While supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi have called for mass protests on Friday, it remains unclear how far Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is still capable of mobilising demonstrators, with turnout at protests last Friday relatively low.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which vows to “reclaim the revolution” this Friday, has been mobilising for 30 August since the start of the month. Small protests have been held in Cairo as well as other governorates on a daily basis as a warm up to the big day, while calls for protests on Friday continue to spread online.
“Next Friday will probably be as big as the one that took place two weeks ago, and significantly bigger than that staged last week,” former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Osman told Ahram Online.
On Friday 16 August, the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters staged mass protests across Egypt protesting the killing of over 300 people during a violent dispersal two pro-Morsi protests camps in Cairo. Many of the demonstrations turned into clashes with security forces, leaving more killed.
According to Osman, while it is unlikely the protests will exceed previous ones in size, the turnout will not be as low as last Friday when the Brotherhood had just suffered mass arrests nationwide.
Security has embarked on a wave of arrests detaining hundreds of Morsi supporters, estimated to have exceeded 1,800 in total. Top Brotherhood leaders including the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, the organisation’s strongman Khairat El-Shater and tens of other leading figures face serious criminal charges.
Another former Brotherhood member, Mohamed El-Kassas, believes the recent crackdown against Morsi supporters has managed to secure the group the sympathy of a wider public after hundreds of supporters were killed and hundreds more imprisoned.
“State oppression generates an opposite reaction to what it intends,” says Kassas, who believes non-Brotherhood members will be protesting on Friday.
However, Osman argues that the Brotherhood needs to abandon talk of Morsi’s “legitimacy” and its focus on the reinstatement of Morsi as president in order to mobilise larger numbers of the public in their support.
In anticipation for Friday, the interior ministry is on emergency alert, with plans to intensify security at the main government buildings.
Security forces have already reportedly increased presence in several parts of Upper Egypt, including Sohag and Qena, known to be Islamist strongholds and a site for many attacks on churches and police stations since the ouster of Morsi, apparently by Morsi supporters.
Several Morsi supporters have been arrested on Wednesday from Upper Egypt’s Aswan and Assiut, reported Al-Ahram’s Arabic website.
In Upper Egypt’s Beni Suef city on Tuesday, two supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi were reportedly shot dead as military forces attempted to disperse a pro-Morsi rally. Egyptian armed forces spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali said that protesters attacked a military patrol, prompting forces to "shoot fire in the air to disperse them.”
Egypt’s interim government on 24 August reduced the hours of the curfew, imposed in a number of key governorates including Cairo after the dispersal of the pro-Morsi protest camps on 14 August, to 9pm on all days except Friday, the first day of the weekend and the traditional day for protests. On Friday, the curfew will start at 7pm.
An official source confirmed to Ahram Online earlier this week that the state, including the government and the army, is willing to negotiate and reach a political solution with the Brotherhood after having focused in the past weeks mainly on security operations. The source, however, maintained that operations will continue against any attacks on public property.
Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said during a televised interview with MBC satellite channel on Tuesday that there are no plans to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood or its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, despite some reports that the government may look into this possibility.
El-Beblawi added that Friday will reveal whether or not the imposed curfew will still be needed to enforce security or whether it will be lifted, saying that he expects the latter.
Brotherhood statements continue to stress that the organisation will not compromise in their demands.
The Brotherhood’s National Alliance to Support Legitimacy released a statement Wednesday saying that 30 August will be “the beginning of a civil disobedience plan to pressure the putschists to end the coup.”
While Kassas denied to Ahram Online that formal negotiations are taking place, he said that he expects that informal talks are underway through mediators.
Sources confirmed to Al-Ahram’s Arabic website on Tuesday that unpublicised negotiations have restarted through international European mediators. The deal being discussed reportedly asks the Brotherhood to announce that it recognises the 3 July roadmap that followed Morsi’s ouster in return for the release of its leaders, excluding those who face serious criminal charges. The Brotherhood organisation will be free to operate, along with its Freedom and Justice Party.
While Friday may be used by the Brotherhood as a tool to pressure the government while negotiations are underway, Osman believes that regardless of whether the movement will manage to mobilise or not the day will have little political significance.
“Even if the turnout is relatively big it is unlikely it will change the [political] scene much,” he told Ahram Online.
“But if Syria is attacked [via international intervention] the Brotherhood are likely to get more stubborn,” said Osman.
A possible international military action in Syria is expected as calls for a military response increase following an alleged chemical attack by government forces against the opposition this week.
Many analysts believe that an Islamist regime could come to power in Syria if Bashar Al-Assad is removed.