Two controversial Egyptian figures, anti-revolution television presenter Tawfiq Okasha and former MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, were the first to call for mass protests aimed at “toppling Muslim Brotherhood rule” on Friday, 24 August.
The call was at first perceived as a feeble attempt by a former regime loyalist – Okasha – to make a comeback of sorts. It was quickly transformed into an anti-Brotherhood protest, however, when it was picked up by others whose fear of the Brotherhood was heightened after President Mohamed Morsi retired Egypt’s military rulers earlier this month.
On 12 August, Morsi not only removed Egypt’s military leaders, but also cancelled Egypt’s 17 June constitutional addendum. Issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the addendum had significantly curtailed the president’s executive prerogatives.
Meanwhile, the calls against the Brotherhood have been vociferously criticised by both Islamist and revolutionary forces. The attacks, however, may have gone too far, say some, after Al-Azhar Sheikh Hashem Islam made statements that seemed to condone violence against those protesting Egypt’s Islamist president.
“Whoever joins the 24 August uprising will stand in opposition to the 25 January Revolution,” said Islam. “They will be committing high treason against their nation, God, his prophet and Muslims.”
He added: “Stand up against them. If they fight you, fight them back… if they kill some of you, the martyrs will go to heaven; and if you kill them, this will be righteous.”
Islam’s statements, made at a political conference at the Egyptian Diplomatic Club on 15 August, triggered an uproar among revolutionary circles. Actor Sameh El-Serity and leftist activist Karima El-Hefanawy, both present at the conference, said that, despite their disapproval of the planned 24 August demonstrations, such statements served to threaten basic freedoms.
Prominent reform campaigner and Constitution Party founder Mohamed ElBaradei, for his part, responded to Islam’s statements with fury. “If such religious clerics aren’t put on trial, we will fall into the trap of fascist rule cloaked in religion,” he declared on Twitter.
Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, too, quickly commented on Islam’s religious edict, stressing that every citizen enjoyed the right to stage demonstrations – as long as said demonstrations remained within the confines of the law and did not damage public property.
“However,” he added, “calls to stage protests… and damage public property on 24 August are illegal.”
Despite frequent assurances from organisers that the planned demonstration would be peaceful, rumours have circulated that Friday’s protest would target the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters.
On the popular Salafist satellite television channel Al-Nas, an unknown caller told host Khaled Abdalla (who is also known for his controversial statements against anti-SCAF protesters) that the 24 August protest was a “Christian conspiracy” funded by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
Abu-Hamed, a main organiser of Friday’s planned protest, met with Geagea earlier this year, praising him as an “inspiration.” Geagea has long been accused of orchestrating the massacre, together with Israel, of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in 1982. Geagea was also found guilty of assassinating several Lebanese political figures during the country’s long civil war.
Abu-Hamed has denied accusations that the planned protests would feature acts of violence. The event’s primary demands, he says, are the rejection of the “Brotherhoodization” of state institutions, and that the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party reveal the sources of their funding to the public.
A group calling itself the “Front of Azhar Members for a Civil State” on Wednesday declared that it, too, would join the planned protests. Movement member Sheikh Mohamed Abdalla Nasr told independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that his group was participating in the scheduled event to voice its rejection of Brotherhood domination of state institutions and the perceived monopolisation of political powers by the president.
Others not participating in the 24 August protest had earlier expressed similar concerns over the president’s ostensible monopoly of political power. ElBaradei, who welcomed Morsi’s move to end military rule in Egypt, nevertheless warned against leaving both legislative and executive authorities in the hands of the president. He also called for a new constituent assembly to be drawn up to serve as a temporary legislature until new parliamentary elections are held.
Fears of Brotherhood control over state institutions had been articulated earlier, when several Egyptian writers and journalists left their columns blank on 9 August to protest perceived attempts by the Brotherhood to control state-owned publications.
Activists also voiced alarm after several editors-in-chief were accused by Brotherhood lawyers of “insulting the president.” Among those accused was Abdel-Halim Qandil, co-founder of Egypt’s Kefaya protest movement.
Most revolutionary groups, meanwhile, continue to reject the planned 24 August demonstration. According to the Revolution Youth Union, the protest is being planned by counter-revolutionary supporters of defeated presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq.
“These calls are not at all related to the January 25 revolution or its demands,” read a statement released by the union. “These are supporters of the counter-revolution who call for reinstating military rule and the old regime and should therefore not be heeded.”
That being said, several of the groups that plan to take part in the protest claim to oppose both military rule and the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Coptic Coalition, for one, has said it would participate in Friday’s protest to demand a civil – i.e., non-religious – state.
“We’re not seeking to topple President Morsi, but to accomplish the January 25 Revolution’s demands and defend the civil state,” read a coalition statement, which went on to condemn the Brotherhood’s “domination” of the constitution-drafting process and state media.
Independent daily Al-Shorouk has reported that the Brotherhood – along with other Islamist parties such as the Salafist Nour Party and the Jamaa Al-Islamiya – is planning its own counter-demonstration to coincide with Friday’s scheduled anti-Brotherhood protest.
According to the Facebook page dubbed “The Second Revolution to Dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party,” which currently has some 17,000 supporters, Friday’s demonstration will take place in Cairo’s flashpoint Tahrir Square and in front of the Presidential Palace in the capital’s Heliopolis district.