Signs of a Shift Among Egyptian Protesters to Antigovernment, From Pro-Morsi [New York Times]

August 30, 2013
David Kirkpatrick and Karim Fahim
CAIRO — The continuing protests against the military takeover here showed signs on Friday of shifting into a movement against the authoritarian tactics of the new government rather than one demanding the return of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.
Although the evidence is tentative and anecdotal, any expansion of the protests’ base would be a significant setback for the new government. It has so far enjoyed considerable support for its crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, whom it describes as violence-prone extremists.

As tens of thousands gathered in the streets of Cairo for the ninth Friday of protests against the takeover, few carried the posters of Mr. Morsi’s face that were once the banner of the Brotherhood’s “anti-coup” coalition. Instead, almost everyone held a sign with a logo memorializing the mass killing by security forces of hundreds of Morsi supporters on Aug. 14: a four-fingered salute, because the Arabic word for fourth is the name of the square where the protesters were staging their sit-in, Rabaa.

In a sharp change from the past, some of the marchers said openly that they did not expect Mr. Morsi to return to office, or they grudgingly acknowledged his government’s failures. At least a few said they did not want him back for longer than it took to hand over power to a new government or oversee new elections.

“For me the first goal is to remove Sisi,” said Ibrahim Salah, a 27-year-old tour leader, referring to Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who pushed out Mr. Morsi and installed the new government. “And then to remove the Mubarak regime, which never really left,” he added.

In at least one march by thousands of demonstrators in the neighborhood of Mohandiseen, many carried signs opposing both the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement behind Mr. Morsi, and the new government installed by General Sisi. Pro-Morsi demonstrators had rallied around his “legitimacy” as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, while General Sisi’s supporters claimed for him a “mandate” to crush the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

At the Mohandiseen march, many signs said, “No legitimacy and no mandate; the revolution is back!” A Brotherhood spokesman disavowed the march and directed journalists to other protests called by the Brotherhood.

“The demonstrations are starting to get more representative of the people and not just the Islamists, because people are beginning to see that this was a bloody coup,” said Abdullah Salah, 20, who was at the march with four friends. He said he had voted against the Islamists in the first round of the presidential election in May 2012 and started joining protests with them only after the mass shootings. “Somebody has to be accountable,” he added.

Even some young Islamists sought to distance their protests from Mr. Morsi’s restoration. “I’m not ready to take a bullet for Morsi,” said a 37-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member who gave only his first name, Hani. “It’s a matter of democracy — not a person.”

It was unclear whether the shift represented a change in strategy by the Brotherhood intended to broaden its appeal, a bottom-up response to the crackdown or a combination of both.

So far, the protests remain associated primarily with the Brotherhood; no other major political party or activist group has joined them, noted H. A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies Egyptian politics.

“I don’t think they have turned any tide,” he said. “They might at some point, but that depends on how unpopular the military gets,” he added, noting that polls show a sizable majority of Egyptians still admire their military.

But Friday’s marches were larger than those held a week earlier despite a tight lockdown by security forces and a threat from the police to use deadly ammunition. Security forces have killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters at protests in just the past 16 days, and the police have arrested thousands of Brotherhood members, including most of group’s leaders.

Large demonstrations also took place in several other cities, but reliable reports of their size were hard to obtain.

The protests were mostly peaceful with a few flashes of violence. State news media reported that seven protesters had been killed around the country in clashes with the security forces or pro-government vigilantes.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood who demonstrated Friday vowed that they would organize more protests even though the crackdown has all but cut off communication with their leaders. “Before it was a pyramid,” said Mustafa Shafiq, 23. “Now it’s a network. This is better.”

Source: New York Times

Photo: AP

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