August 23, 2013

Lower turnout for pro-Morsi rallies in Egypt

Those who did rally avoided major thoroughfares and squares that had been swamped by Morsi supporters in the weeks since he was toppled in a military coup on July 3.

By Sarah El Deeb and Tony G. Gabriel / The Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's military turned out in force as thousands calling for the ousted president's reinstatement held scattered protests across Cairo, but the Muslim Brotherhood failed to bring out huge numbers in a sign that an intense crackdown has dealt a serious blow to the 85-year-old group's support base.

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Egyptian army soldiers in armored vehicles block Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday.


In a day dubbed the "Friday of Martyrs," Islamists in groups of hundreds chanted against the military and held up posters of deposed leader Mohammed Morsi on side streets and outside neighborhood mosques. At least one person was killed in clashes in the Delta city of Tanta, but there was no major fighting.

Thousands marched through the streets of Cairo's Nasr City district, some chanting: "We are willing to sacrifice our lives" and "We promise the martyrs that we will end military rule," in reference to the several hundred people that died in clashes with Egypt's military during raids on street camps this month. One man held aloft a picture of Morsi with the words, "the legitimate president."

But large rallies taking over main streets and squares failed to materialize as armored vehicles and soldiers were deployed outside mosques and other strategic areas. The military also closed off main streets, some flyovers and barricaded Tahrir Square and other plazas in a show of force aimed at preventing the pro-Morsi camp from gathering en masse.

Armored vehicles surrounded the presidential palace and blocked the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where Morsi supporters had held a sit-in for weeks that was violently dispersed on Aug. 14, resulting in the deaths of hundreds.

Those who did rally avoided major thoroughfares and squares that had been swamped by Morsi supporters in the weeks since he was toppled in a military coup on July 3.

The low turnout signaled the Muslim Brotherhood was having difficulty putting on a large show of dissent after an exceptionally violent week and the arrests of nearly all of the group's senior leaders, including its spiritual guide Mohammed Badie. Another 80 Brotherhood members, including senior leaders and spokesmen, were taken into custody on Thursday, ahead of the planned rallies.

Authorities also have imposed a strictly enforced dusk to dawn curfew over the past week in Cairo and other provinces, emptying streets by nightfall.

It was difficult for the media to even find a Brotherhood official for comment.

The protests that did occur paled in comparison to last week's demonstrations when the capital descended into chaos as tens of thousands of Morsi supporters went out in defiance of the military's newly introduced emergency measures. Last Friday, vigilantes at neighborhood checkpoints battled Morsi supporters across the capital in unprecedented clashes between residents that killed more than 170 people, including dozens of police officers.

One pro-Morsi protester, 47-year-old Mohamed Ahmed, insisted the movement against what the Brotherhood calls an "illegitimate" coup would continue.

"Everybody knows there could be a bloodbath. But as long as we are fighting for our rights, with God's will, we will win," he said as he joined protesters gathering outside a mosque following prayers in Giza, a satellite city of Cairo and home to the famous Pyramids.

"There were many arrests lately among the Brotherhood ranks. The army and the police are killing people so they can impose their will and their power. But they will fail because after the revolution people are not afraid anymore," he added.

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