas members face death sentences for the jailbreak case – which includes convictions for arson, murder and looting in addition to freeing prisoners – that Morsy is also caught up in. Egypt has also banned the Muslim Brotherhood and arrested hundreds of its members.

This history notwithstanding, Hamas cheered Saturday’s ruling and expressed hope it would help its relations with the Egyptian government led Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the North African nation’s former military chief and now president.

“We consider this a correction to the previous mistake,” Hamas said on its official Twitter feed. “This decision confirms Egypt’s steadfast towards its ethnic role towards Palestine and without doubt will have its positive effect on bilateral relations.”

CNN’s Anas Hamdan contributed to this report.