Muslim Brotherhood Fortress New Hotbed For Protests As Morsi Side-Lined

Two underground passengers in their early 20s looked jaded after a battle against Muslim Brotherhood members in front of the group’s headquarters on Saturday, but they still shouted at the top of their voice to demand an end to the “rule of the Supreme Guide”.

Calling him names, the two men went on a foul-mouthed outburst against Mohamed Badie, the man they believe had overruled Egypt’s elected president Mohamed Morsi and assumed effective control of the country.

Emotions were running high after they were involved in a confrontation with Brotherhood members before the Islamist group’s headquarters in the Cairo district of Moqattam, a fortress that was spared any melees for long.

The presidential palace was a protest hotspot for several months but it can now make way for the building that lies on a hill which overlooks many parts of Cairo in the same way opposition believes Morsi is outweighed by Badie, who keeps a low profile despite being the subject of constant speculation and murmurs over his actual role in Egypt.

Badie, who was elected as the Brotherhood Supreme Guide in January 2010, one year before the eruption of the revolution which eventually propelled his once-banned group to power, is now under the spotlight more than ever.

The 69-year-old had to deal with an unusual situation when he was heckled by a young man while dining with his family at a Cairo shopping centre last week.

The man furiously questioned his role but Badie simply replied, according to a Brotherhood spokesman: “If I’m the one who actually rules Egypt, then I agree with you: ‘Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide’.”

Perhaps Badie has to prove that to some disgruntled political activists who almost left Morsi out of their chants, preferring to hurl a barrage of insults against a man they believe is more influential in an unofficial ruling hierarchy.

‘Morsi not ruling Egypt’

Clashes erupted at the Brotherhood headquarters when protesters sought to turn the building into a graffiti-scarred one, spray-painting murals that condemned the group and its leader.

Deeming the act “provocative”, Brotherhood members rushed out to confront protesters, using wooden sticks to dispel them.

Images and footage of a well-built man aggressively slapping a woman in the face went viral on social networks, drawing a chorus of denunciation.

“Some youths besieged us after we drew the graffiti and hurled obscenity-laced insults against us … one of them strongly hit me on the face and we had to retreat after finding out that they hold bladed weapons,” activist Mervat Moussa, the woman slapped by a Brotherhood member, told satellite television channel ONTV.

“We will continue to fight until we bring down the rule of the Supreme Guide, because Mohamed Morsi is not the one ruling Egypt.”

Several journalists said they were also attacked and dozens were injured when police stepped in.

Phone-ins were rife with anti-Brotherhood rhetoric that questioned the group’s legitimacy in comments not heard since the era of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, whose iron fist kept at bay the 85-year-old group until a revolution ignited by the youth brought them to the forefront of politics.

The group remains legally unrecognized but several Brotherhood officials said recently its status will be legalized once a new law regulating the establishment of NGOs is put into effect.

Brotherhood-Morsi relationship

Critics of Islamist movements feared Egypt would turn into an Iran-style hierarchy in which the president is overpowered by a cleric. They believe their fears were realized, at least partly, nine months after Morsi became the country’s first freely elected leader.

The Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), consistently distance themselves from the presidency.

“In fact, all rumours about the intervention of the Muslim Brotherhood in government affairs have no basis in truth, and are totally unacceptable,” said Brotherhood secretary general Mahmoud Hussein.

Morsi was coy when he was asked in a recent television interview about his relationship with the Brotherhood and its leader, saying that his “historical links” with the Brotherhood have a big influence on him but that he is now the president of all Egyptians.

Critics accuse him of only caring about the Brotherhood interests, citing his decision to dismiss interior minister Ahmed Gamal El-Deen because he failed to protect FJP bureaus during recent nationwide clashes as an example.

He was also criticized for allowing an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly to fast-track Egypt’s first post-revolution constitution late last year.

“Morsi is a helpless president who cannot make any decisions. He simply follows the instructions of the Brotherhood Supreme Guide,” well-known writer Alaa El-Aswany, who supported Morsi in last year’s presidential elections but later became one of his staunchest opponents, wrote in his column in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

“Morsi is the one who ruined his relationship with Egyptians … the millions who poured into the streets to celebrate his success in the elections are now calling for an end to the Supreme Guide rule.”

Demonstrators called for more protests in front of the Brotherhood headquarters, which is now protected by armored police vehicles, during the next few days.

One of the two train passengers asked his friend whether there was any chance Morsi would turn against the Brotherhood one day, drawing a derisive laughter from his comrade.