CAIRO, Egypt – Egyptian authorities have beefed up security across the country on the fifth anniversary of a popular uprising that forced long-time president Hosni Mubarak out of power amid an increase in militant attacks.
Troops have been deployed outside vital state institutions and security has been tightened for the subway system in Cairo.
The measures were taken after the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood called on its followers to stage massive street protests on Monday, which marks the anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. The Islamist group, which was removed from power in 2013 following widespread demonstrations against its one-year rule, described the called-for protests “jihad in God’s cause”.
However, the call is unlikely to generate a significant response, according to experts.
“The Brotherhood has become very weak in recent months,” said Jamal Abdul Jawad, an expert at the state-run Al Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies. “The group has suffered hard security blows, which have ended up with many of its leaders and followers in jail. Moreover, the group is experiencing the worst splits in its ranks since its foundation [in 1928],” he said.
According to Abdul Jawad, the Brotherhood has lost most of its reformists. “There is also a struggle inside the group between the conservative leaders and young radicals. This is a historical feud, which the group has not even seen in the 1950s when it was subjected to a harsh security crackdown.”
In 1954, hundreds of Brotherhood leaders and members were rounded up in the wake of an assassination bid on then Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser in the coastal city of Alexandria. The group was blamed for the attempt.
“The current situation is even worse for the group, which seems to have reached the point of no return.”
Abdul Jawad believes that the alleged cracks inside the Brotherhood cast doubts over its future.
“The group has lost the public sympathy it long enjoyed. Its radical wing, composed of young people, is increasingly getting angry. I don’t rule out that some of them may join Daesh,” he said.
“There is also proof that Brotherhood followers have been involved in urban violence, i.e. attacks on institutions, not individuals.”
Egypt has seen a spate of attacks, mainly against security forces and facilities since the army’s 2013 toppling of president Mohammad Mursi, a senior Brotherhood official.
The government blamed the attacks on the Brotherhood and designated it a terrorist organisation. The group has denied the accusation, insisting that its activism is peaceful.
While acknowledging that the security clampdown has undercut the Brotherhood’s street clout, Abul Jawad warns against its likely fallout.
“The security handling alone is not enough. Its continuation could radicalise its young followers. Also, it is noticeable that the security campaign has gone beyond the Brotherhood and hit other [secular] opponents. This approach has its risks as it earns the present regime foes even among moderate opponents.”
Dozens of secular activists and pro-democracy campaigners, who mobilised the uprising against Mubarak, are in jail after being convicted of holding illegal protests under a controversial 2013 law. Rights groups have repeatedly called for scrapping the law, claiming it is aimed at gagging political dissent.
Mamdouh Abdul Halim, a military expert, disagrees.
“Egypt has seen the return of stability despite this wave of terrorism. One major reason for this is the big sacrifice of the army and police. Another reason is the law regulating demonstrations,” he said.
The law, which has been in effect since November 2013, obliges organisers of public rallies to get permission from police beforehand.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who has been in office since mid-2014, has repeatedly backed the law, saying it is necessary to re-establish stability in the country and revitalise its economy.
Al Sissi, who led the army’s ouster of Mursi, on Saturday vowed zero tolerance for “toying with” national security.
“The only beneficiaries from cancelling this law are the Brotherhood and their allies from anarchists,” Abdul Halim said. “The Brotherhood is the origin of all groups of violence in the region, including Daesh. They [the Brotherhood] are ready to cooperate with the devil in order to return to power.”
Mursi’s presidency marked the first ever taste of power for the Brotherhood.
In the run-up to the anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising, official and private television stations have aired a video made by the Interior Ministry showing “crimes of the Brotherhood” since its creation in 1928.
Interior Minister Majdy Abdul Gaffar this week accused the group of making attacks on police a main priority. “They seek to destabilise Egypt,” he told state television on Saturday.
His accusation came two days after the ministry blamed the Brotherhood for a bombing in Giza near Cairo that left seven policemen dead.
“Police are fully prepared to handle any problems on the revolution anniversary, “Abdul Gaffar said, playing down potential for anti-government protests.
“The people have the right to celebrate the revolution anniversary. We are confident that the people are aware of the nature of the stage that the country is passing through.”