Cairo - For Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, a fierce crackdown has
led to a return to its underground existence of the past: avoiding phones and
the internet, changing homes and blending in.
Ever since security forces forcibly dispersed two Cairo
camps of protesters loyal to ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, members
of his Muslim Brotherhood organisation have been on the run.
Authorities have arrested the group's top leaders, including
its supreme guide, effectively decapitating the movement and disrupting its
Morsi himself is detained at a secret location and
authorities have charged him and other Brotherhood members with involvement in
the deaths of protesters.
The campaign of arrests has forced the Brotherhood back to
ways it had largely abandoned as it inched its way into the spotlight.
Long banned in Egypt, the group had become gradually more
tolerated in the years before the 2011 revolution, winning parliamentary seats
through candidates who ran as independents.
It took centre-stage only after the uprising which toppled
president Hosni Mubarak, winning a majority in parliament and then the
presidency. But Morsi's 3 July ouster has reset the clock.
Group’s leaders on the run
"We've gone back to direct contact after having banned
the use of telephones and the internet, which could allow us to be found,"
said Aisha, an activist in the Alexandria region of northern Egypt, giving a
false name for security reasons.
Her father, a Brotherhood member, has gone underground for
fear of arrest after the 14 August break-up of the protest camps by security
forces at a cost of hundreds of lives.
"It's worse than under Mubarak," she told AFP.
"Because in addition to the violence of the police, there's the hostility
of the people."
"Many people no longer want to have Muslim Brotherhood
as neighbours, but luckily there are still some who sympathise with us."
Another activist based in Tanta, southwest of Cairo, who
asked to be called Ahmed, said the group's leaders were all on the run.
"None of our leaders spend even two nights in a row in
the same place," he said.
No rank of the Brotherhood has been left untouched, from
grassroots members to supreme guide Mohamed Badie, who was arrested on 20
Security sources say more than 2 000 Muslim Brotherhood
members have been arrested in the past 12 days.
But a lawyer close to the group, Ismail Wishahi, says
"more than 8 000 activists have been locked up".
An anti-Brotherhood mood has been growing for weeks.
The army ousted Morsi after massive demonstrations against
War against terrorism
Ordinary Egyptians have attacked dozens of the group's
offices and the local media have lined up behind Morsi's ouster, dubbing the
Brotherhood "terrorists" and terming the crisis a "war against
In the past, the Brotherhood has been able to mobilise tens
of thousands of demonstrators, drawing on a network of supporters throughout
But the violent dispersal of the protest camps and the
campaign of arrests has thinned its ranks and made it increasingly difficult to
mobilise en masse.
Directives can now only be passed by word-of-mouth, and
checkpoints on roads make it impossible to bus supporters from the countryside
into towns for demonstrations.
But experts caution against writing off the Brotherhood too
soon, particularly as the movement has decades of experience in facing state
repression and surviving as a clandestine group.
"The Brotherhood has certainly been shaken up, but it
still has control of its finances, and the majority of its activists are still
free," said Ashraf al-Sharif, a professor of political science at the
American University of Cairo.
"As a closed and secret organisation, the Brotherhood
is capable of resisting this wave of repression and reorganising itself
quickly," added Haitham Abu Khalil, a former member of the group.
A Brotherhood activist in the city of Port Said, in northern
Egypt, said the movement would continue its work, even under pressure and
despite the loss of its headquarters.
"We will engage directly with the population once
again, and we don't need offices to do that," he said.