Pro-Morsi mobilisation feeble after crackdown on Egypt's Brotherhood

Passant Darwish , Friday 23 Aug 2013

Arrest of Brotherhood leadership and police intimidation could explain reduced numbers at Friday's pro-Morsi protests, analysts say

Muslim Brotherhood
Mass protests called by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood mostly failed to materialize on Friday (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is struggling to maintain its incessant protests that have kept security forces on their toes since a bloody crackdown on the group’s Cairo sit-ins last week left over 600 dead and thousands injured.

A low turnout on Friday suggests that the Brotherhood may find it difficult to heap more pressure on an army-backed government that is emboldened by the backing of the majority of Egyptians as it seeks to end the resistance of the 85-year-old Islamist group.

What explains the smaller turnout at Friday's marches calling for Mohamed Morsi's reinstatement? Does the Muslim Brotherhood have a future? Ahram Online asks an expert and a former Brotherhood member.

Low turnout analysed

Political analyst and former MP Amr El-Shobki said the low turnout could be attributed to two reasons. First, the security forces pursuing the Brotherhood's leaders and charging them with "terrorism and inciting violence."

The likes of Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, deputy leader Khairat El-Shater, leading member Ahmed Abu Baraka and spokesman Ahmed Aref were rounded up. Security forces are also in the hunt to arrest other leading members, including Mohamed El-Beltagy and Essam El-Erian. 

The arrests have affected the group's ability to mobilise their supporters, El-Shobki added. Brotherhood members, known for following a strict hierarchy, suddenly find no one to direct them.

"The curfew and strict security measures did not affect the marches as much as the arrest of Brotherhood leaders," El-Shobki commented.

The second reason, according to El-Shobki, is the "complete absence of sympathy and support for the Brotherhood" after Mohamed Morsi's "failed one-year."

Indeed, local residents attacked pro-Morsi marches in a number of Egyptian governorates on Friday, leaving at least one Morsi supporter dead and 25 injured in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Police used teargas to disperse the crowd.

Friday witnessed far fewer casualties than the same day last week when more than 100 were killed in clashes pitting Morsi supporters against security forces, two days after police dispersed pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Giza's Nahda Square.

Mohamed El-Kassas, a former Muslim Brotherhood youth and current member of the Egyptian Current Party, said police intimidation was behind Friday's reduced turnout.

"Live bullets were fired from the first minute at last week’s protests," El-Kassas stated.

Brotherhood’s next step

For the Brotherhood to play a continued role in Egyptian politics, its younger members must take the lead, El-Shobki said. The group must also abandon its religious basis and instead adopt a political focus.

"[They] should stop acting as if they are above the law," El-Shobki asserted, referring to the group’s religious identity and preaching mission.

There is no law in the now-suspended 2012 constitution banning a political party from embracing a religious identity. However, the current 50-member committee, delegated by the interim president to draft amendments to the suspended constitution, may suggest an article banning political parties with a religious ideology.

The Brotherhood is unlikely to relinquish its religious identity any time soon, El-Shobki added.

On the other hand, El-Kassas finds the possibility of younger members taking charge of the group unlikely. The arrest of their leaders will make the youth even more loyal towards them, El-Kassas predicts.

Violence on the cards?

Following Morsi’s ouster, militant attacks on police and army checkpoints have taken place on daily basis, raising fears that the Brotherhood might resort to violence.

Military spokesperson Ahmed Ali said on Friday that Egyptian security forces had killed 78 suspected militants, including 32 foreigners, in recent operations in the Sinai Peninsula.

El-Shobki stated that “some” Brotherhood members "might resort to terrorism". "Some have already been seen carrying weapons on the streets," he added.

"Terrorist attacks" in Cairo, if any, will be rare with no actual impact, he predicts.

The Brotherhood repeatedly insisted they would only resort to peaceful means in pursuing their aims.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, which backs Morsi and is a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, is infamous for using violence against the Mubarak regime in the 1980s and 1990s.

After Morsi’s 3 July overthrow and the bloody dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins, some analysts feared it would return to violence.

However, Aboud El-Zomor, a leading figure in the group, recently told Time Magazine that it would not return to violence.

"This is a final decision,” he said. “We choose the peaceful political direction as our way, even in opposition. When we are now opposing the new, illegal government, we are going to oppose it with the tools of democracy."

El-Zomor spent 30 years in Egyptian prisons in connection with the 1981 assassination of former president Anwar Sadat.

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