Cairo - Egyptian troops and police stood ready in Cairo to
foil Muslim Brotherhood plans for "Friday of Martyrs" protests
against the army's bloody crackdown on followers of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
The Brotherhood, hounded by Egypt's new army-backed rulers,
has called for marches from 28 mosques after midday prayers in Cairo, testing the
resilience of its battered support base.
Security precautions appeared relatively low-key, even near
the Fateh mosque in the heart of the capital where gun battles raged last
Friday and Saturday, killing scores of people.
The mosque's metal gates and big front door were locked and
chained. A doorman said prayers had been cancelled. Two armoured personnel
carriers were parked down the street, where people shopped at a bustling
Egypt has endured the bloodiest civil unrest in its modern
history since 14 August when police destroyed protest camps set up by Morsi’s
supporters in Cairo to demand the reinstatement of the Islamist president, who
was deposed by the army on July 3 after huge demonstrations against his first
Only one riot police truck was parked near the Rabaa
al-Adawiya square in north-eastern Cairo, home to the Brotherhood's biggest
protest vigil until police and troops stormed in, killing hundreds of people,
bulldozing barricades and burning tents.
The mosque there was closed for repairs. Workmen in blue
overalls stood on scaffolding as they covered its charred walls with white
paint. Children scavenged through piles of garbage.
Troops used barbed wire to block off a thoroughfare leading
to Nahda Square, the site of the smaller of the two Brotherhood sit-ins.
No armoured vehicles
Traffic moved freely around the huge Nour mosque in the
Abbaseya neighbourhood. There were no armoured vehicles or barbed wire, but
Friday prayers there had also been cancelled.
The authorities declared a month-long state of emergency
last week and they enforce a nightly curfew. The state news agency said the
armed forces had strengthened their presence around the presidential palace and
the defence ministry.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which won five successive votes held
in Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, is reeling from a week
of bloodshed and the arrest of many of its leaders in what the authorities call
a battle with terrorism.
In a symbolic victory for the army-dominated old order,
Hosni Mubarak, the ex-military former president who ruled Egypt with an iron
fist for 30 years before a popular uprising toppled him in 2011, was freed from
jail on Thursday. His successor Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president,
remains behind bars.
The Brotherhood's "General Guide" Mohamed Badie,
who was arrested on Tuesday, is due to go on trial on Sunday along with his two
deputies, Khairat al-Shater and Saad al-Katatni, on charges that include
incitement to violence.
At least 900 people, including about 100 soldiers and
police, have been killed in violence across Egypt since 14 August, officials
say. Brotherhood supporters say the toll is higher.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, could once mobilise vast
crowds, drawing on the same organisational strength it wielded at the ballot
box, but its protests have dwindled this week in the face of the security
State of emergency
"We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the
military coup," the pro-Mursi National Coalition to Support Legitimacy and
Reject the Coup said in a statement.
Graffiti on a mosque wall in central Cairo illustrated the
deep divisions that have emerged since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Morsi.
The spraypainted message "yes to Sisi" had been
crossed out and painted over with the word "traitor". Slogans
elsewhere read "Morsi is a spy" and "Morsi out". Someone
had also written "Freedom, Justice, Brotherhood."
The Brotherhood survived for generations as an underground
movement before emerging as Egypt's best-drilled political force after Mubarak
fell. But its popularity waned during Morsi’s year in office when critics
accused it of accumulating power, pushing an Islamist agenda and mismanaging
The Brotherhood, which Egypt's new army-backed rulers have
threatened to dissolve, says Morsi’s government was deliberately undermined by
unreconstructed Mubarak-era institutions.
Mubarak, 85, still faces retrial on charges of complicity in
the killings of protesters, but he left jail on Thursday for the first time
since April 2011 and was flown by helicopter to a plush military hospital in
the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi.
The authorities have used the state of emergency to keep him
under house arrest, apparently to minimise the risk of popular anger if he had
been given unfettered freedom. Local newspapers on Friday focused on the latest
arrest of Brotherhood leaders, giving scant coverage to the former strongman's
exit from jail.
"Mubarak will never be an important political player,
but symbolically it's a victory dance by the reconstituted old state,"
Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert at Kent State University in the United States,
said of the former leader's release.
Adding to a sense among some activists that the freedoms won
in the 2011 revolt are in danger, planned amendments to the constitution leaked
to the media this week appear designed to place limits on political parties and
ease restrictions on the participation of Mubarak-era officials in politics.