Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Strategy doomed from the start

Amany Maged assesses the likely outcome of the Muslim Brotherhood’s calls for a campaign of civil disobedience

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the dispersal of the sit-ins at Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Giza’s Nahda Square the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy — formed after 30 June — began to explore ways to escalate their battle against the ruling authorities. Some of these methods have been broadcast on Muslim Brotherhood (MB) websites. They include a drive to convince up to two million people to refuse to pay their gas and electricity bills, 100,000 people to close their bank accounts, three million people not to turn up to work, and thousands of stores not to open, all in the name of “breaking the coup”.

The MB’s escalating campaign, as portrayed on the Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) Facebook page and various members’ tweets, has extended to a rumour regarding the freezing of Egyptian assets in banks. Central Bank Governor Hisham Ramez denies the rumour. The mere mention of freezing assets, withdrawal limits or interest reduction stirs alarm and leads small investors to rush to the bank to withdraw their money, which is precisely the effect those who set the rumour into motion hope to achieve.

Other “civil disobedience” acts favoured by the MB include withdrawing Egyptian pound deposits from the banks and converting them into hard currency, encouraging Egyptians abroad not to send remittances to Egypt, reducing purchases so as to deprive the government of sales tax revenue, boycotting the stores of the “coup wagers” who took to the streets on 30 June and boycotting products of countries that supported the “coup” while purchasing products of countries that support “legitimacy”, such as Turkey.

The MB called for a sit-in at metro stations on 15 September. The organisers claimed that the protest, which was supposed to take place between 7-10am, would hamper security agencies and police “thugs”. On Facebook pages and Twitter accounts Brotherhood supporters said they would pretend that they were ordinary passengers and refrain from proclaiming slogans or chants that could identify them and lead to a possible clampdown. Their plan was to compel the metro authorities to interrupt services which, in turn, would cause street traffic to become so crowded that Cairo would be reduced to gridlock. Although the scheme failed to pan out as planned there was more than usual congestion on the day of the scheduled protest. Many daily metro commuters were so alarmed they did not use the metro that morning.

Members of the MB and the pro-Morsi camp have concocted other ways to disrupt traffic. “Stall your car on a bridge” is one method advertised on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Recommendations for how to do this varied. Some suggested stopping the car on the pretext of checking the tyres or some problem with the motor. Others recommended getting out of the car, locking it and leaving it on the bridge, and then heading off to the nearest metro station to take part in the sit-in there.

Hazemoon, supporters of the disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail and staunch Muslim Brotherhood/Morsi allies, are fully behind the civil disobedience campaign. Their members volunteered to pack some metro stations while the Muslim Brothers packed others.

Such actions are only “the first steps in the escalation that will take place in the coming period,” said one pro-legitimacy campaigner on his Facebook page. “There is a plan for a major escalation in civil disobedience which will be put into effect in the coming days in order to disrupt the work of a number of government institutions. We will not remain helpless in the face of constant attempts by the authorities to clamp down on our demonstrations and arrest supporters of president Morsi without charges. We will continue the popular escalation to wear down the government by various means until it recognises extent of support [for Morsi].”

Many politicians have denounced the campaign which they describe as part of a MB scheme to spread chaos. They have called on the government to counter it forcefully.

Ahmed Darrag, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), believes MB calls for civil disobedience will fall on deaf ears. The public rejects the campaign because “they have come to regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a collection of religious deviants who are making war on their own country. The purpose of these calls is to obstruct the work of the interim government in the hope that they can reinstate their fascist regime which the people overturned on 30 June”.

Kamal Al-Halbawi, a former MB leader who broke away from the organisation, believes that while Morsi supporters are losing more and more support with their attempts to obstruct daily life they will persist in their planned escalation, if only out of stubbornness.

Ibrahim Ghali, an expert at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, agrees that the MB appears bent on attempting to disrupt the state. Within days of the breakup of the sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda they had begun to attack government buildings in Cairo and elsewhere and spread rumours about splits in the government following Mohamed Al-Baradei’s resignation as vice president. One of their strategies, first employed at the time of the sit-ins, is to dispatch groups to stage small demonstrations at a variety of locations. The aim is two-fold: to give the impression that they are more numerous than they are and to diffuse the ranks of security forces. In addition, they deliberately trigger confrontations with the army which they hold responsible for everything that has happened since 30 June.

Ghali holds that the Muslim Brotherhood’s “civil disobedience” campaign is an extension of what has been a constant aim since 30 June — to sabotage the transitional process. However, he fears that escalation may soon assume other and even more dangerous forms. He predicts assassinations of political and government figures carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood’s jihadist supporters, of which the recent assassination attempt against the minister of interior was a warning. He also anticipates more bombings in Sinai.

According to Ghali, the Muslim Brotherhood’s behaviour is shaped by a perceptual warp. It believes that in pursuing such actions it will succeed in turning the tables against the government and sapping the popularity of the new leadership.

 

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