Three years after Egypt uprising, Brotherhood more outcast than ever

Sherif Tarek , Sunday 26 Jan 2014

Saturday's third anniversary of the 2011 uprising highlights political downfall of Muslim Brotherhood

A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi holds a banner with Morsi's image, during a march against Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. (Photo: AP)

The third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution has once again clearly demonstrated how wide is the gap between the Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamist camp and its opponents, three years after all political forces were once united against former president Hosni Mubarak.

The Brotherhood, from which ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi hails, played a major role in the 2011 uprising that put an end to the 30-year rule of Mubarak, having at its side hundreds of thousands of protesters mobilised to bring him down.

However, political disputes soon caused a rift in Egypt in the months following the revolution, with the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies on one side, and liberal and leftist forces on the other.

Events on each of the uprising's three anniversaries have shown that the tense relationship between the two sides has taken several turns for the worse.

Demonstrators in 2012's anniversary were angry with the Brotherhood for supporting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during its post-Mubarak interim rule. Many other political forces at the time were outspoken in their condemnations of how the military was "ignoring revolutionary demands."

On 25 January 2013, when Morsi was still in power, demonstrators more blatantly hit out at the Brotherhood, deploring what they described as the "rule of the supreme guide," the group's spiritual leader Mohamed Badie who many felt was the country's de facto ruler, with Morsi simply serving as a conduit for his commands.

Saturday's 2014 anniversary, which comes months after Morsi's 3 July ouster following nationwide protests against his rule, saw mass rallies in support of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Brotherhood's arch-foe, as well as another round of deadly clashes that have continued for months between Brotherhood supporters and police forces as well as civilian opponents.

Brotherhood lost ground in build-up to 3rd anniversary

The months leading up to 25 January 2014 saw the Muslim Brotherhood lose massive political ground in developments that further shattered Egypt's already-restive political scene.

The interim government put forth a military-backed political road map following Morsi's ouster, which was agreed upon by a wide variety of political forces including Mohamed El-Baradei and religious institutions such as Al-Azhar, the high seat of Sunni Islam and  the Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as the main Salafist party, Nour.

According to the road map, the Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council (Egypt's parliamentary upper house) was dismantled and the 2012 constitution was frozen and re-enacted after amendments made by a 50-member committee.

Also, pro-Morsi sit-ins at Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque and Giza's Nahda Square were forcibly dispersed by security forces on 14 August, leaving hundreds dead, with most of the slain protesters hailing from the Islamist camp. Most importantly, many Brotherhood and Islamist leaders were arrested for an array of criminal charges.

With violent clashes continuing between Morsi's supporters and opponents, burning of police stations and churches, and bombings taking place across the country sporadically, the Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation in December.

The crackdown on the Brotherhood and its allies as well as the arrest of its leadership took a toll on the group's mobilisation, although it continued to stage regular rallies in defiance of a protest law passed by interim authorities late last year which bans all demonstrations not pre-approved by the police.

Brotherhood-led protests were already anticipated for Saturday's anniversary, with the group announcing plans to "reignite the 2011 revolution" and overturn what it deemed a military coup.

What added fuel to fire, however, were the four bombings that took place the day before, 24 January, in different areas across Greater Cairo, leaving six dead. Fifteen more died that day in ensuing clashes between Brotherhood supporters and their opponents.

Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda-inspired group whose name means Partisans of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for Friday's largest bomb attack at Cairo's central police headquarters. The group, which has claimed the deadliest militant attacks in Egypt following Morsi's ouster, warned Egyptians in a statement not to take to the streets on Saturday.

Festive atmospheres, Brotherhood snub on 25 January, 2014

Despite Friday's violence and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis' warning, hundreds of thousands still headed the next day to Tahrir Square, Ittihadiya palace and around the country to commemorate the anniversary and voice their support for the army and interim authorities amid festive atmospheres.

Egyptians flags were waved, but most prominent were banners and posters for El-Sisi, who has grown immensely popular since reading out the statement announcing the end of Morsi's rule. The signs urged him to run for the presidency in this year's upcoming elections, and the square was filled with nationalist chants in favour of the army.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim had previously encouraged citizens to "celebrate" the anniversary after liberal political groups like the Wafd Party and Free Egyptians Party, along with Tamarod, the group which spearheaded the protests leading to Morsi's ouster at the hands of the army, called for Egyptians to join festivities on Saturday in Tahrir Square.

Continuing attempts to gain supporters for its demonstrations on Saturday's anniversary, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed Friday that "most people have put their differences aside and are calling to revive the 25 January 2011 revolution."

Ahmed Ban, a researcher specialised in Islamist groups, believes that the numbers that hit the streets while supporting El-Sisi on Saturday has ruined "the false image the Brotherhood has been trying to convey to the international community."

He explained to Ahram Online: "They have been trying to convince western countries that Egyptians were up for another revolution on the 2014 uprising anniversary, but after such massive support for El-Sisi, that image is no longer plausible."

And although the Way of the Revolution Front staged protests against the interim authorities on Saturday, the umbrella group refused in more than one statement to stand side by side with the Brotherhood.

The Front is a coalition of political parties such as Strong Egypt Party, 6 April (Democratic Front), Ahmed Maher's 6 April Youth Movement, the No to Military Trials Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, as well as other groups. It is considered to be the only potent non-Islamist opposition group, with their protests usually against the Brotherhood and the military.

Deadly clashes continue, status-quo remains

Meanwhile, as expected, Brotherhood members and supporters held counter protests which resulted in deadly confrontations on the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

In Cairo's Mataria Square, clashes went for many hours with 2000 supporters of Morsi trying to stage a sit-in, according to eyewitnesses. Ensuing confrontation with the police reportedly resulted in a number deaths.

Saturday's death toll from the clashes rose to at least 29, according to Egypt's health ministry, as violence erupted in Cairo, Giza, Upper Egypt's Minya governorate, and Alexandria, among other cities.

Ban believes that much as the mobilisation of Morsi's supporters intensifies the security crackdown on them, they are not likely to change their approach. "They will carry on with what they do; staging protests that turn violent, in hopes that in one incident many people would die and prompt international interference."

He added: "Unfortunately, a political solution seems anything but possible these days. The Brotherhood with their continuous protests and refusal to be involved in negotiations have locked all doors."

"Also, the Brotherhood and the interim authorities have been constantly demonising each other for quite some time, which makes a peaceful solution nearly impossible."

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