Egypt's 'Islamic revolution' protests fail to draw crowd

Mariam Rizk , Friday 28 Nov 2014

Residents walk past police standing guard for more possible protests in the eastern suburb of Mataryia, Cairo on Friday, November 28, 2014. (Photo:Reuters)

Anti-government Islamists in Egypt saw their calls for a day of mass protests to defend the coutnry’s “Islamic identity” fall flat on Friday, with low turnouts at scattered protests around the country.

Despite widespread apprehension of possible violence that caused many Egyptians to stay home, institutions to shut, and churches to suspend their activities, there were relatively few violent incidents.

One civilian was killed in clashes in Matariya in eastern Cairo, while three security personnel were reportedly killed. Two officers died in two separate incidents of drive-by shootings, one in Cairo and one just north of the capital in Qalioubiya, while one police conscript was killed in Ain Shams in Cairo during clashes.

Twenty-six people were injured in clashes in a number of cities, while some 220 people were arrested, officials said.

At least 10 small improvised bombs were defused in four governorates and two sound bombs detonated in highly secured areas of Cairo, with no casualties.

Friday also saw a few small rallies in support of the current authorities, with demonstrators raising Egyptian flags and chanting pro-army slogans.

Militant link? 

Anti-government Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have been subject to a security crackdown since the ouster of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi from the presidency last year, and the results of the crackdown seemed to manifest themselves in low momentum on the street on Friday.

The protests had been called for by the Salafist Front and endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Other Islamist groups, including the state-aligned Salafist Call, had rejected the call.

Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have blamed the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies for the mounting wave of militant attacks that mainly targeted security forces, killing hundreds.

However, any direct relationship between militants in Sinai, including Ajnad Masr and the IS-affiliated Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Front, has never been confirmed.

But as the Islamists lose their ability to rally supporters and resort to more violent tactics, some analysts say, the connection is becoming clearer.

"The Salafist Front and the jihadi militant groups share the same ideology…the extent of their coordination could be high deeper than anyone could imagine," Ahmed Ban, a researcher in Islamic movements and a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood told Ahram Online.

It is yet more concerning that those "disillusioned by today" become convinced more that "in the face of a state that uses force they too can only use force."

"The youth are already one foot into the door, and anything can make a number of them realise that their radical ideology can only be implemented via radical means: violence," Mokhtar Awad, an analyst with the Center for American Progress, said.


Some analysts thought the day was a classic case of over-exaggeration, both by the Islamists and the state.

"Most agree it was an overreaction [by the state] and a deployment in the streets akin to preparing for a ground invasion," Awad said. "Four years of unrest seems to have made people forget how difficult it usually is to sustain a demonstration when the security forces are determined not to."

Ban, however, says that the media and security anticipation helped in disrupting the plans of the Salafist Front and their allies.

"The wide deployment of the security forces and their understanding of the relationship between the Islamists on the ground and the jihadist radical groups, have blocked the road on their plan to spread chaos," he said.

Authorities have been on high alert for weeks, depicting their confrontation with these groups as part of the "war on terrorism," especially after the most prominent Sinai-based group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis swore allegiance to the Islamic State regional militant group.

But despite the low turnout in Friday's protests, the Muslim Youth Revolt Facebook page claimed the day was a "big success" with the Islamic identity case coming to the forefront. The group said, however, that the event suffered from some "inadequacies."

"We confirm that today was just the beginning, our events are ongoing and our performance will be escalating God will," a statement on their Facebook page said.

A statement from the Brotherhood-led National Alliance to Support Legitimacy called for a "revolutionary week", a step that Ban said was expected and repeated over the past period to extend the protests over a week or a month "to cover for the day's failure."

"This is part of a series of nonstop attempts to drain and exhaust the state…it is part of their plan to raise the economic cost of the security alert," he said.

But the over-exaggerated reaction by the authorities could also show another side of Egypt's current reality.

"The continued fear of such demonstrations materialising without an iron fist to break them up speaks volumes about the state the country is still in today, always on edge and nowhere near real stability," Awad said.

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