January 23, 2011 / 4:29 PM / in 7 years

Egypt Islamists lukewarm on calls for mass protest

CAIRO (Reuters) - Young members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday they would join an anti-government protest this week prompted by the turmoil in Tunisia, although the opposition group has not made a direct call to participate.

Egyptian activists inspired by the overthrow of Tunisia’s president plan a nationwide rally on Tuesday to protest against poverty, unemployment, corruption and police brutality, echoing the complaints that drove Tunisians on to the streets.

Egypt’s Web activists, among the state’s most vociferous critics, have sought to galvanise support via a Facebook group which attracted 50,000 online supporters within days of its launch.

The Brotherhood, which political analysts say has the ability to call thousands of disciplined supporters on to the streets if it wishes, has not openly called for its members to join in, but said it did not oppose youths or anyone else participating.

Tuesday’s protests, due to be held on a national holiday to honour the police, will be a test of the online opposition’s ability to turn Web activism into street action.

The response of Brotherhood members reflects rifts between a youthful branch keen to hit the streets and an older generation that wants to win society over to its Islamist goals without clashes which would incur the wrath of the state.

“It is upsetting many of us that the group does not participate in any national event and it seems the group puts the organisation’s benefits above all other things,” said Abdel-Rahman, a 21-year-old student and Brotherhood member.

Abdel-Rahman, who said he helps organise Brotherhood youth events, declined to have his family name published.

The Brotherhood, which eschewed violence as a means of bringing change in Egypt decades ago, is banned and its members are often rounded up by the state. However, it still operates openly and puts up parliamentary candidates as independents to circumvent the ban.

LOW PROFILE

“We would have liked to all be celebrating on that day, but young people are calling for a protest and we are with any group who has demands and is seeking change,” Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood member, told Reuters.

“We can never prevent anyone from participating in the protest and certainly our youth will join in with other groups.”

The group has kept a low profile during most of the big public protests of the past few years.

Analysts say it is wary of a crushing response from security forces which could threaten its survival and disrupt a long-term agenda to win support, particularly through social and other charity projects, for its stated goal of a democratic Islamic state.

“A large number of young Brotherhood members will join other political groups but the (Brotherhood) will not officially participate as it fears it will be heavily crushed by the state and be blamed solely for the protests,” said Mohamed Abdel Fattah, a 29-year-old Brotherhood member from Alexandria.

The Brotherhood did not participate in 2008’s two biggest public protests in April and May. Those protests also had strong Web involvement. Activists and rights groups complained that the Brotherhood had failed to join more actively.

“The Brotherhood’s preference to stay quiet ... is out of fear that its members will become the victims of this protest,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, political analyst at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

“The group fears that the government by the powers of the emergency law will detain many Brotherhood members,” he said, adding that Brotherhood participation could be used by the state to fan fears in the West of an Islamist threat.

Editing by Edmund Blair and Andrew Dobbie

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