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The Muslim Brotherhood Prepares for Its 'Day of Rage'

“They say we are terrorists, then fine,” Mustafa said. “I will be a terrorist. I am ready to pick up a Kalashnikov and fight. In the south, we are already fighting against the coup,” he added, referencing the wild, unsourced rumours circulating among...

Swathed like lissom crows in black niqabs, the girls hopped up and down in the sun. Bearing the burial shrouds they had brought to Nasr City, they sang in shrill unison about how they longed for death. The men by the barriers admired their enthusiasm from a respectful distance. “We are all ready to die,” said Mustafa*, the Morsi-supporting activist we were shadowing, “it is a wonderful thing for us to go to heaven.”


He smiled as his gaze followed his index finger to the blue sky above. Closer to earth, a military facility—an apartment block for army officers—loomed over us. The pool of blood beside its steel gates was dry by now. The night before, as we cowered from rifle fire behind nearby cars, a man had died here.

“He climbed on the gate and shook them—not to attack the soldiers, but just because he was angry at the army’s statement,” said a white-haired English teacher squatting in a makeshift tent opposite. All around us, men lounged barefoot in the cool shade. “And so they killed him.”

"Who shot him?" I asked. He looked at me like I was a fool. “The army, of course. But, you know, we think not all the army are with the rebels. The generals are divided. We think some support Morsi. We hope that they will save us and the constitution.” At a press conference beside the Rabea Adaweya mosque, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad made a short statement to the world —but primarily to the army—expressing honeyed words of love and devotion towards the military that had overthrown them, the “heroes of the 1973 October War against Israel and the liberators of the Eighteen Days” (the Tahrir demonstrations that toppled Mubarak two years ago). The Brothers' hope, he said, is that the Army will side with the people and democracy against the rebels, preserving the unity of the nation.

It seemed an unlikely hope in the circumstances. Only an hour or so earlier, fighter jets and air force display teams had roared over central Cairo, streaming the colors of the Egyptian flag from their afterburners in celebration of the coup. One team divided in the sky and drew a love heart in the air above the Nile in a kitsch display of triumphant unity with the vast anti-Morsi crowds cheering from below in Tahrir. But the Brothers at Nasr City refuse to accept that the game is over and that their 90-year struggle to impose Sharia law in Egypt had failed. All we want is democracy, they all said—whatever democracy now means in Egypt—but Mustafa’s vision had already slipped from the ballot box towards a more radical solution.


“They say we are terrorists, then fine,” he said. “I will be a terrorist. I am ready to pick up a Kalashnikov and fight. In the south, we are already fighting against the coup,” he added, referencing the wild, unsourced rumours circulating among the crowd that parts of rural Egypt were gearing up for an insurgency. “And in Mersa Matruh, the police and the army have fled from there and a big picture of Morsi is hanging in the square.” He beamed with satisfaction. “In Sinai, the Bedu tribes have given the army 24 hours to release our president or they will start the war.”

Rumors swirl in crowds like this, intoxicating the dejected protesters with dreams of a kinder world. But a revived Islamist insurgency in Egypt is by no means impossible now that the experiment with democracy has failed.

The pro-Morsi crowds cover a wide spectrum of Islamist opinion, from relatively liberal teens in skinny jeans and T-shirts to Salafists with chest-length beards waving the black banner of radical Islam and providing alarming sound-bites to a no-doubt gleeful television crew, declaring their willingness to launch suicide attacks and “burn the Christians”.

On to Sinai—a wild, long-neglected and barely governed peninsula on the eastern border where the only stable source of income is the smuggling of weapons to Gaza and African immigrants to Israel by the local Bedu tribes. The government has only recently quashed a jihadist insurgency in the area with attack helicopters and lavish spending on development.


The video above purports to show Islamists declaring "a council of war" against Egypt’s new government. State media is now reporting a concerted series of assaults by unknown gunmen against military checkpoints and Sinai's main airport—attacks that jihadist forums had reported hours before to the Gaza-based Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen

But the overwhelming majority of the Nasr City crowds remain committed to peaceful protest, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has declared repeatedly it will not be drawn into the trap of violence. Islamist protesters begged us to tell the world they are not terrorists—as the victorious, military-backed Tamarrod coalition frequently claim—but gentle, ordinary people seeking the return of their democratically elected leader by constitutional means, perhaps including UN intervention. The mood today at Rabea Adaweya was one of joyous celebration of the sit-in’s mere survival on this dusty roundabout, but Egypt remains a country divided between two sides who hate each other with all-consuming passion.

Morsi’s supporters say they are willing to die to return their deposed leader to the presidential palace, and in this current phase of Egypt’s messy cycle of revolution and counter-revolution, many already have. More than 50 Egyptians, mostly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been killed since Sunday in unclear circumstances and by unknown assailants—a grim tally increasingly unexceptional in a country wracked by two and a half years of anarchy. And as the country holds its breath for today’s “Day of Protest,” announced yesterday by the Muslim Brotherhood as their response to the coup, many in the Nasr City crowd prepare themselves, through stirring chants and tearful prayer, to join the ranks of martyrs.

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