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By Gaser El Safty
CAIRO, Egypt – Clashes erupted across Egypt between supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and security forces in a wave of protests leading up to the 40th anniversary of the October 6, 1973 war.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been calling for mass protests to coincide with the military anniversary as a sign of protest to what they call the military coup d’état of July 3 that ousted their “legitimate” president.
Members of the Brotherhood, who were banned last month by a court order, tried to storm different locations in Cairo including the presidential palace and Tahrir Square, but were pushed back by the police by late afternoon.
Brotherhood protests also tried marching to Raba’a El Adaweya square, the site of a violent dispersal of Brotherhood supporters denouncing the military coup and asking for former president Morsi’s reinstatement by security forces in August, but also retreated from the scene by the afternoon.
The Ministry of Health reported four deaths and 40 injuries.
High Representative of European Union Foreign Policy and Security Council Catherine Ashton visited Egypt for the third time since the June 30 protests and met with officials from either side, including Defense Minister Abdel Fattah El Sisi and two senior Brotherhood figures in an effort to seek reconciliation and a settlement between the interim government and the Brotherhood. The meeting was unfruitful.
Some view Ashton’s visits as an attempt at international intervention by the West. International relations expert Sa’ad El Lawendi at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies has described Ashton’s visit as “an American visit in European clothing.”
The upcoming protests mark what could be the strongest comeback of Brotherhood protests since the crackdown and court ban.
With many of its leaders under arrest and awaiting trials, and a wave of violent confrontations sweeping through Upper Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, the Brotherhood is facing its biggest difficulty since the security crackdown in the 1960s by former president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The security situation poses a question of sustainability for the Brotherhood and political Islam in general.
“The Brotherhood are very confused now,” said political Islam expert Mahmoud AbdelKareem. “They were smart and effective when they were the opposition, but when they took power they were just so power-hungry they ruined everything.”
The Brotherhood has been able to gather popular support through grassroot level charities and community based assistance, the original role of the association.
The Brotherhood has been banned for the third time last month by a Cairo Court, and the government, through the Ministry of Social Solidarity, is seizing all Brotherhood assets and social service networks including schools, hospitals and charities.
Hani Mahanna, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Solidarity, has said that any entity with direct or indirect links to the Brotherhood will be bound by the court’s decision and seized by the government.
This crippling blow comes at a time when most Brotherhood leaders are under arrest and detainees are estimated to range between 1,000 and 8,000 people. The government refuses to release statistics on the official death count since the ouster.
With the emergency law and curfew still effectively in place, and security forces cracking down on protests, there’s two important elements to highlight.
First, the deep security state is effectively back in power, with the consent of the protesters supporting El Sisi’s mandate to combat terrorism.
Second, the Brotherhood must find a new dynamic to deal with the deep state in order to preserve whatever is left of it.
The earlier, and more disconcerting issue of the deep state stems from the Egyptian dilemma of security versus freedom. Thousands made the same choice they have made for decades when they took to the streets to support El Sisi’s mandate to combat “terrorism.”
The word terrorism has been used very loosely in Egypt, applying to the smallest cases of vandalism or graffiti-spraying, as well as to assassination attempts using explosives. While Islamists in general have a dark history with assassinations and terrorism, in general and in Egypt specifically, it is extremely important to identify the fact that the military can and will arrest protesters for having any affiliation that is not with the military, and not specifically an Islamist affiliation.
In the Egyptian street any comment against the military automatically makes you one of the Brotherhood. Any comment criticizing the blatant military propaganda on private TV channels also makes you one of the Brotherhood. Any comment criticizing private media and/or anchors’ coverage of Brotherhood protests also makes you a member of the Brotherhood.
Both sides accuse each other of killing innocent people, of betraying the country and inciting violence, when in fact, both sides have killed innocent people and incited violence, and the proof is no further than a thousand and some videos on the internet.
It is exactly the same dynamic that was created in 2011 with accusations of betrayal. First Mubarak’s regime accused protesters of inciting violence and trying to “ruin the country,” then they were called outside conspirators and “outside hands.”
Come the fall of Mubarak and takeover of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) this dynamic returned almost immediately. Protesters against the SCAF were labeled as thugs, looters and “foreign hands attempting to halt the production wheel.”
Soon after, the Brotherhood and the Salafi Noor party won a majority vote in the Parliament and in turn called the protesters thugs and terrorists during the protests in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, denouncing a SCAF proposed Supra-Constitutional principles document. The Islamists even denied the use of any ammunition against protesters less than a kilometer away from where the Parliament building is based, where gunfire could be heard clearly.
Then came the presidential elections that worsened the situation in the final round between Morsi and Mubarak’s final Prime Minister Ahmed Shafick, where many protesters decided to “bite the lemon” and vote for Morsi to eliminate the threat of the deep state coming back.
Many disagreed and believed the deep state to be better than the Muslim Brotherhood, and the elections ended with a very fine margin between the two candidates in a turnout of about 52 percent.
The Brotherhood in turn had promised a program for Egypt, which did not satisfy the public with its lack of clear political or economic plans and very small attempts to repair tourism. Former president Morsi had announced he would be a president to all Egyptian people, but his dismissal of the oppositions’ demands and his eventual accusations against “foreign fingers” alienated many of the people who chose him over Shafick.
Protesters against the Brotherhood were constantly attacked by armed Brotherhood supporters and little security intervention. The Brotherhood then accused the Police of betrayal as well for not attacking opposition protesters in front of the presidential palace.
The Brotherhood failed because it refused to embrace the Egyptian people and institutions. Instead it tried to conquer the institutions by appointing its own governors and heads of offices. Many saw this as Morsi admitting he was not there to serve the country but rather to serve the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood managed to alienate just enough of the Egyptian people and echelons of government wherein it simply does not have enough support against the interim government or the military. But the security crackdown puts the Brotherhood right back where they strive to exist, as the opposition at the ground level. They also have the international community on their side.
The struggle between the security forces and Islamists has torn through several towns in Upper Egypt, torching churches and Christian houses along its way. In the Sinai Peninsula media are scarce amid an ongoing security campaign against insurgents in a region long neglected by the central government.
There is still no serious attempt of reconciliation and many innocent people have died.
Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war, and Egyptians have long celebrated the occasion, regardless of the accuracy of our history books and whether or not Egypt won a military or political victory, or if it won at all. In a way, it could be the best setting for the many forgotten details since 2011.
Gaser El Safty is The Atlantic Post’s Egypt Correspondent, based in Cairo.