Brotherhood alliance calls for protests on anniversary of 2011 referendum

Osman El Sharnoubi, Tuesday 18 Mar 2014

Calls from the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) for fresh protests on Wednesday are rebuked by 6 April Youth Movement as 'insane' and pointless

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood march in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) has called for a new wave of protests to start on Wednesday, the third anniversary of the 19 March 2011 national referendum the Brotherhood had supported.

In a statement issued by the NASL on Monday, the coalition said the new "revolutionary wave" would last for 11 days and demand the "return of constitutional legitimacy" as well as the ideals of the 2011 revolution such as freedom and social justice.

The NASL said it would push forth with the plan it adopted in January which saw the alliance making less partisan demands and instead stressing unity to "restore the 25 January revolution," with no mention of ousted Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, whose return to power the NASL had repeatedly called for.

The 19 March 2011 constitutional referendum was a political milestone after the 25 January revolution, setting forth a transitional roadmap that stipulated parliamentary and presidential elections would be held before the writing of a new constitution. 

The referendum had been opposed by budding liberal and leftist groups who argued that the constitution should be drafted before elections in order to establish agreed-upon powers for the president and also to give political forces time to organise and campaign for the elections, an advantage the Brotherhood possessed at the time.

The Brotherhood supported a "yes" vote for the referendum and the resulting constitutional amendments were approved by 77 percent of voters, allowing for parliamentary elections where the group won a majority in both houses.

Monday's NASL statement praised the referendum but said that the army had hijacked it and later "spoiled the path of the revolution," despite the Brotherhood's open support for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) at the time.

The statement was immediately criticised by the 6 April Youth Movement, which said the NASL's renewed calls for protests were "insane" and invoked the rhetoric that the Brotherhood used at the time of the 2011 referendum, when it attacked opponents to the vote and labeled them as "infidels."

The 6 April Youth Movement was opposed the 2011 referendum and has, more recently, emerged as an outspoken critic of Egypt's current interim authorities, drawing accusations that it has allied with the Brotherhood, which 6 April members have repeatedly denied.

The group's leader, activist Ahmed Maher, who is facing trial on charges of organising unauthorised protests, released a statement from his jail cell on Monday that admonished the NASL and said that the 19 March 2011 referendum had been a setback for the 25 January revolution.  

Like many previous calls for reviving anti-regime protests, the NASL's statement called for destroying the "plans" of Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt's army chief and defence minister who is soon expected to announce his candidacy for the country's upcoming presidential elections.

The Brotherhood and its allies have argued that El-Sisi manufactured an army coup that ousted Morsi following mass protests against him in July, and have been staging regular protests since then.

Thousands of pro-Morsi protesters have been arrested by authorities following a crackdown on the group, which was deemed a terrorist organisation by interim authorities in December, a designation also issued by Saudi Arabia.

The NASL has called for new protests twice already this year, once ahead of demonstrations to mark the third anniversary of the 25 January 2011 uprising and again last week, during the opening of the academic term's second semester.

Neither of the calls drew mass protests similar in scale to the pro-Morsi demonstrations before the security crackdown.

"There is nothing new this time," Ahmed Ban, a former Brotherhood member and researcher on Islamist movements, told Ahram Online. 

"The group is continuing its attempts to scare its opponents with capabilities it doesn't have and is trying to export the image that there is an ongoing revolution in Egypt, which is not the case," Ban said.

Ban argues that the group's base is no longer big enough to hold mass protests and that it is failing to mobilise others from outside the Brotherhood.

"Wednesday's protest will be just as limited as its predecessors," he stated.

Despite a seeming deadlock between interim authorities and the Brotherhood, prominent politician Amr Moussa, who headed the constitutional committee which amended the 2012 charter written by the Brotherhood and their allies, said that there is still hope for the group to join political life.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Moussa said that "as long as they are following the rules, playing by the same rules as we are all playing, why should you exclude them?"

His statement came in response to questions over whether El-Sisi would accept the Brotherhood's return to politics if he became the country's next president, as expected.

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour has announced that the presidential elections are to end before 17 July. The door for candidacy should open soon, but many potential candidates have already announced their decision to back down in El-Sisi's favour, like 2012 presidential elections finalist Ahmed Shafiq, who finished second to Morsi, and former army chief of staff Sami Anan.

Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi has announced his intention to run, despite being staunchly opposed to an article of a newly issued elections law which prevents appeals against the results of the elections as announced by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC).

Top politicians including Sabbahi met with Mansour on Wednesday to demand that the PEC's immunity be withdrawn.

Ali Khafagi, a member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, accused a pro-government newspaper of spreading lies that terrorist attacks would take place on Wednesday, insisting that "the revolutionary men and women of Egypt are determined to defeat the [coup leaders'] terror with peaceful anti-coup protests, ingenuity and devotion," as quoted in the Brotherhood's English website Ikhwan Web.

Since Morsi's ouster, Egypt's police and army have been targeted in militant attacks that have killed tens of officers and personnel, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula and the Nile Delta.

The Brotherhood has repeatedly condemned the violence and denied any links to the attacks.

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