x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Egyptian protesters set to defy ultimatum to clear camps

Security forces ready to move in to evict tens of thousands of demonstrators as government loses patience with pro-Morsi protests. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attend a protest in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi outside the Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque in Cairo.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attend a protest in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi outside the Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque in Cairo.

CAIRO // Islamist demonstrators were prepared for violent confrontation yesterday as police indicated they could act today to besiege two protest camps as a first step to dispersing them.

There had been widespread speculation that security forces would clear the two major camps occupied by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's deposed president, after Eid Al Fitr had passed.

Egyptian police were expected to begin clearing the camps early today, a police source told Reuters.

"I think there will be a conflict," said Zainab Osman, a university professor who regularly demonstrates against the interim government backed by a military that removed Mr Morsi from the presidency. "We are waiting and crying for God to help us to find a solution."

She said she anticipated that both the army and interior ministry forces would act to break up two sit-ins, one close to Cairo University and one by the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque in Nasr City.

There have been two major incidents of violence since the camps were set up more than a month ago, one involving interior ministry forces and another primarily the army, according to participants in the Rabaa Al Adaweya sit-in. More than 130 people were killed in the onslaughts.

The interim government has issued a succession of warnings to the pro-Morsi protesters to go home or face police action and repeated the warning five days ago, when the presidency issued a statement saying that international mediation efforts - led by the UAE, EU, Qatar and the US - had failed, laying the blame squarely on Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group.

The delay, said Mazen Hassan, a professor of political science at Cairo University, may be because the security forces are trying to plan a way of dispersing the tens of thousands of people, including women and children, without killing large numbers of people.

He said they might try to operate gradually, employing measures such as the cutting off of water and electricity, which camp residents reported on Saturday night.

However, he sees a violent showdown as coming eventually.

"As ironic as it might sound, both sides might find it more suitable to their interests to resort to the worst-case scenario," he said.

"The Muslim Brotherhood would find it better for them if the sit-ins were cleared violently because this will fuel their claims that the military-back government is using violence against peaceful protesters.

"And the government has been given a mandate by millions of people ... they don't want to be seen to be appeasing the Brotherhood," Mr Hassan said, referring to the mass demonstrations in support of the new authorities.

After the sit-ins are cleared, he said that the supporters of the detained Mr Morsi would likely try to undermine the political system by continuing to refuse to participate in it - and that talks planned to start today overseen by Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, will probably not achieve much.

Al Azhar lost much of its credibility in the eyes of the Brotherhood when it backed the military in their removal of Mr Morsi. Although international figures such as Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, have called the inclusion of the Brotherhood vital in the planning of Egypt's next political step, the prospect seems unlikely in the highly polarised environment.

In a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, two members of the National Salvation Front, a mostly secular political bloc led by interim vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, spoke starkly of the perceived need to excise the Brotherhood from politics.

"The Muslim Brotherhood will be crushed by the army. There is no room for them in the new phase. The sooner they realise this, the better," said a member of the Front. Another said that although the crackdown could radicalise Islamists, "we are ready to confront that and pay the cost for it".

An adviser to the interim president who is working on national reconciliation said in the report, "we will need to remove the tumour that is the Muslim Brotherhood".

"I don't know what is going to be next," said Mrs Osman, the demonstrator. "But I think that we will go into the streets, all the streets of Egypt, and we are not going to surrender, because they took our democracy and they destroyed the revolution."


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