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January 24, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 921

Egypt Prepares For Second Anniversary Of January 25 Revolution Amid Unprecedented Tension Between Muslim Brotherhood And Opposition Camp

January 24, 2013 | By H. Varulkar and N. Shamni
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 921

Introduction

The anniversary of the January 25, 2011 Egyptian revolution will be marked this year amid considerable tension between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and President Mursi's supporters on the one hand, and the opposition on the other. These tensions not only failed to abate following the approval of the constitution by referendum, but even worsened, and there are fears that they will peak ahead of the anniversary of the revolution, leading to violent confrontations between the two sides.

The tension between the pro- and anti-Mursi camps recently developed into a direct confrontation between MB General Guide Muhammad Badi' and the opposition, and especially with the opposition-affiliated media, which published unprecedented criticism against Badi' calling to send him to prison and even to hell. Tensions escalated even further after Badi' published a letter on the MB website in which he praised self-sacrifice and martyrdom (istishhad), which was interpreted as a call to MB supporters to confront the protestors on January 25, 2013 and even give up their lives in the fight against them.

The National Salvation Front – the umbrella organization of the opposition – which called on Egyptians to participate in mass demonstrations on January 25 in Cairo's Al-Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt in an attempt to repeal the constitution, promised that the protests would be nonviolent. However, various revolutionary youth organizations explicitly issued calls on their Facebook pages for violence on January 25 in order to topple the MB regime.

Another factor that has contributed to the tension is protest by the Ultras (fanatical soccer club supporters),[1] especially the Ultras Ahlawy, the fan club of the Al-Ahly soccer team. The Ultras Ahlawy demand the death penalty for the accused in the February 1, 2012 events at Port Said stadium, in which dozens of people died, and they are blaming the Mursi regime for delays in the trial.

Various elements in Egypt have expressed serious fears of violent confrontations on January 25, which caused the MB to cancel its own plans for a mass rally marking the anniversary of the revolution. Instead, it has opted to mark the occasion with social activities, such as planting trees, cleaning villages, offering medical treatment to the sick, and renovating schools. Some regions in Egypt have even declared a state of emergency ahead of the January 25 events, and have raised their level of alert.[2]

This report will survey the escalating tensions between Mursi's supporters and the opposition leading up to the anniversary of the revolution, and the preparations by each side, including their use of Facebook to call for violence on this day.

Tensions Continue Following Approval Of Constitution

National Salvation Front Vows To Repeal Constitution, Calls For Protests On January 25

The Mursi regime and the MB hoped that the approval of the new constitution by referendum would usher in a new phase of stability and alleviate the tensions between Mursi's supporters and the opposition. Instead, tensions continued and even escalated. The opposition, led by the National Salvation Front, announced that it would continue its struggle for the future of Egypt and would act to amend the constitution. A communiqué it released after the publication of the referendum results stated: "We are all willing to sacrifice our bodies and souls to achieve the goals of the revolution."[3] National Salvation Front leader Hamdeen Sabahi even announced that the front would work to repeal the constitution,[4] and the deputy chairman of the opposition party Al-Dustour, Ahmad Al-Bar'i, said that the heads of the National Salvation Front would lead protests to promote this demand.[5]

The opposition decided to express its protest against the constitution and against Mursi's policies on the second anniversary of the revolution, January 25, 2013. The April 6 movement called to participate in these January 25 demonstrations "in order to topple the constitution and object to it in all possible ways."[6] Similarly, the National Salvation Front issued a communiqué calling to participate in the protests against the legitimacy of the constitution on January 25.[7]

MB On Opposition: Extremist Secularists, Traitors To The Homeland, Members Of The Old Regime

The MB website and the pro-Mursi press, for their part, published articles harshly attacking the opposition. They accused it of corruption, of betraying the homeland, and serving its own partisan interests, and of using violence to destroy Egypt and instigate chaos. They described the opposition leaders as fuloul (remnants of the Mubarak regime) who had been behind Mubarak's thugs, and as extremist secularists who hate Islam and wish to eliminate Egypt's Islamic identity. The articles also accused certain Egyptian "media," which they did not identify by name, of receiving foreign funding, spreading lies and harming the president's honor.[8]

MB General Guide Praises "Martyrdom" In The Political Struggle

Tensions peaked on December 31, 2012, after MB General Guide Dr. Muhammad Badi' published a letter on the MB website which many in the opposition saw as inciting to violence during the January 25 demonstrations. In the letter, Badi' praised martyrdom and jihad, while attacking those "who do not want the best for Egypt, its people, and our nation," and who want "to thwart the democratic process of change, to abandon the will of the people, to spread lies, [and] to sow fitna... in order to achieve their main goal, [which is] to thwart the Islamic project and its supporters..."

Badi' added: "My dear brothers, it will be very difficult for us if one of our brothers or children is harmed or hurt, let alone injured or killed. We will long to redeem him [by giving] our own lives [instead of his] if there is a way to do so. However, it is Allah's will that chooses the martyrs, and if people are injured it is a test from God, [to see if we] can deal with the threats to our blessed revolution and defend the will of the people. It is our duty to take firm decisions if there is confirmed and ongoing news that causes us to feel that there is real danger threatening our country and people. I trust your understanding and your willingness to sacrifice for the revival of our homeland without the slightest hesitation."[9] Moreover, on January 5, 2013, the website of the MB in the Dakahliyya governorate published a response letter to Badi' by MB activists in which they expressed their willingness to sacrifice their lives and spill their blood for the religion, in order to restore its glory.[10]

It should be mentioned that, alongside the calls for self-sacrifice, Badi's letter, as well as other recent statements by him, included calls for unity, for finding common ground between all political streams, and for avoiding accusations of treason. However, these statements did not alleviate the opposition's fury at the inflammatory statements in his letter.

Opposition Elements: Badi' Is Inciting Civil War And Belongs In Prison

Opposition elements, led by the National Salvation Front, claimed that Badi's statements incite killing and terrorism and deepen the schism in Egypt. The National Salvation Front reiterated its call for nonviolent mass demonstrations on January 25 in Al-Tahrir Square, outside the presidential palace in Cairo, and in other locations throughout Egypt, in protest over Badi's statements.[11] Dr. Ahmad Darrag, a founding member of the Mohamed ElBaradei's Al-Dustour party, said that Badi' should be prosecuted for his statements, which, he said, include a clear call for civil war and killing Egyptians. Darrag added that the MB has turned from a political organization into a terrorist one.[12]

The escalation of the opposition's criticism towards the MB and Badi' was apparent even before he published his letter. One example is a harsh article published on December 9, 2012, by Ahmad Samir, a columnist for the daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm. The article came in reaction to violent confrontations that took place between Mursi supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace on December 4, in which seven civilians were killed and over 350 were injured.[13] Samir accused Badi' of sending MB activists to disperse the demonstrations by Mursi's opponents, and wrote: "Send your supporters to disperse [one more] demonstration... and the living among us will send you to prison, as you deserve, and the dead among us will send you to hell, as you deserve... This is not a threat, but a promise."[14]

Badi's letter only increased the opposition's fury and sparked further articles against him, published mainly in opposition-affiliated papers such as Al-Masri Al-Yawm and Al-Wafd. Al-Masri Al-Yawm columnist Ziad Al-'Alimi wrote an article titled "Dear General Guide, You Belong in Prison," in which he said: "[Badi's] letter includes a clear call to use violence against Egyptians in order to protect the interests of the secret movement [he] leads, which now controls Egypt... This man [Badi'] does not care about the Egyptian blood that could be spilled as a result of his incitement to violence. He does not [even] care about the blood of the members of his own movement, whom he encourages to kill Egyptian [civilians], and whom he exposes to [the danger of] death in order to achieve his goals and remain in power at all costs... [Badi',] your calls for violence and killing will land you in prison again..."[15]

Similarly, Muhammad Sha'ban, a columnist for the newspaper of the Al-Wafd party, wrote that Badi' was pushing the country into civil war after usurping power, and was staining the political landscape with the blood of martyrs. He wrote: "If anti-MB protestors are martyred [during the January 25 demonstrations], Badi' will be responsible, since he has incited [his followers] to fight them."[16] Another article published in Al-Masri Al-Yawm called Badi's letter "a declaration of war" on those calling for a civil state, adding that "the General Guide and his movement insist on drowning the homeland in a sea of blood..."[17]

Another factor that contributed to the tensions between the sides were reports in the Egyptian press that the MB has militias and even a secret armed organization called "Division 95," which took part in violent action against protestors during the January 25 revolution.[18]

Revolutionary Youth Organizations And Ultras Clubs Threaten Violent Demonstrations

Notwithstanding assurances by various National Salvation Front spokesmen stressing that the January 25 demonstrations would be nonviolent, fears to the contrary have not abated. According to a report in Al-Masri Al-Yawm, the revolutionary youth movements have declared that January 25 will not be a day for celebrating the revolution, as the MB wishes, but rather a day for emphasizing the demands of the revolution that have not yet been met – namely the demands for freedom, social justice, and punishment for the murderers of the revolution's martyrs. The movements said further that they would call to repeal the new constitution and would express their opposition to the MB General Guide's control of the country.

They explicitly announced that they would not allow MB activists into Al-Tahrir Square, and warned that they would "break the legs of any MB activists" who dared to come there. One activist even said that January 25 would be a "day of rage," during which demonstrators would express their ire over the "Muslim Brotherhoodification" of the country.[19] Other opposition activists called on the Egyptian people to participate in the demonstrations "in order to complete the revolution" and "topple the MB movement, the general guide, and the President and his government." They added, "This is an historic opportunity to restore the revolution that was hijacked by political Islam."[20]


Banner on the Al-Wafd daily website, known for its criticism of the MB:
"On January 25 – an Egyptian intifada to mark the anniversary of the revolution"[21]

The most blatant expressions of the escalating tensions and calls for violence have appeared over the past few weeks, on various Facebook pages identified with Mursi's opponents and with revolutionary youth elements. These pages have declared that January 25, 2013 will be a day of rage on which the revolution will be "completed" by various means, including violent ones. One page even included instructions for making Molotov cocktails.

Among those calling to protest against the Mursi regime are various Ultras groups, chiefly the Ultras Ahlawy, which is especially voluble in its anti-regime protest because many of its members were killed in the Port Said disaster. This group has threatened violence in the upcoming days in response to delays in the trial of the accused in the Port Said events.[22] On January 21, 2013, it was reported that the Prosecutor General intended to delay the verdict in the trial, which was to be issued on January 26, owing to new evidence that had surfaced. Following this news, the Ultras Ahlawy declared January 23, 2013, a "Day of Rage," and they indeed staged violent protests on this date, besieging the stock market building, disrupting traffic, and starting fires.[23] On January 24, unknown persons threw Molotov cocktails at the offices of the MB website.[24] Some Facebook pages of revolutionary youth organizations and Ultras clubs explicitly call for violence on January 25 in order to topple the MB regime by any and all means.

In the same vein, a "Black Block" group[25] in the Isma'iliyya governorate issued an announcement saying: "We do not call to burn, destroy, or shatter any government or non-government facility, but we do warn anyone who is considering attacking us or [other] protestors. If that happens, we will oppose [the attackers], even at the cost of our lives."[26]

Videos calling for protests on January 25 were also posted on YouTube. Some included images of pistols and Molotov bottles and advised protestors to wear hoods and gas masks.


Video posted on YouTube ahead of January 25 protests[27]

Below are some examples of calls for violent protests on January 25, 2013 posted on various Facebook pages.

Calls To Use Violence, Weapons


How to make a Molotov cocktail
[28]


"This time, our revolution will not be peaceful"
[29]


Facebook page called "Second Rage Revolution in Port Said": "When oppression becomes law, resistance becomes a duty. January 25 – We are all Martyrdom Seekers"[30]


"
Call to all free revolutionaries: weapon+Molotov cocktail=revolution+reprisal"[31]


"Resist, even if you're alone
"[32]


Instructions for putting on a "ninja mask" [33]


Activists state that they intend to break into and occupy the presidential palace.[34]

Threats Against Mursi, MB


"Between you and me – Blood"
[35]


"Coming soon – A homeland without the [Muslim] Brotherhood – January 25" [36]


"January 25, 2013 – Down with the MB regime" [37]


"We will meet [on January 25 – Wait For Us – The People's Revolution"
[38]


"January 25 – Punishment and expulsion [of the MB regime]; The Revolution of Rage – A call to every free revolutionary: Destroy the MB and burn all their headquarters and sources of funding, including the Al-Tawheed Wal-Nour shops, which provide the MB with funds and weapons"
[39]


"Message to all MB [activists] – If you come out [to demonstrate] on [January] 25, write your will for your mother, knowing that you will surely die"
[40]


"On January 25, 2013, the misguided dogs will return to prison – To be or not to be – Save Egypt – It is the people who will stop the MB officials – No army, no police – Execute all the MB Jews"[41]

Due To Fear Of Violence, MB Replace Anniversary Demonstrations With Tree Planting


MB website: "The MB will celebrate January 25 with a campaign to build up Egypt"

The MB's original plan was to mark the anniversary of the January 25 revolution with two mass demonstrations, on January 23 and 25 respectively, as decided in deliberations headed by General Guide Badi' and his deputy, Khairat Al-Shater.[42] However, it seems that, due to rising fears of possible violence, the MB eventually decided to cancel the demonstrations and turn the anniversary into a holiday.[43] They decided to hold smaller parades with the slogan of "Building Egypt Together," and that the movement would mark the revolution with activities that would help society, such as planting one million trees, cleaning one thousand villages, providing medical care to the sick, and restoring schools.[44]

The Egyptian interior minister announced that the country's security forces were preparing for the anticipated demonstrations, and that he would personally supervise their activity. He called on the public to celebrate peacefully and set aside differences on that day, and said he was worried about violence by the Ultras, since the verdict in the Port Said events would not please everyone.[45] With an aim to restore calm, on January 23, 2013, President Mursi issued a directive according to which those killed and injured in the Port Said events would be considered among the killed and wounded of the revolution. This recognition, it should be noted, has long been demanded by the families of those harmed in the events and by the Ultras.

As mentioned, some regions and facilities in Egypt have declared a state of emergency ahead of the January 25 events. The independent Egyptian daily Al-Fajr reported that the military has raised the level of alert on Egypt's borders to the maximum, to prevent the smuggling of weapons or explosives for purposes of terrorism or sabotage. It was also reported that the army would reinforce the police in securing vital facilities.[46] The Al-Sharqiyya governorate has raised the level of alert and tightened security at all government facilities.[47]

Articles published on the MB Party website harshly condemned calls to violence on the Facebook pages of regime opponents, and warned against these organizations. Columnist Muhammad Gamal 'Arafa wrote: "The 'YaaKhabar' Facebook page, which was started by one of Hamdeen Sabahi's supporters...[48] told those it called 'revolutionaries' how to mark the anniversary of the revolution and prepare Molotov cocktails... Are these revolutionaries, or are they criminals who teach people how to make Molotov cocktails and kill on January 25?... The Facebook pages of some of those who call themselves 'the forces of the revolution'... call to use arms to demand Mursi's ouster... Do they have a right to officially declare that, on January 25, the anniversary of the revolution, they will kill MB [members] and Islamic elements who will be celebrating? Why isn't the interior ministry monitoring those who write on these internet pages and arresting them?"[49]

Another article published on the website warned that "the heads of the [National] Salvation Front make sure to declare that these protests will be peaceful, while some of its youths and members insist that they will be violent... It is strange that we have seen no written or spoken statement by any of the leaders of the crumbling Salvation Front that condemns or distances it from the ongoing calls to violence."[50]

* N. Shamni is a research fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is Director of Research at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[2] Al-Fajr (Egypt), January 14, 2012.

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 23, 2012.

[4] Other National Salvation Front officials claimed that the referendum was invalid due to forgeries and irregularities, and declared that the constitution did not represent them. Al-Watan (Egypt), December 23, 2012.

[5] Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 23, 2013.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), December 26, 2012.

[7] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), December 26, 2012.

[8] Ikhwanonline.com, December 22-23, 2012; Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), December 23, 2012.

[9] Ikhwanonline.com, December 31, 2012.

[10] Dalahliaikhwan.com, January 5, 2013.

[11] Elharakaelwatanyaelmasrya.com, January 2, 2013.

[12] Al-Watan (Egypt), January 2, 2013.

[13] Masrawy.com, December 6, 2012.

[14] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 9, 2012.

[15] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 3, 2013.

[16] Alwafd.org, January 4, 2013.

[17] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 3, 2013.

[18] According to the opposition, this strengthens the claims that the MB was responsible for the violent clash outside the presidential palace on December 4, 2012. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 15, 2013.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 13, 2013.

[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 13, 2013.

[21] Alwafd.org, January 24, 2013.

[22] Recently, the Ultras Ahlawy sprayed graffiti on the presidential palace warning President Mursi that if the accused were exonerated or not punished as they deserved, the Ultras Ahlawy would take the law into their own hands and make sure that the accused were punished. The group also threatened that it would surround the courthouse where the trial is being held, as well as the presidential palace. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 10, 2013.

[23] Al-Fajr (Egypt), January 21, 2013; Al-Dustour (Egypt), January 22, 2013; Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 24, 2013.

[24] Al-Watan (Egypt), January 24, 2013.

[25] "Black Block" is a mode of protest in which demonstrators wear black clothing and a black mask to conceal their identity. It was developed in Europe in the 1980s by movements protesting squatter evictions and nuclear power, among other things.

[26] Al-Wafd (Egypt), January 23, 2013.

[37] http://www.facebook.com/ultras.tahrir.squares?fref=ts. The Guy Fawkes mask, worn by the figure in this poster, has its origins in Guy Fawkes Night celebrations marking the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot in 17th-century England. It has been used by groups in the West and in the Arab world that protest against governments or financial bodies. Today, it is also the trademark of the hacktivist group Anonymous.

[42] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 13, 2013.

[43] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 16, 2013.

[44] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 13, 15, 2013; Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 23, 2013.

[45] Al-Watan (Egypt), January 14, 2013.

[46] Al-Fajr (Egypt), January 14, 2013.

[47] Al-Dustour (Egypt), January 23, 2013.

[48] The Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/YaaKhabar calls for demonstrations on January 25, 2013, to topple the MB regime. However, it should be noted that it seems to be an Islamic page that supports a religious Islamic state.

[49] Fi-p.com, January 17, 2013.

[50] Fi-p.com, January 17, 2013.

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