Egypt: When protest serves power

Issandr El Amrani writes: Last Friday, thousands of protesters affiliated with Egypt’s secularist parties took to the streets for what may have been the country’s first specifically anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration. Grievances concerned the performance of the current government, the “Brotherhoodization” of state institutions and a draft constitution produced by a Brotherhood-controlled constituent assembly that is peppered with Islamic references and conservative language on freedom of expression and women’s rights. Most of all, though, it was a protest against the way in which the previous Friday, Brotherhood activists had tried to foil a secularist demonstration against President Mohamed Morsi’s policies.

At the same time, by taking on the Brotherhood, this latest demonstration also officially consecrated the group as the new regime and the secularists as the new opposition.

The Brotherhood, which has just held internal elections for the Freedom and Justice party, its political arm, is still figuring out how to be in power. The F.J.P. is widely seen as remote-controlled by the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, a politburo of about a dozen members, even though the party’s new leader is making noise about reinforcing the separation between the party and what is supposed to be a religious advocacy group. Elected officials, starting with Morsi, are scrambling to take control of the unwieldy helm of state and quickly realizing the difficulties ahead.

Even after more than eight decades in the opposition, the Brotherhood arguably still was not ready to govern. It just seemed more ready than anyone else.

The secularists — a broad term that includes socialists, liberals, conservatives and figures from the era of Hosni Mubarak — are united in only one thing: their hatred of the Brotherhood. Their ability to stage protests is, by the standards of post-Mubarak Egypt, limited. Only a few thousand people joined last Friday’s protests, when earlier demonstrations against Mubarak or the military council that ruled between Mubarak and Morsi typically attracted tens of thousands. And even when it comes out against the Islamists, the secular opposition bickers with itself. Radical secularists object to the presence of more conservative ones, for example: last week, a group of revolutionaries called April 6 jeered a delegation of supporters of Amr Moussa, a foreign minister under Mubarak. [Continue reading...]

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