Its principal figures arrested or on the run, its television stations now closed, what’s left of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership is determined to show there’s life in the movement still. They have called for a “Day of Rejection” following Friday prayers today, albeit a non-violent one.
“We still believe the people will realize the mistake they’ve made,” said Ayman el-Kady, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to the ouster of elected president Mohammed Morsi, another Brotherhood member.
Dr. el-Kady, a dentist, still is nursing the swelling of his upper lip where an army rubber bullet hit him two days ago. He and about 2,000 other Brothers and supporters are holed up in Cairo University, preparing to make their last stand.
Confronted by rows of well-trained young soldiers and nervous young security police decked out in body armour and carrying shields and batons, the Brothers have taken up weapons of their own making. Some of those who are manning the barricade – a commandeered waterslide and metal fencing – carry iron bars or wooden stakes, while concrete and tiles have been broken up and put in piles to be used by everyone as hand-thrown missiles.
“We believe there’s hope, but we’re preparing for the worst,” said Wael Sayyad, head of the Brotherhood’s security, clutching a motorcycle helmet he plans to don for protection.
“We think the army has put some provocateurs among us who will start a fight with the soldiers and bring them down on us.”
A crude stage has been constructed at the base of the Pharaonic-style column in the university’s central square. Speaker after speaker kept the crowd of both men and women, some with young children, chanting and waving their Egyptian flags.
“Don’t be afraid, El-Sisi must go,” was a popular refrain, a reference to military chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi who orchestrated Mr. Morsi’s departure and the appointment of Judge Adly Mansour as interim president.
“We know they want stability, but you can’t build stability on hate,” said Mohamed Hussein, a lecturer of German at the private Al-Misr University. “And they’ve taught the people to hate us.”
As a large army helicopter flew overhead, the crowd turned and cheered, then waved their flags and repeatedly chanted, “Allahu akbar,” or God is great. “These people are prepared to bleed, even to die,” said Mr. Sayyed.
Is this the end of the line for the Brotherhood in Egypt? “Absolutely not,” said Prof. Hussein.
“We’ve had bad days in our past,” he added, referring to periods in the movement’s 85-year history when regimes arrested hundreds of Brotherhood members.
“Even if they win this battle, we’ll have plenty of time in prison to plan our next move.”
Leaving the increasingly tense enclave, this correspondent was directed by army officers outside the barricade to leave the area – immediately.
“They’re planning the perfect crime,” said Mr. Sayyed as he waved goodbye. “They’ll attack us and there will be no witnesses.”