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Muslim Brotherhood won't shy away from martyrdom

Egypt's leadership continues its course of confrontation yet the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to back down. In order to win public support, they embrace the role of the martyr. An analysis by Markus Symank in Cairo.

The dead haven't even been counted and already the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for new protests. A whole "week of resistance" is what's planned and the Brotherhood is describing the uprising against the military-backed interim government as an "Islamic, national and moral duty." Clashes with police on Friday and Saturday have again lead to scores of dead among those calling for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

"In the Algerian civil war there were 100,000 people who died. We are ready to pay the same price," a young Islamist said on the streets of Cairo. He has already internalized the Brotherhood's logic of martyrdom. "The Koran is our constitution. Jihad is our way. Dying for God is our most noble desire."

Toughened by years underground

Egyptian security forces detain demonstrators after (Photo STR/ AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds died in the clashes when the army cleared the pro-Morsi camps

Egyptians are going through the bloodiest days of their modern history. Since Wednesday, the violence has killed more than 1,000 people. The vast majority of those victims are from the side of the Muslim Brotherhood. But still, the supporters of the ousted president don't falter. The fact that almost their entire leadership is in prison hardly seems to play a role. After decades of being persecuted under former presidents Nasser and Mubarak, the Brotherhood is used to retaining their discipline in such critical times. The period in the underground has made them stronger.

Now, after having been ousted from power, the old reflexes are still functioning. Maybe the military coup has brought the Brotherhood even closer together: A video from Friday's violence in Suez shows a group of people fleeing a when security forces open fire. But as they see that one of them has fallen, they immediately turn around and despite the gunfire try to carry him out of the firing line.

Unafraid of death

"I don't care whether I die," said Ali Scherif, an older protester on his way to a demonstration. It's more important that the world would wake up and realize that there's a new military dictatorship in the making in Egypt, he added. "I have studied in the United States, I work as a doctor. I'm earning a lot of money. But without freedom, all this means nothing to me."

This defiance of death is a common to many of the protesters. The blood of the "martyrs" is, in their eyes, the fuel that keeps the uprising going. There are also prominent members who are among the victims: On Friday, the son of one of the leaders of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, lost his life. On Wednesday, the daughter of high-ranking functionary Mohammed el-Beltagi died when the army cleared the protest camps.

Propaganda war

A man reacts next to dead members of the Muslim Brotherhood (photo: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Among the victims where also top members of the Brotherhood and their relatives

The Muslim Brotherhood speculates that the role of the victims will win them back the support they lost during the year when they ran the country. They are also careful not to depict their struggle as the protest of a particular group, but rather a public protest. The organizers of the demonstrations avoid terms like "Muslim Brotherhood," and instead say they support an anti-coup alliance, which sounds neutral.

But so far there are only few indicators that the group would manage to turn the public opinion in their favor. While the army has taken the Islamists' TV channel off the air, the government controlled media is inundating the people with nationalist propaganda.

"Nothing justifies violence"

There are only few non-Islamists who have joined the protests against the army. Ibrahim, a left-wing student, thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is "crazy." But still, he joined the protests on Friday because he said he wanted to prevent his country from drifting back into a military dictatorship. The killing of hundreds of protesters could not be justified by anything, he added.

There are also the first cracks beginning to appear in the government. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei resigned on Wednesday. The spokesman of the National Salvation Front also stepped down. The National Salvation Front is the most important secular political alliance. According to media reports, several ministers are also thinking about stepping down.

The hardliners in the interim government, though, do not seem to be changing their course. Those in power seem to be planning to ban the Muslim Brotherhood altogether. The ban was currently being discussed, Prime Minister Hasem al-Beblawi said.

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