Aya Batrawy and Tony G. Gabriel
CAIRO: Reeling from a fierce security crackdown, the Muslim Brotherhood brought out only scattered, small crowds Friday in its latest protests of Egypt’s military coup.
While the remnants of the Brotherhood’s leadership are still able to exhibit strong coordination from underground, the arrests of thousands of its supporters and members — and the fear of more bloodshed — have weakened its ability to mobilize the streets.
The day’s largest single demonstration was a little more than 10,000 people outside the presidential palace in Cairo, with dozens of gatherings of about 100 protesters or fewer in multiple sites around the capital and the provinces.
It was an intentional shift in tactics from a week ago, when the group failed to rally in a single location as a show of strength.
Security officials dubbed it the “butterfly plan” — a flurry of protests to distract them.
Rather than have protests converge in one square and encounter force from police and angry residents, the group appeared to purposely plan hundreds of small marches as another way of continuing demonstrations and avoiding bloodshed, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Protest organizers also tried a bit of subterfuge: They said a rally would take place in Sphinx Square in Cairo, but after security forces barricaded the site with barbed wire, tanks and roadblocks, only a few hundred people demonstrated nearby, and the biggest crowd converged across town at the presidential palace.
Tens of thousands heeded the Brotherhood’s call nationwide for a day of “decisiveness,” in which the group urged people to “break your fear, break the coup.” They marched defiantly past tanks and armored vehicles on the streets of Cairo and other major cities.
More than 1,300 people, most of them Brotherhood supporters, have been killed since President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime leader in the group, was ousted in a popularly backed coup July 3.
Violence peaked two weeks ago when security forces attacked two Brotherhood-led sit-ins, killing more than 600 people in the assaults. More than 100 policemen and soldiers have been killed since the Aug. 14 raids. Police stations, government buildings and churches also have been attacked.
“When it started, it was only about the return of Morsi to power,” said protester Ahmed Osama, 18. He said he lost friends in the recent violence and that his brother was shot. “Now it has gone past that. Blood has been shed.”
He said that despite the arrest of Brotherhood leaders, “We are still here.”
The Brotherhood has more than 80 years of experience operating secretly as a banned organization. It was not until after the 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak that the group surfaced with its full might and created its own political party.
The group appears to have changed its tactics from two weeks ago, when it urged people to converge in a main Cairo square. Nearly 100 people died in that incident, with protesters jumping to their deaths off an overpass as residents and police fired on them from different vantage points.