x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Army, Brotherhood tension grows in Egypt

Protesters in Cairo demanded that the Constitutional Court reverse its ruling to dissolve the Brotherhood-controlled parliament.

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a demonstration in Cairo Friday. They want the results of the presidential election released soon.
Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a demonstration in Cairo Friday. They want the results of the presidential election released soon.

CAIRO // The Muslim Brotherhood said yesterday that it does not want conflict, as the army issued a stern warning against any attempts to sow chaos in Egypt.

"There will be no confrontation or violence or attempts to shake the stability of this country," Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, said yesterday.

Weeks of tension between the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or Scaf, culminated in a public show of strength by the Brotherhood yesterday.

The "Return of Legitimacy" protests in Tahrir Square drew more than 10,000 demonstrators who chanted revolutionary slogans such as "illegitimate" and "leave" while waving Egyptian flags.

Protesters demanded a reversal of last week's Constitutional Court ruling to dissolve the Brotherhood-controlled parliament.

The protesters also called for the cancellation of a Scaf decree that limited the powers of the incoming president and freed the military from civilian oversight.

The divisive presidential run-off was also on the agenda for Mr Morsi, and the protesters who sent a loud warning to Scaf not to interfere with the results of the presidential vote. Both Mr Morsi and his challenger Ahmed Shafiq have claimed victory in the election, sparking tensions between the rival camps that have deepened after the electoral commission delayed its announcement of the outcome. That has fuelled speculation that the regime was conspiring to award Mr Shafiq a victory.

"The expected result is known to everyone. We will not allow anyone to tamper with the result," Mr Morsi told reporters yesterday. "We expect that the result will truly reflect the popular will, which we all know."

He pledged that his movement and supporters did not have any plans to clash with the military council.

He criticised the constitutional declaration issued by the ruling military council that granted the army sweeping powers, as well as the dissolution of parliament.

"We reject all this ... and the timing concerns us all," said Mr Morsi, whose opinion was echoed by protesters who have accused Scaf of enginering a "soft coup".

"If it was just one thing, you could say it was a coincidence," said a 50-year-old engineer and Brotherhood supporter who declined to give his name. "It's all part of an attempt to drag us backward to before the revolution. We don't want the will of the people to be hijacked.

"Either the Scaf should leave or the people should all leave," he said. "Somebody has to go."

The military council said in a sternly worded statement read out on state TV yesterday that raising doubts about the future of Egypt is a means to pressure public opinion.

"Announcing the results of the presidential election early, before the official statement, is unjustified and is one of the main reasons behind the division and confusion prevailing on the political scene," said the statement, without naming the Brotherhood.

But it insisted that it remained neutral in the run-off between Mr Morsi and Mr Shafiq.

"Any attempts to harm public or private interests will be confronted with utmost firmness and strength by the police and armed forces within the law."

The crowds in Tahrir yesterday were robust and loud and the square was crowded but not packed. Brotherhood leaders had hoped to draw a significant presence from secularist revolutionary groups to form a broader front against the military. Many secularist revolutionaries dislike the Brotherhood for its own power plays in the past year and as a result the demographics yesterday were overwhelmingly Islamist.

Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, the imam of the historic Omar Makram Mosque on the edge of the square, delivered the Friday sermon to thousands of protesters, calling for the cancellation of the supplementary constitutional declaration and demanding that the dissolved parliament be permitted to reconvene.

"The battle was and still is over the rights and dignity of the people. We won't allow the return of the former regime after the revolution toppled it," Sheikh Shahin said.

"We demand there be no manipulation of the presidential election results," he added. "Tahrir Square wants legitimacy and legitimacy is on the side of Morsi."


foreign.desk@thenational.ae with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse