Bracing for an Islamist revolution

In a statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday, the group endorsed participation in the November 28 protests, which have been dubbed as the “Islamist revolution.” 

Local state and private media have raised alarms about the day and its potential descent into violence. Security authorities have stepped up their threatening tone against the planned protests, reiterating that violence will be used if necessary. On Sunday, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim warned that November 28 will be the last call for mobilization by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

By Thursday night, some roads have already been shut, while military helicopters have been deployed in anticipation for the day, which was set by some Islamist groups to start on Friday at dawn with a million man march.

The Brotherhood’s statement in support of the November 28 protests raised questions about the group’s commitment to non-violent resistance, in light of the growing discourse on violence associated with Islamist groups in Egypt. 

Ibrahim Mounir, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, told Mada Masr from his office in London that there is complete coordination between the organization’s presence in Egypt and abroad on the mobilization for the protests. He affirmed the group’s commitment to peaceful resistance against what he referred to as “the military coup,” which will apparently be reflected in the chants and signs on Friday. 

The Brotherhood’s media office in London also issued a statement in English distancing the group from any calls for violence and renewing its commitment to peaceful protests. “Our peaceful resistance is stronger than bullets,” they wrote. 

However, Ahmed Youssef, a member of the group in the Delta city of Sharqiya, suggests that peacefulness is no longer the only resort. “Peaceful choices have led to the loss of the blood of so many youths, especially when there was no commitment to self defense, which has been defended by Islam. This is leading to more internal division within angry youths. We are at the heart of the battle. We cannot keep seeing our brothers’ blood being wasted and commit to peaceful protests.” 

Ashraf al-Sherif, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo and an expert on Islamist movements, says that the issue of violence does not seem to be settled on within the Brotherhood. “The group doesn’t have a clear position vis a vis violence. But it cannot publicly renounce their choice for peaceful resistance, which they use in their discourse to the West to argue for the restoration of their democratic legitimacy that was snatched away from them on July 3 [by the military].”

However, the embittered youth of the Brotherhood do not have the luxury of splitting off from the group, Sherif argues, unless there is an alternative organizational current that is different. 

Mounir, who has lived in the UK for more than 25 years, says that the Brotherhood are wholeheartedly in favor the Friday protests. He adds that claims that there are divisions in the group over participation because of differences on the position vis a vis violence is nothing but an attempt to spread false messages. 

Besides the Brotherhood, the Salafi Front, a major faction of the Salafi following, have called on people to take to the streets on November 28. This would be the only other Islamist group openly calling for the November 28 protests. The group is known for its radical ideology and its call for the full adoption of Islamic Sharia. 

Other traditional allies to the Brothers such as the Construction and Development Party, the political arm of the Jama’a al-Islamiya, and the Wasat Party, have refrained from taking part in the day. 

The protests “would lead to spreading more fears of Islamists. Religiously and rationally, we shouldn’t embark on an act, the consequences for which are unknown,” Jama’a al-Islamiya leader Essam Derbala told the Construction and Development portal.  

For Mounir, this is simply a sign of the independence of different groups within the Islamist current from each other. 

But Sherif wonders if the Brotherhood’s inability to persuade other Islamist groups to join the November 28 protests is a further sign of its weakness. More importantly, he wonders if there is a concern within the group regarding the growing estrangement of their younger members, parallel with a rising admiration to the Islamic State model of Islamization. In a Brotherhood-organized protest last Friday in the Cairo neighborhood of Matareya, demonstrators chanted for the Islamic State and raised its flag.

Meanwhile, in mid-November, a video dubbed “the uprising of Muslim youth” started spreading on Youtube, whereby young men and women called for nationwide protests on November 28. 

In the video, the youth wore t-shirts with the statement “battle for identity,” and in a quick advertisement-like format, enumerated the regime’s assault on their Islamic identity, giving examples such as the military’s destruction of mosques in Sinai and the ban on the use of microphones for some prayer calls. 

There is no evident political responsibility for the call by any Islamist group, with the profile of the Youtube channel simply called “Identity Battel” [sic]. 

Meanwhile, Yasser Borhamy, the deputy head of the Salafi Dawah, which has taken a pro-regime stance and stood against the Brotherhood and the November 28 protests, suggested in a video that the radical Hazemoun youth are taking part in the protests. The group first rallied around Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Aou Ismail and quickly became at the forefront of the radical Islamist movement in the country. 

Formal and informal Islamist groups calling for the Friday protests have said they are the beginning of a series of corrective actions to put an end to the military coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013. 


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