Cairo – President Mohammed Mursi is about to face the first real test of his professed belief in the democratic right of all citizens to express their views, even when those views are avowedly hostile to him and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Friday is to witness what is being billed as the “August 24 Millioniya” (million-strong rally), or the “Second Revolution of Rage.” Detractors refer to it as the the “Revolution of the Fuloul” – the “remnants” of deposed president Hosni Mubarak‘s regime.
The chief advocates of this millioniya can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most of the country’s varied array of political currents and forces have not heeded their call. Every well-known political party in Egypt has announced it will not take part, with the exception of the leftist Tagammu party. Most of the revolutionary movements have also opposed the move, arguing that it is too early to pass judgement on Mursi’s performance.
Nevertheless, the call to demonstrate triggered the same kind of reaction which opponents of the Mubarak regime used to get. The would-be protesters and their leaders were accused of being traitors and even heretics – most notably by the cleric Sheikh Hisham Islam, who said participants in the August 24 protests would be “apostates” and implied they could be killed with impunity.
This caused an uproar, giving added momentum to the planned demonstrations, and more in-advance publicity than the 25 January 2011 protests.
Rallies are to be held at fuloul-associated sites such as Abbasiya square in North Cairo, as well as Roxy square opposite the presidential palace.
They will be strictly peaceful, and according to the chief organizer, former MP Mohammed Abu Hamed, protestors will chant: “Down with the rule of the murshed” – the “guide”, as the Brotherhood’s leader is titled.
Abu Hamed told Al-Akhbar it had been decided best to stay away from Tahrir Square in order to avoid any confrontation with the Brotherhood, whose supporters he said might try to stage counter-demonstrations at the same time.
He implied that this was the same reason why plans to hold demonstrations at the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters and its branch offices throughout the capital and in the provinces had been abandoned.
“We are keen to preserve the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and to avoid any resort to violence, especially as the protests will not end tomorrow,” he said. “They will continue until all our demands are met for halting the Brotherhoodization of Egypt and its institutions.”
The decision to stay away from Brotherhood premises was widely seen as reflecting the protestors’ weakened position following the abrupt ending of the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF Chairman Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff General Sami Annan, and intelligence chief General Murad Muwafi – all sacked by Mursi – had backed the main organizers of the August 24 millioniya: chiefly Abu-Hamed and fellow former MP Mustafa Bakri, as well as pro-SCAF broadcaster Tawfiq Okasha (Mursi and his people moved to silence the latter by closing down his al-Faraeen TV channel and seeking his indictment on charges of insulting the president).
Observers therefore expect the planned demonstrations to have little impact. While the demands being raised might have been heeded when the SCAF was in power, it is argued, they look different since Mursi has settled his power-struggle with the military in his favor. The rolling protest promised by Abu Hamed will have to roll for a long time if the idea is to get Mursi to reinstate the Supplementary Constitutional Declaration. Mursi had scrapped that declaration transferring in the process legislative power to the Supreme Constitutional Court rather than SCAF, giving him as president both legislative and executive authority.
Equally unlikely to be heeded are demands for the Brotherhood to be made to register as a voluntary association subject to all kinds of legal controls and banned from practicing politics, or to be dissolved and have its property confiscated by the state. It is also hard to see leaders of the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leaders being investigated about their funding, lavish election spending, meetings with foreign leaders, and alleged involvement in a long list of violent incidents usually attributed to the fuloul.
Even though the call for protests at the thousands of MB offices dotted around the country was withdrawn, the interior ministry announced the security forces would be on the alert to safeguard these premises. Presidential spokesman Yaser Ali said police had been ordered to “protect the peaceful demonstrators on August 24 and to apply the law firmly to anyone who breaks it.” He stressed that the presidency “supports the right to demonstrate peacefully, provided the law is adhered to and private and public property and institutions are respected.”
Most political groups in the country have dissociated themselves of the anti-MB protests. Some had even called for the formation of human shields to protect Brotherhood premises from attack. Yet many groups and activists were alienated by a blistering attack launched by the FJP’s acting leader Essam al-Erian against the Egyptian Left. This was in the form of a list of reasons for the “failure of the Left” written on his personal twitter account, which included “foreign funding and influence;… fractiousness; divisiveness; disregard, indeed contempt, for the role of religion; elitism; arrogance towards the people.”
This caused a storm of protest, with critics charging that the MB was behaving like the former regime and its security agencies which habitually denounced opposition groups as being externally-funded or foreign agents without providing any evidence. Some warned the Brotherhood against making the same mistake as former president Anwar al-Sadat, who used religion and the Islamist current as a way of turning Egyptian society against the Left.
As Rabab al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo, points out:
“Accusing the Left of disloyalty and treason is one of the hallmarks of the (former ruling) National Democratic Party and State Security Intelligence.”