Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Change in tactics

Why did Islamist forces cancel Tuesday’s pro-Morsi demonstration, asks Amani Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

Late on Monday evening, Islamist forces changed their strategy supporting President Mohamed Morsi whose constitutional declaration, last Thursday, triggered widespread anger and controversy. They had scheduled a mass pro-Morsi demonstration in front of Cairo University for Tuesday but they called it off the night before.

 On Sunday the Muslim Brotherhood leadership called on all its members and sympathisers to rally in support of the president’s constitutional declaration. The Brotherhood’s leadership issued strict instructions to its branch offices and those of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), to facilitate the transport of participants, especially from the countryside, to demonstrations. It also instructed its members to exercise self-restraint and keep their demonstrations peaceful.

The Brotherhood set to work setting up cordons and security committees to man the entrances to the square in front of Cairo University to pre-empt any possible altercations. Together with other Islamist forces they planned human chains to protect Brotherhood and FJP offices in the capital and other cities. Then Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan announced that the planned “million-man march” had been indefinitely postponed.

 The Salafist Nour Party and the Salafist Calling also issued statements cancelling their participation in demonstration. Spokesmen from both organisations explained that they had decided not to take part in order to help curb rising tensions and in the hope alleviating the current polarisation between political forces.

 “In order to avert possible disturbances and bloodshed, to protect lives and property and in the interests of the higher national welfare the Salafist Calling and the Nour Party have agreed with the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP to postpone the million-man demonstration that was to take place in front of Cairo University until further notice,” said a Nour Party statement.

The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement saying the demonstration was called off in order “to safeguard freedom of opinion, to avert friction between opponents and supporters of the constitutional declaration, to avoid placing people’s lives at risk, and to safeguard the peaceful nature and the gains of the revolution”.

Opinions in the Islamist camp, however, are not quite as uniform as such statements suggest. Divisions emerged within the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau over what tactics should be employed to support Morsi. Hardliners had wanted to stage a joint Muslim Brotherhood-Salafist demonstration in Abdine Square, only a few hundred metres away from Tahrir Square where opposition forces were scheduled to hold their protest against Morsi’s constitutional declaration. Younger Brotherhood leaders were opposed to the choice of venue. Eventually their argument that a counter-demonstration in Abdine would court violent confrontations that Egypt could not afford and the venue was moved across the Nile to the square in front of Cairo University.

The move did little to assuage the fears of the public. Schools in the vicinity of the demonstrations cancelled classes and many people who worked in the area affected planned to stay at home to avoid possible violence and clouds of teargas.

The more moderate trend in the Muslim Brotherhood continued to argue that the change of venue was not enough to head off clashes, and that any confrontations would result in further deterioration of the group’s public standing. Ultimately they prevailed, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership cancelled the demonstration.

Cancelling the rally left the group in a dilemma. How, then, should it show support for Morsi?

Muslim Brotherhood leaders told Al-Ahram Weekly that their thinking had now turned to “logistical support” — information campaigns to explain the thinking behind Morsi’s constitutional declaration and stress the temporary nature of the extraordinary powers he had granted himself. They also said they still intended to hold “limited marches” in support of the president.

While some Islamists are unquestioning in their support for the constitutional declaration, others are less sure. The Muslim Brotherhood appears to have been forewarned of Morsi’s move. On the morning of the announcement of the constitutional declaration the FJP’s Facebook page said the president would soon be issuing “important decisions” and that Muslim Brotherhood members had been instructed to rally in front of the Supreme Court. They duly did. Shortly before the president appeared on television on Thursday a throng of Muslim Brotherhood members gathered before the courthouse. In a coordinated PR move spokesmen for those who had gathered then announced that the prosecutor-general would shortly be dismissed which could only be done by means of a new constitutional declaration.

While Salafis support the general thrust of the constitutional declaration they have reservations over some details. Sheikh Yasser Burhami of the Salafist Calling asked the president to issue explanatory memorandums for articles 2 and 6 of the declaration which would make it clear the articles would not be used to expropriate public liberties, abolish political parties or silence the opposition. He argued that such explanatory memoranda were necessary to alleviate public misunderstanding caused by the way the two articles had been worded.

Salafist movements have complained articles 2 and 6 of Morsi’s constitutional declaration violate Islamic Sharia by granting the president an aura of infallibility and jeopardise revolutionary gains. The Jihadist Salafist movement was the most vehement in its denunciation, claiming that the demonstrations against him and the burning of a number of FJP provincial offices were “divine revenge”.

A few days ago the Salafist Calling issued a statement contesting Article 6 of the declaration on the grounds that it granted the president unrestricted power and imperilled the achievements of the revolution. The statement added: “We also reject the calls to topple the president being issued by those of certain outlooks who want to destroy the Egyptian state and plunge the country into a state of anarchy and instability.”

The Salafist Calling’s spokesman in Alexandria, Abdel-Moneim Al-Shahhat, explained his movement’s opposition to article 2 and 6 as follows: “No mortal, after the prophets, is infallible. No one’s decisions should be beyond question. All that violates Sharia law must be invalidated and abolished.”

The Nour Party also opposed Article 2: “Granting infallibility and full and total immunity to presidential decisions goes against the Nour Party’s platform and principles, and is unacceptable.”

The Salafist Front and its People’s Party also opposed the immunity from any legal challenge Morsi has accorded his decisions. They argue that in view of the sharp divisions it has precipitated the declaration should be put to a public referendum.

Another Salafist party, Islah (Reform), issued a statement urging the president to refrain from using the extraordinary powers he has granted himself to limit public freedoms. The party did, however, say “conspiracies against legitimacy and attempts to spread chaos have made extraordinary decisions necessary to safeguard the revolutionary impetus and prevent the remnants of the former regime from aborting the revolution”.

The latter was expounded upon by the Islamist Intellectuals Front, a coalition comprising mainly university teachers.

“Following the 25 January Revolution,” said the front, “malicious hands plotted against Egypt and its stability, striving to turn its people against each other and sow division among its citizens. Then the people, through free and fair elections, chose a legitimate president, President Mohamed Morsi, who exerted his utmost efforts to overcome the differences and partisan divides, for which purpose he formed a coalition government representative of many political shades and a similarly composed presidential advisory body... Everyone is aware of the chaos being disseminated by the remnants of the former regime, and their desperate attempts to undermine legitimacy using secularist extremism and hatred of everything to do with Islam in order to tarnish the image of the president and political Islam.”

The statement went on to speak of conspiracies seeking to isolate the president, including claims that the presidential election results were forged, and attempts to undermine the constitutional declaration issued in August that ended military rule. In the opinion of the front the most significant achievement of Morsi’s declaration was that it removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud as prosecutor-general, a longstanding demand of the revolution. It also argues that placing presidential decisions beyond any legal challenge had been made necessary by the politicisation of many judicial rulings.

In spite of its reservations, the Nour Party voiced its support for “Dr Morsi’s efforts to safeguard security and stability in the country”. It had been ready to turn out for the demonstration in support of the president and had already begun mobilising party members to help protect MB and FJP offices during the demonstration and to help prevent clashes between supporters and opponents of the Morsi declaration.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya had been equally prepared. In a statement to the press issued before the decision was taken to call off the counter-demonstration, Aboud Al-Zomor of this organisation’s shura council announced that the Gamaa would be participating with all its strength and energy in the Cairo University demonstration and other stances in the country in support of the constitutional declaration. He added that his group was holding consultations in order to promote the initiatives Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political wing the Construction and Development Party have proposed as ways out of the current crisis.

In like manner, the Egyptian Jihad’s Peace and Development Party, which was going to throw its weight behind the Cairo University demonstration, also proposed an initiative calling for a dialogue between all political factions in order to reach an agreement that would resolve the current crisis.

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