CAIRO: Demonstrations on the scale witnessed over the past three days are a rare event in Egypt where protests are routinely banned and demonstrators risk arrest.
The hundreds of people who were allowed to march from parliament to the Doctors’ Syndicate on Sunday, and the thousands who gathered in downtown Cairo on Monday, provide a striking contrast to the 14 young people from the April 6 Youth Movement detained in July after they sang patriotic songs on a beach in Alexandria.
However, on Tuesday, 16 members of the movement and the Ghad Party who gathered in Tahrir Square for a protest against the massacre in Gaza were driven away by security forces.
Sunday and Monday’s mass demonstrations – both of which were organized and managed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – have resurrected long-standing accusations from other opposition groups that the protests are a compromise with security bodies which serve the group’s own interests.
“Ikhwan keep stopping protests against Mubarak, journalist Per Bjorkland said on Jaiku’s instant messaging service during Monday’s protest.
Others sent similar messages as cries of “Down with Hosni Mubarak were immediately replaced with chants of “One, two, where’s the Egyptian army? and “We sacrifice ourselves for you Gaza.
Men standing outside barriers containing protestors appeared to initiate and coordinate these chants.
An MB member told Daily News Egypt that these individuals were Brotherhood MPs.
The Jaiku messages prompted an immediate response from other Jaiku users: leftist activist and managing editor of opposition daily Al-Badeel Hossam El-Hamalawy, and blogger Wael Abbas described the MB’s steering demonstrations away from domestic issues as “typical of the group.
“From the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2000 until 2005 I never heard an MB member chant an anti-Mubarak slogan once: in fact MB members would use force to silence protestors who chanted such slogans, El-Hamalawy told Daily News Egypt.
“This was even the case during the 2006 protests in solidarity with the judiciary in which the MB participated.
Some observers accuse the MB of making compromises – or even deals – with the regime and its security forces in return for a measure of freedom to carry out its activities.
Such observers regard the MB’s policy of mobilizing its thousands of members for regional Arab issues such as Gaza, while absenting itself from actions against domestic issues as evidence of this.
Perhaps however, the MB’s mobilization of thousands – for whatever cause – is a positive step challenging the silence imposed on protest.
El-Hamalawy thinks not.
“Why are they mobilizing now? The government has been cracking down on them for years and yet the leadership is prepared to make deals as long as they allow them some kind of presence.
Earlier this year 25 MB members received sentences ranging from three to 10 years handed down by a military court.
El-Hamalawy suggests that the markedly low levels of security interference in MB-organized protests on regional issues is a tactic whereby demonstrators are allowed to “let off steam without posing a threat to, or directly challenging, the regime.
“Younger members of the MB are angry about this crackdown but the leadership still doesn’t want to mobilize: they coordinate with the government, and these protests are a sort of ‘safety valve’ allowing the Egyptian people to let off steam.
This frustration – and frustration at the impotence of Egyptian political opposition groups generally, including the MB – is articulated by Ahmed AbdEl-Fatah, a young member of the MB, on his blog Yallaly.
Addressing the Egyptian national forces, he wrote: “Is this everything that you dream of? Has chanting ‘down, down with Hosni Mubarak’ become your ultimate wish? Is our crisis about who will speak in the seminar and will the April 6 Youth Movement speak or not? Is discussion amongst you just about whether we stand on the pavement or whether we take over Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street?
Abdel-Fatah questions those who ask him why the MB does not mobilize despite their large numbers, by asking what difference such a mobilization would make.
“Let’s suppose that we occupy Tahrir Square and shout slogans calling for the downfall of the ‘pig Mubarak and his henchmen’. What’s new?
“Will that bring back 370 martyrs and treat 1,600 injured people? I’m sick of people calling for a joke of a protest every five minutes in the midst of security forces, I’m sick of the same faces I see in every protest.