Originally published in the Evening Standard, 5 July 2013
Early this morning, about five mile east of Tahrir Square, the warm cloudless sky was filled with talk of vengeance.
At a mass rally in Nasr City, the Cairo suburb which for days has been the focal point for Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, a fiery speaker was doing his best to galvanise support for the toppled President.
“Tomorrow there will be an uprising against the thieves!” he screamed, as several thousand listeners roared with approval.
Away on the periphery of the rally, young men wearing hard hats and carrying clubs stood behind sturdy barricades of brick and steel. Nearby, troops looked on at the people whose votes had been nullified by their military coup.
After several days of mass protest and occasional street warfare across Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is facing one of the gravest crises in its 85 year history.
But today Egyptians may see whether Wednesday’s coup has stopped the group in its tracks, or been a harbinger of further bloody confrontations.
The Brotherhood, to which the ousted President is a long time member, has called for mass demonstrations to protest against the military’s intervention. After Mr Morsi spent barely a year in power, its members feel cheated and bewildered.
They played the democratic game so exalted by the West – then were forcibly removed from power at the tip of a bayonet.
It was a popular coup of course, and the army was intervening for the people, its generals said. But that hasn’t made the pill any easier to swallow.
“The whole country is under military arrest right now,” said leading Muslim Brother, Amr Darrag, with wry bitterness. “And unfortunately many people like it.”
Following Wednesday’s dramatic developments the Egyptian authorities began to mount a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.
A wanted list featuring the names of hundreds of Islamists was reportedly circulated by the security services. Several aides of Mohamed Morsi, who is currently being detained at an undisclosed location, have already been rounded up.
In a highly unusual move which risks inflaming Egypt’s political crisis even further, authorities reportedly swooped on Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, as he stayed in a villa on the Mediterranean coast.
Along with Khairat el-Shater, the onetime presidential contender for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, Mr Badie stands accused of inciting the clashes which killed eight protesters outside the group’s headquarters on Sunday night.
Amid the post-revolutionary glow of the millions who marched against Morsi, the arrests may be of little concern.
But others are not so sanguine. “Often there is no explanation of why the arrests are being carried out, what the legal basis is and who is ordering them,” said one NGO director.
With the Brotherhood preparing to rally its supporters this afternoon, it may soon become clearer what effect the crackdown will have on Egypt’s Islamists.
For Gehad el-Haddad, a leading figure within the group whose father was one of those detained by the authorities, the righteousness of the Brotherhood’s position is straightforward.
“Our cause is just,” he said, talking amid the throng at the Nasr City rally. “This is a military coup against a democratically-elected president.”