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Dwindling rallies

Markus Symnak / bkAugust 24, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood is still protesting against the military regime in Egypt, but the rallies are getting smaller. The arrest of the its leaders is taking its toll, and many Egyptians are now just hoping for calm.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's toppled president Mohamed Morsi shout slogans and hold posters bearing a four finger symbol, known as 'Rabaa', which means four in Arabic, to remember those killed in the crackdown on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo earlier in the month. (Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
"Friday of Martyrs" still draws a significant crowd.Image: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi turned out on the "Friday of Martyrs" (23.08.2013) in Cairo, to take part in rallies convening in front of 28 mosques around the Egyptian capital. The demonstrations against the military leadership were mainly peaceful - studded with placards bearing the symbol of their protest movement: a black hand with four outstretched fingers on a yellow background. The emblem is a memorial to the hundreds of demonstrators killed by the army in front of the Rabia Al-Adawiya mosque ten days ago. Rabia is the Arabic word for "fourth."

A black-gloved hand with four fingers extended is held up against the backdrop of a Caro mosque. (Photo: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
The four fingers are meant to commemorate the dead protestersImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

But there were reports of violent clashes elsewhere in the country: At least one Morsi supporter was killed in the city of Tanta when an angry mob attacked one of the Muslim Brotherhood rallies. The houses of several Islamists were also attacked by unknown people.

No weapons

Dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters also demonstrated in front of the Amr ibn al-As mosque, south of central Cairo, after the end of Friday prayers. The location held historical significance: it was where Egypt's first Muslim conqueror - after whom the mosque is named - is said to have first pitched his tent.

As far as the Brotherhood is concerned, the battle for the Islamization of the country continues to this day. "What is happening in Egypt is not a conflict between the army and a political party," says Ali Riad, long a member of the Brotherhood. "It is a fight between Islam believers and those who want to impose a western identity on Egypt."

Riad, in his mid-forties, came to the rally with his wife and two daughters. To prove his peaceful intentions, he called on those journalists present to search him for weapons. "We will not resort to violence, no matter how many demonstrators the army murders," he says.

Ali Riad, member of the Muslim Brotherhood 23.8.2013. (Photio: DW/Markus Symank)
Ali Riad says, 'God is on our side'Image: DW/M. Symank

Major police presence

Initially, the demonstrators wanted to converge on Tahrir Square from different parts of the city. But security forces had already blocked off the inner city early in the morning. The traffic around the square was diverted, and the underground train system did not stop there. Tanks were also deployed in front of several ministries.

Around the Amr ibn al-As mosque, security forces set up barricades of sandbags and barbed wire, behind which armed police officers stood, rifles at the ready.

But the protest at the historic mosque, like many on Friday, remained modest. To the disappointment of the Brotherhood, few inhabitants from the surrounding districts joined in. "We don't want any more bloodshed," an older inhabitant said, adding that it was time for the country to find calm so that politics could step in.

The April 6 Youth Movement, whose supporters had intended to take to the streets to protest against the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, cancelled their demo at short notice - because, they said, they did not want to be associated with the Islamists.

Grass roots on their own

Many Egyptians are also hoping for an end to the evening curfew, which has had a huge impact on public life in the country. Some Muslim Brothers believe that the army only imposed this measure to turn public opinion against the Islamists, but others admit that the mass arrests of the past weeks have weakened their organization.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie sits at a police station after security forces arrested him in Cairo in this handout picture dated August 20, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/The Egyptian Interior Ministry)
Mohamed Badia, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, was among those arrestedImage: Reuters

Around a third of the Brotherhood's leadership is now behind bars. Across the country, hundreds of Morsi supporters have been arrested by authorities. This has broken the organization's chain of command, leaving the party's grass roots members to their own devices.

Early on Friday afternoon, in front of the Amr ibn al-As mosque, the Islamists began to argue amongst themselves whether they should begin their march on the city center. After some deliberation, a majority finally decided to end the demonstration there - because of safety concerns. "The decision is further evidence of our democratic values," said Ali Riad, visibly disappointed, but trying to put a good spin on the situation. He is certainly not going to give up. "God is on our side," he said.