Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood changes tactics amid crackdown

By Shaimaa Khalil
BBC News, Cairo

image captionMany Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up and jailed

In the Cairo suburb of Maadi on Friday, a few hundred protesters chanted against Egyptian military rule, many with their hands in the air.

They gave the now famous Rabaa four-finger gesture, in reference to Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, where the army cracked down on supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi.

One of the protesters carried a banner with the ousted president's picture on it and Arabic slogans that said: "He'll be back, God willing" and "The price of upholding legitimacy is my life."

The tactic of most Muslim Brotherhood supporters now seems different though.

Protesters gather in small numbers in many different locations rather than holding mass rallies in one location like that of the Rabaa al-Adawiya or al-Nahda squares.

It's been a little over two months now since security forces cracked down on those two squares where supporter of former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in their thousands.

Since then almost all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its supreme guide, have been arrested.

Many supporters have also been rounded up and thrown in jail. A recent incident in Alexandria saw more than 20 women supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in clashes with residents of one of the city's most crowded neighbourhoods.

'Not defeated'

But all of that doesn't seem to deter supporters of the ousted president from taking to the streets.

"It's important to keep the momentum going," said Yomna, a university student in her final year.

image captionSupporters insist Mohammed Morsi must be returned to office

Yomna didn't want her last name revealed. She said that as a Morsi supporter, she had to be careful not to reveal her identity. That alone shows how different things have become here in Egypt.

Despite what happened in Rabaa or even because of it, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters insist that the only way for them is the street.

"We're tired but we are not defeated, we're still in the street because people know that this is where they should be," Yomna said.

"This trial will be a chance for us to regroup and unite again," she added.

"Seeing that they have put our president on trial will make us even more determined."

Despite this determination, Yomna admits that these past few months have been extremely difficult for her and many like her who still want Mohammed Morsi to be returned to office.

"Look what happened to those girls," she said, referring to the women who were arrested in Alexandria recently.

"As a Morsi supporter I feel vulnerable to arrest at any time now. I'll keep protesting but I know next time it could be me.

"Sometimes I feel like I no longer live in my own country."

'We don't want another Syria'

The recent arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders have presented the now-banned group and its political wing with organisational challenges.

image captionThe four-finger gesture has become the Brotherhood's new sign

The Muslim Brotherhood is a hierarchical entity where orders are passed from the top down. It's been like this from its beginnings, and it allowed the group to function and be organised even when it was driven underground during the Hosni Mubarak era.

Some here say that the leaders' absence has allowed the younger generation to be more bold and take matters into their own hands.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is not just the leaders," said Fatima Abdel Hamid, a Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood supporter.

"There's also the youth and they have been keeping up the action. I think that having the leaders in prison will give them a chance to take revolutionary actions."

The "revolutionary actions" that Fatima mentioned mostly manifest themselves in more protests and more clashes on the streets.

And in this extremely tense and polarised country, clashes could easily get out of hand.

Fatima said that there had been many calls for those who take to the streets to keep the demonstrations peaceful, but that it was impossible to promise that they wouldn't turn violent.

"I don't control it. We try to remind ourselves and keep saying these have to be peaceful protests. We don't want another Syria," she said.

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