“Dozens of people were reportedly killed in renewed clashes on Friday as thousands of followers of the embattled Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets of Cairo and other cities, facing police officers authorized to use lethal force,” the New York Times reports:
The outcome of the growing confrontation between secular and Islamist forces in Egypt — a contest that could shape the country and the region for years to come — seemed cloaked in uncertainty. ….The Brotherhood, for decades the repository of Islamist sentiment, said it wanted millions to march on Friday to display “the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs.”
The outcome of the internal Islamist debate may now be the most critical variable in deciding the next phase of the crisis. The military-backed government has made clear its determination to demonize and repress the Islamists with a ruthlessness exceeding even that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the autocrat who first outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood six decades ago.
“How the Islamists respond will inevitably reshape their movement and Egypt,” ask Times reporters David Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell. “Will they resume the accommodationist tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood under President Hosni Mubarak, escalate their street protests despite continued casualties, or turn to armed insurgency, as some members did in the 1990s?”
“The ideas of al Qaeda and Jihad are being reborn and being fed by the violence of this government,” said Nezar Ghorab, a leader from the Islamist movement al Gamaa al Islamiya, in an interview. “The attempt to seize the civil and political rights of Islamists will provide support to the ideas of al Qaeda and Jihadist thought.”
Extremists “couldn’t have wished for a better example of how democracy doesn’t work,” said Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi groups. “Muslim Brotherhood members feel especially vulnerable now. They feel that they have been cheated. Radical rhetoric will likely be more acceptable to them now than before.”
The Washington Post adds: By locking up Morsi and the group’s top, venerated leaders and keeping them incommunicado, the military could be deliberately pushing the Brotherhood toward behavior that mainstream Egyptians will repudiate, said Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute.
“You might see individuals turn more to anarchy,” said Zelin, who runs the blog jihadology.net. “You have a bunch of young people full of rage and emotion. The question is whether the military is doing that on purpose.”
Efforts by the United States to throttle the appeal of al-Qaeda in the Muslim world are faltering, said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.
“Events over the past year show that we have not been terribly successful,” he said. “The al-Qaeda brand is stronger than it’s ever been.”
Hoffman said the use of the Egyptian coup as a rallying cry has an ominous historical parallel: the coup in Algeria in the early 1990s that prevented an Islamic party from taking power. That move, which was widely seen as having been backed by the West, was among the key geopolitical catalysts that led to the radicalization of the founders of al-Qaeda. In an important way, Hoffman said, the Egyptian case could prove more destabilizing.
“You didn’t have the power of mass media to mobilize people that you have today,” he said.
But former jihadists have cautioned against a return to the ‘armed struggle.’
“Because of our experience and the position that we have against the use of violence, we persuaded them that Egypt can’t stand fighting, that an armed conflict is a loss to everybody,” said Ammar Omar Abdel Rahman, a leader of Gamaa al-Islamiya and the son of the blind sheik convicted of terrorism in the United States 20 year ago.