Egypt’s bruised Brotherhood fails to show street power

CAIRO,  (Reuters) – Mass protests called by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood mostly failed to materialise yesterday as the movement reels from a bloody army crackdown on followers of ousted President Mohamed Mursi.

Troops and police had taken relatively low-key security measures before the “Friday of Martyrs” processions that were to have begun from 28 mosques in the capital after weekly prayers.

But midday prayers were cancelled at some mosques and few major protests unfolded in Cairo, although witnesses said at least 1,000 people staged a march in the Mohandiseen district.

There were no reports of violence in that procession, but the Brotherhood’s website said one person had been killed in the Nile Delta town of Tanta in clashes with security forces. The Interior Ministry confirmed the death.

Brotherhood supporters also turned out in Alexandria, several Delta towns, the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, the north Sinai town of Rafah, and Assiut in the south, with minor skirmishes reported in some places.

The Health Ministry said 54 people had been wounded on Friday in Cairo and two Delta provinces, without giving any details of the violence or who was injured.

“We are not afraid; it’s victory or death,” said Mohamed Abdel Azim, a retired oil engineer who was among about 100 people marching slowly from a mosque near Cairo University.

“They intend to strike at Muslims,” the grey-bearded Azim said. “We’d rather die in dignity than live in oppression. We’ll keep coming out until there’s no one left.”

Despite his defiant words, the mood of the protesters seemed subdued, perhaps a sign that the crackdown and the round-up of Brotherhood leaders has chilled the rank-and-file.

Some marchers carried posters of Mursi, who was toppled by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on July 3 after huge demonstrations against his rule. “No to the coup,” they chanted.

A militant Islamist group active in the lawless Sinai Peninsula threatened new attacks on the army and police. In a statement published on a jihadist website, the Salafi Jihadi group condemned security forces for what it called the “heinous crime” of killing Brotherhood supporters. It was the first statement from any of the militant groups in the Sinai desert bordering Israel since last Wednesday’s violent move by security forces on the Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo.

The number of attacks on security forces in Sinai has jumped since the army removed Mursi. Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 24 policemen on Monday. At another small protest in Cairo, a veiled nursery teacher with four children, who gave her name as Nasra, said: “God will make us victorious, even if many of us are hurt and even if it takes a long time. God willing, God will bring down Sisi.”

Egypt has endured the bloodiest civil unrest in its modern history since Aug. 14 when police destroyed protest camps set up by Mursi’s supporters in Cairo to demand his reinstatement.

The violence has alarmed Egypt’s Western allies, although President Barack Obama acknowledged that even a decision to cut off U.S. aid to Cairo might not influence its armed forces.

But he said Washington was re-evaluating its ties with Egypt. “There’s no doubt that we can’t return to business as usual, given what’s happened,” he told CNN in an interview.

Some U.S. lawmakers have called for a halt to the $1.5 billion a year given mostly in military assistance to Egypt to bolster its 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Military cooperation includes privileged U.S. access to the Suez Canal.

The Brotherhood, hounded by the new army-backed rulers, had called for demonstrations across Egypt against the crackdown, testing the resilience of its battered support base.

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