The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

MB arrests, demo


The demo I wrote about earlier didn't take place exactly as planned, as people who posted comments pointed out. No demonstrators ever got to parliament, because, well, parliament was surrounded for blocks by several thousand troops from Central Security, the riot police. Not only that, but this morning the security services arrested about 50 Muslim Brothers, some of which are fairly high-ranking, and one of which is a member of the Guidance Council.

The picture on the right gives only a small inkling of how many troops there were (click on the picture for more details.) Central Cairo was virtually frozen for several hours. Each street for about four or five blocks from parliament had a squadron of troops controlling who could get in.

In the end, the MB did hold a smallish demonstration a couple of blocks away, although I did not make it there because the troops would not let people get through, even journalists. Someone who was there said there were about 400 people, which is also what I guessed from the images on Jazeera (they must have been following the demonstrators or gotten there early.) Reuters and Jazeera Online reported "thousands" of demonstrators, but these were elsewhere. What seems to have happened is that they decided to change the location of the protest at the last minute, apparently taking the riot police by surprise (and probably angering the guys in charge of Cairo security.) Kinda daring, actually.

The best story on the demos is AP's, which explains there were several demos:

The group planned to demonstrate Sunday afternoon in front of the downtown parliament building. Generally, demonstrations are tolerated though a violation of Egypt's decades-old emergency laws, but riot police always vastly outnumber protesters. This time, Cairo traffic was knotted for hours and thousands of riot police waited outside the National Assembly, but protesters did not show up.

The Brotherhood instead showed up in front of al-Fateh Mosque, about 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) in the sprawling capital, shouting "Islam is coming, coming and the Quran will rule" and "No extremism, no terrorism. We want to rule by the book (Quran) ... Islamic law, Islamic law."

Some riot police got into place quickly, with The Associated Press seeing a few hundred standing, facing demonstrators, shields in front of them. At the time, the AP saw up to 3,000 demonstrators urging hundreds more people approaching to "come join us, let's raise our voices together."

Interior Ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated 2,000 protesters had gathered and said two more demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood were simultaneously taking place elsewhere in Cairo. Those officials said there were up to 200 protesters in each of Babelouq Sayda Zeinab districts, and that riot police were present at both.

The AP story also seems to have the best info on who was arrested:

Mohammed Osama, speaking from the Muslim Brothers headquarters in Cairo, told The Associated Press that 48 members were arrested. The men, detained from at least five Egyptian provinces, included leading figures in the group, a state security prosecution official said on condition of anonymity.

(Correction: As I was about to post I saw this updated Reuters story, which claims 49 people were arrested in the morning and another 50 arrested during the demo, bringing the total to about 100.)

This seems to be one of the biggest crackdown in a while, especially since leading member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh -- one of the brightest stars of the "middle generation" of the MB -- was arrested. Aboul Fotouh has been one of the organization's member who has been the most critical of the old leadership, particularly over Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef's conciliatory stance towards Mubarak. It's also worth noting that this (correct me if I'm wrong) is the first MB demo since the death of former Supreme Guide Maamoun Hodeibi -- despite the fact that many other political currents have been holding demos for the past year. At this stage, holding the demo and arresting so many MBs looks like an escalation in the relationship between the MB and the regime.