x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Protests in Egypt amid reports Brotherhood NGO under threat

At least two people die in clashes that erupt during protests in Alexandria. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood march in Cairo on Friday. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP Photo
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood march in Cairo on Friday. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP Photo

CAIRO // Security forces tightened their control in Egypt yesterday, as Islamists held protests amid reports that the Muslim Brotherhood's non-government organisation is to be dissolved soon.

A day after the attempted assassination of the interior minister in a bombing that killed at least one person, security was stepped up around ministry buildings, the parliament and foreign embassies in Cairo.

Armoured personnel carriers flanked the bridges across the Nile, and the state-run media said extra troops from central security forces had been deployed across the city.

The show of force came as the Egyptian government continued in its efforts to quash the Brotherhood and its supporters.

Al Akhbar newspaper reported yesterday that a decision had been made to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood's NGO, as was recommended this week by a panel of judges.

The ground for the dissolution relates to laws against NGOs running paramilitary groups.

The decision, which Reuters reported had been confirmed by a government source, would be largely symbolic.

The Brotherhood's roots and support are deep and the NGO formed this year was an equally symbolic move to legitimise the nine-decade old movement.

But it would form part of a crackdown on the movement that has already begun, with the government vowing to "strike terrorism with an iron hand".

The Muslim Brotherhood called for yesterday's demonstrations, under the slogan "The People Protect the Revolution, across the country and in Cairo's Nasr City, where hundreds were killed when their sit-in protest was dispersed last month.

Photographs and videos of the march showed thousands of people, many waving yellow placards with the four-fingered salute that has become the symbol of protest against the military-backed government that deposed president Mohammed Morsi two months ago.

"Get out, get out," shouted the protesters.

The processions in Cairo were largely peaceful although state media reported scuffles between residents and supporters of Mr Morsi, a former prominent leader of the Brotherhood, in Alexandria, where Islamists have a strong presence.

Two people were killed, Reuters said. Another was reported to be killed in the city of Damietta, in clashes between pro and anti-Morsi civilians.

Marches in recent weeks have been far smaller following the arrests of thousands of people connected with the Brotherhood, some of whom have been tried and given long prison sentences.

Mr Morsi is accused of murder after the deaths of demonstrators outside the presidential palace in which he was resident last winter.

The new Egyptian authorities say that the Brotherhood is linked with terrorism, and after an increase in violent events, they are likely to crack down harder.

There was a rocket attack on a ship in the Suez Canal last week, claimed by the militant group Kataeb Al Forqan.

The group said it was "targeting the international shipping waterway, which has become a safe route for crusader aircraft carriers travelling to attack Muslims, and a trade artery for infidel and tyrannical states", their statement on state media said.

The country has also been shaken by simmering violence targeting security forces in the Sinai region and the bomb attack in Cairo on Thursday.

Condemnation of the attack, which has not been claimed by any group, continued to come from all sides yesterday.

Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's seat of learning, said the perpetrators were shamed, and called on Egyptians to remain united. The Brotherhood and hardline imams also condemned the attack.

The international community remains starkly divided on the actions of the interim government. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Gulf countries have supported the new leadership with grants and loans, and affirmed their support in the fight against terrorism.

Regional countries such as Turkey and Tunisia, whose ruling parties have strong ties to Egypt's Islamists, have condemned the military action as a coup.

Western nations have largely condemned the actions of the new leadership, particularly the use of force against demonstrators, but have been reluctant to suspend aid and diplomatic relations.