Furqan Friday

Egyptian supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi wave their national flag as they attend a rally in support of the former Islamist leader outside Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in this July 8, 2013, file photo. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images) Egyptian supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi wave their national flag as they attend a rally in support of the former Islamist leader outside Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in this July 8, 2013, file photo. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi wave their national flag as they attend a rally in support of the former Islamist leader outside Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in this July 8, 2013, file photo. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

In a speech addressing a military graduation ceremony on Wednesday, General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister and head of the armed forces, called for Egyptians who supported Mursi’s ouster to come back out into Cairo’s streets and squares on Friday. He said he needed a popular mandate from the Egyptian people in order to take extra measures to “confront terrorism.”

The army and police are already tackling growing levels of violence. Pro-Mursi demonstrations have been centered around Rabaa Al-Adawiya square in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo, but violent incidents have been seen all over the country. Some communities have physically blocked pro-Mursi protesters from marching through their neighborhoods, leading to skirmishes and injuries. The night before the speech a bomb attack on a police headquarters in Mansoura left one dead and many injured, while in the Sinai militants have staged almost daily attacks on the police and army. According to Egyptian media reports, two soldiers were shot dead in separate incidents on Wednesday alone.

But this is the first time the army has actively called for protesters to turn out to support the actions of the military. Until now, the army has always portrayed its actions as responding to the will of the people and this has been the source of their legitimacy and their popularity. This change of tactic is a gamble, then, and Sisi will inevitably lose some supporters as a result. So why take this unexpected move?

A clue to the timing of this call for demonstrations in support of the army is the Muslim Brotherhood’s announcement that they will hold protests today (Friday, July 26) under the banner of "Friday of the Furqan." This commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Badr, one of the most famous battles in Islamic history. It was considered a turning point for Islam, in which the outnumbered Muslim army beat a bigger non-Muslim army through divine intervention. The allusions to the current standoff between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army are clear. In fact, Muslim Brotherhood leaders say they are now engaged in jihad, and it is apparent that the army expects such religious rhetoric to result in heightened levels of violence.

One of the consequences has been a spike in attacks on Copts—Egypt’s biggest Christian community—following Mursi’s ouster. Pro-Mursi supporters explicitly single out Christians as being at least partly to blame for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood president. Copts have long been an easy target for those seeking to target the Egyptian state and the unity of Egyptian society. The church has told its members that they are free to join the protests, but there will be no church services or activities in the days after the protests due to fears that any gathering of Christians could be a target.

Despite popular fears of the increasingly destructive tactics being employed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi’s move has provoked a range of reactions from ecstatic support to confusion and outrage. Two pro-revolution groups, the April 6 Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists, are against handing Sisi his mandate. The Salafists are divided. Meanwhile, the National Salvation Front (NSF) and the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement—the main instigators of the June 30 protests that removed Mursi—strongly support Sisi’s call and have encouraged their supporters to come out and demonstrate “against violence and terrorism” in greater numbers than on June 30. Also supporting the army are Al-Azhar, Egypt’s main Islamic institution, and the Egyptian churches.

Clearly there is still huge momentum behind the army and anger against the tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood, but as events on Friday unfold, there are two questions to be answered: How large do the protests need to be to give Sisi the mandate he has asked for, and what exactly does he plan to do if handed a blank check by the people? Even if the army is successful in stemming violence in the short term, it is unrealistic to expect the Muslim Brotherhood movement to disappear entirely. Mubarak’s government cracked down violently on militant Islamic groups in the 1990s, but they did not melt away completely. Al-Jihad and Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya both reappeared again as soon as Mubarak fell. Nevertheless, Sisi’s speech made it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood organization, founded in 1928, is facing the greatest threat to its existence in its history.


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