Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Totally different

With the Muslim Brotherhood losing again and again, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has gained much public ground, reports Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two completely different scenes marked this year’s commemoration of the October War victory. One was a huge display of patriotic loyalty in the iconic Tahrir Square, around Al-Ittihadiya palace and other squares around the country. The other was a display of allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in which members of this group aimed to send a number of messages abroad. Political and military experts noted that with its failed attempt to assassinate the commemoration of the October victory the MB had sealed the death certificate of its affiliation to the nation and the national polity. Some added that the group had put itself in the trench of the enemy who sees this national occasion as a bad reminder and tries to ruin it for the Egyptian people.

In spite of the explicit warnings by security and political authorities and the people, the Muslim Brotherhood followed through on its threats to create disturbances and wreak havoc in order to disrupt the celebrations and spoil the day for the Egyptians celebrating the occasion in the public squares.

The group paid a heavy price in order to convey their message to foreign powers and public opinion abroad. In the confrontations they were determined to trigger, 55 Muslim Brotherhood youth died, 300 were injured and around 500 were arrested. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement in which he “condemned the violence in Egypt”. But apart from that, it appears that their message failed to obtain its aims. Prime among these, according to Abu Bakr Khalaf, a scholar on the affairs of Islamist movements who took part in the demonstrations, was to improve the negotiating conditions for the Muslim Brotherhood to make it possible to return to the polls as the arbitrator. Even if public opinion rejects the Muslim Brotherhood that should be established through the ballot box, he said. In return, the group will agree to work with the current roadmap declared by the revolutionary forces with the support of the army on 3 July. Secondly, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks the release of all its leaders who have been detained and all the cases and investigations against them dropped. In exchange, they will end the anti-army demonstrations. As for Mohamed Morsi, the negotiators would not focus on his constitutional or legal status but rather on securing his release and ending prosecution procedures against him.

The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators set as their strategic goal for 6 October breaking into Tahrir Square. In their plans for that day, the “alternative” leaders set four main marching zones. One began in the Khatem Al-Mursaleen area of Omraniya, where demonstrators set off towards Giza Square and were joined on the way by processions from Pyramids Road and Faisal Street. From Giza Square they would head towards Qasr Al-Nil Bridge and then Tahrir. The second zone comprised the other areas of the Giza governorate, such as Imbaba, Mohandessin and Dokki. Marches would converge in Sphinx Square, head across 15 May Bridge and proceed to Tahrir. Zone three combined the suburbs of Nasr City, Heliopolis and New Cairo in which the rallying points were set at Al-Salam Mosque in Nasr City’s 10th district, Imam Makram Ebeid Mosque at Nasr City, and Roxy Square in Heliopolis. These demonstrations would converge on Ramses Street which also leads to Tahrir Square. The fourth zone was designated for the districts on the eastern bank of the Nile to the south of Tahrir, beginning at Maadi and Old Cairo. Demonstrators would converge on Qasr Al-Aini street which, again, leads directly into Tahrir.

According to Khalaf, the four main marches were coordinated so that they would reach the capital’s central square at the same time. He added that each procession had a command and a reconnaissance team. The former would lead, signalling those behind them using agreed upon movements of the banners while the latter would scout ahead on the lookout for possible collisions with police or residents.

“The purpose of entering Tahrir Square that day was to stress that there are people who have a right to appear in the picture, apart from the masses that came to the square to support Minister of Defence General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi,” Khalaf said. When asked whether the organisers and marchers were aware that security forces had deployed intensively at strategic places in order to secure the square and that the MB marchers would be headed for confrontations, Khalaf shrugged. The message they had to convey abroad was worth the risk.

The “Cairo, the capital of the revolution” demonstrations that were held on Friday, two days ahead of the 6 October celebrations, were a kind of rehearsal for the plans in order to test possible security and popular response. Accordingly, MB organisers imagined that their supporters would be able to flood into Tahrir, in numbers ranging from 20,000-25,000 from each of the four directions, at 3pm, which is to say an hour before the official celebrations were due to begin. Then that envisioned total of 100,000 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters would take up positions, raise posters bearing the “Rabaa hand”, pictures of Morsi, and placards calling the 30 June Revolution a “coup”. They had also believed that the MB marches, especially in the numbers they had envisioned, would frighten non-Muslim Brothers and reduce the numbers of patriotic celebrants in the square, making it easier for the Muslim Brothers to occupy. Some believed that the risk of clashes were low because satellite television cameras would be focussed on the square and transmit what happened to the world.

Did the Brotherhood succeed in getting its message across? Professor Tawfik Colmandos of the French University in Paris told Al-Ahram Weekly, “Certainly these messages succeed in reaching the French media and intellectual elites which respond positively and are sympathetic with the Muslim Brothers, not because these elites are against the role of the Egyptian army in the political process but because, by virtue of their political and intellectual culture, they are opposed to military involvement in politics anywhere in the world. There are exceptions of course. In political and diplomatic circles, however, there is a sharp division over this situation.”

As we monitored developments in Dokki, we watched as security forces intercepted the Giza march, using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. We also heard gunfire. Armoured vehicles moved into place to block Qasr Al-Nil Bridge and another blocked the underpass by the Sheraton Hotel that passes beneath the square in front of the bridge. In addition, civilians in large numbers appeared to join forces with the army and police. Everyone we spoke with was certain that if those crowds of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators reached Tahrir Square there would be huge clashes and massive bloodshed. All agreed that they had to be prevented from entering the square at all costs. As they were. The Muslim Brotherhood’s strategies failed and their demonstrations evaporated into the side streets of Dokki, apart from some remnants that engaged in relatively small skirmishes using stones and Molotov cocktails.

Ramses Street, where we turned to next, presented a different image. By the time we had reached it it had turned into a scene of urban warfare. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood “command” teams had made their way onto 6 October Bridge in the vicinity of Ghamra in order to signal directions to their troops and, at the same time, to film the clashes with security forces and to taunt helicopters overhead with signs of the “Rabaa hand”. The air was rife with the sound of tear gas canisters being fired and dense with smoke.

As this was the largest Muslim Brotherhood demonstration since the breakup of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-ins, a large portion of their numbers would have been made up from people bussed in from neighbouring governorates in the Delta. However, there were also pro-Muslim Brotherhood rallies in Upper Egypt, notably in Aswan, Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Beni Sweif. The most violent was in Minya.

The Muslim Brothers had another, subsidiary, message to convey through these demonstrations that they knew in advance would lead to casualties. As one participant put it to the Weekly, “New deaths win the Muslim Brotherhood new members, these being those who demand revenge against the army and police for the family members they lost.”

According to army and police sources, there is a clear connection with the International Muslim Brotherhood, which is the chief architect of the demonstration plans, which are transmitted locally by persons as yet unidentified. Former deputy director of the State Security Agency and an expert on the affairs of Islamist movements General Fouad Allam told the Weekly that the individuals probably use code names. However, a Muslim Brotherhood source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “Security breaches took place during the Muslim Brotherhood’s year in power by planting persons belonging to this organisation in key positions in state institutions and their identities cannot be discovered easily.” He added, “This is more than just possibility and conjecture.”

Allam’s assessment is supported by Interior Minister General Mohamed Ibrahim who said in a statement to the press, “The Muslim Brotherhood has a new source of funding, as is indicated by the attack on Monday morning against South Sinai Security Directorate using a booby-trapped vehicle driven by a suicide bomber, the attack by gunmen against a military patrol in the vicinity of Ismailia in which five soldiers and an officer were murdered, and the arrival of a third terrorist group to the satellite station area in Maadi where it fired RPG missiles at one of the satellite dishes.”

According to General Talaat Muslim, a military affairs expert who took part in the 6 October War, security agencies “no longer have a shadow of a doubt that the International Muslim Brotherhood has a role in these games. However, the local organisation still plays the largest role in planning and execution. It is clear that most of the leaders now are from the second tier of the group’s leadership. These leaders lack expertise and political acumen which is why they are losing more with every passing day and propelling their group at top speed towards the precipice.”

It is believed that Interior Minister Ibrahim’s request that Interpol arrest the substitute MB Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat has a bearing on the events. General Al-Sisi’s recent statements to Al-Masry Al-Youm regarding his last meeting with senior MB officials seem relevant in this regard. He said that deputy supreme guide Kheirat Al-Shater and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) chairman Saad Al-Katatni threatened that armed groups that the MB would not be able to control would engage in acts of violence. The testimony offers further corroboration of the link between developments in Cairo and what is taking place in Sinai.

But is the security solution the only available solution? The minister of interior holds that for the moment it is, given the confrontations and the ongoing terrorist attacks. However, General Ibrahim revealed that new tactics were being applied to deal with terrorism in a preemptive way. One was to install surveillance cameras in the streets, particularly in order to safeguard tourist areas. These were the point of the message delivered by the attack on the South Sinai Security Directorate at a time when Egypt has succeeded in convincing Western nations to lift their travel warnings on Egypt. In a related development, the Ministry of Interior announced that it had conducted a complete survey of MB assets and that these are now under the full control of the police and ready to be confiscated as soon as the court issues a final verdict ordering the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood association and its political wing the FJP. Speaking to the Weekly, legal expert Loay Matar said, “The dissolution of the society and the group are an imperative compelled by legal considerations that have nothing to do with politics. It is certain that the Muslim Brotherhood used their premises for illegal and illicit purposes. This is apart to the crimes they committed against the people who had waged a revolution in order to bring down Muslim Brotherhood rule. That, alone, is sufficient cause to put an end to these entities.” Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi has formed a committee to oversee the implementation of the ban against the Muslim Brotherhood in keeping with the ruling of the Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs.

In the face of the Muslim Brotherhood threat, the populace that filled Tahrir and other squares were both jubilant and defiant on 6 October. Egyptian flags were ubiquitous as were pictures of General Al-Sisi. Moreover, campaigns calling for Al-Sisi’s nomination for the presidential elections were in full swing. The most active of these campaigns  are “Complete your favour” and “A national demand”. The organisers of these drives claimed to have obtained six million and seven million signatures, respectively, on their petitions to persuade Al-Sisi to run for president on that day alone.

One of the signatories was the governor of Kafr Al-Sheikh Ezzat Agwa who said that he had signed in his capacity as an ordinary citizen. Minister of Education Mahmoud Abul-Nasr was also on hand that day, holding up a picture of Al-Sisi, indicating that the demand for Al-Sisi to run for president is not just a popular, grassroots one. It was clear that day that if Al-Sisi does run for president he would definitely be the lead runner.

Public attention also turned to the official celebrations that were held that day. These, for the first time, were attended by Jihan Al-Sadat who was seated together with the interim President Adli Mansour, other government officials and a number of visiting Arab dignitaries. This was another message that sounded clearly that day and that was underscored by General Al-Sisi in his speech: 6 October victory day was a day for all Arabs.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was also on hand that day and was warmly received by many present. Not present was General Sami Anan who had served as the second-in-command of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which assumed the reins of government following the 25 January Revolution. To some present at the ceremonies his absence was not unexpected. A source who was there told the Weekly that Anan had not been invited because he had breached the codes of military conduct and the law the previous week by publishing his memoirs without first obtaining the approval of the Military Morale Affairs and Military Intelligence departments. There have been rumours and conjectures, according to the same source, that Anan had been in touch with Muslim Brotherhood members in order to secure their support for his nomination as a candidate for the presidency.

The ceremonies that day, in which a broad range of cultural, political, media and judicial figures took part, revived the old taste of victory day, effacing the bitter one that was left by last year’s ceremony that was dominated by radical Islamist figures, not least of whom were Abboud and Tarek Al-Zomor of the Egyptian Jihad which was responsible for the assassination of Anwar Al-Sadat.

General Hossam Kheirallah told the Weekly that the army had succeeded in recapturing the spirit of victory day this year, although he had wished that the government had taken better precautions against the MB designs.

In the opinion of General Muslim, it was General Al-Sisi who proved the most successful on that day through his impromptu remarks that struck a chord among the people. “Egypt will never forget who stood by its side and who stood against it,” he said. There was no doubt as to whom this message was intended to warn.

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