'People must be able to defend themselves': Egypt - the Brotherhood fights back

With no hint of compromise between army and Islamists and violence spreading, few are inclined to see this as a 'benign coup'

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The Independent Online

Sitting huddled on a wheelchair inside a cage of steel and glass, wearing wrap-around aviator sunglasses, Hosni Mubarak heard Judge Mahmoud Kamel el-Rashidi adjourn the case against him until after Ramadan. Apart from the lawyers, the police, and his co-defendant sons Alaa and Gamal, there was no one there to see the restart of the trial of the former president whose downfall was supposed to herald a brave, new democratic Egypt.

Not far from Cairo's courthouse was the evidence of just how much that vision has faded: the debris of Friday evening's fierce street battle – broken windows, damaged cars and lumps of rocks, banners and placards strewn on the road and, among knots of angry young men, muttered threats of retribution.

There may have been flickering hopes that the removal from power of Mohamed Morsi by the army, and the subsequent wave of arrests of senior figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, would lead to recriminations but not too much actual violence. The marches held in Cairo on the "Day of Rage" by the Islamists did indeed start off noisy and raucous, but non-threatening.

The army kept a low profile. The police, hated by the protesters, were hardly to be seen. A few men made throat-cutting gestures at military helicopters flying overhead, but one of them, Ashraf Ali Badawi, was keen to stress: "This was not for the soldiers. But I am personally prepared to kill al-Sisi."

That was the common theme, the ordinary rank and file of troops were "with the people". But General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces who had deposed Mr Morsi, and a coterie of corrupt senior officers were the villains.

There were complaints that America and Europe had failed to condemn a military coup while lecturing about freedom and democracy. "Not one newspaper or television station was even restricted when Morsi was president and he is supposed to be an Islamist against free speech. The army shut down 10 of them on the first day they took over," cried Mohammed Suleiman, a 28-year-old mechanical engineer.

"Why doesn't Obama say something about that?"

Nevertheless, stewards from the Brotherhood formed a cordon to keep a crowd in Nasr City away from a Ministry of Defence building from which shots had been fired, killing a teenage student three days previously. Five stones had been placed in a circle around a patch of stained tarmac on the road.

"That was his blood; a boy killed for nothing," said Ali Hamidullah, who was carrying a metal pole as a defensive weapon, he said. "But we are not going to have violence; we do not want people to go into the Defence building and destroy anything. We are not going to fight anyone; we are going to just stay here."

All that changed after the first shots were fired outside the headquarters of the Presidential Guards after rumours spread that Mr Morsi was being held in the officers' club. Four men lay dead and dozens were injured. The firing appeared to be the work of men in civilian clothes standing among the soldiers behind barbed wire and walls.

Later in the evening, Brotherhood supporters charged towards Tahrir Square, where thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators had gathered for days. Fierce running skirmishes ensued, leaving one man dead, before the army used armoured personnel carriers to force the two sides apart.

By yesterday, a new and dangerous reality had emerged. The Brotherhood had exchanged fire extensively across the country, leaving 30 dead, and the guns were not going to be put away. Samir Alsayed (not his full name), his left hand bandaged from Friday night's fighting, shrugged. "This is Egypt, a lot of people, especially in the villages, have guns. We have a lot of supporters in the villages, and, yes, I think guns have come into Cairo. People must be able to defend themselves."

There is no dialogue taking place to defuse the situation, with the Brotherhood refusing to take part in the interim administration being put together by the army before, supposedly, new elections take place.

"What process will we discuss ?" asked Amir el-Nagar, a former MP for the movement's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. "The political process has already taken place and we have an elected president."

The army, too, is showing no sign of compromise. Khairat el-Shater, the most powerful figure in the Brotherhood, and the man who would have played a key part in negotiations, was arrested along with his brother on Friday for alleged incitement to violence.

Many in the organisation are now of the view that its political opponents and the army will ensure that the Brotherhood can never legitimately get to power through the ballot box. With that have come bitter memories from previous crackdowns.

"I was beaten every day, on the soles of my feet, on my back, they hung me up until I thought my wrists would come loose," recalled 42-year-old Ahmed Hamdi, who was held at a military base on the eastern outskirts of Cairo in 1999. "They accused me of being a terrorist. But there was no proof of that, so they had to let me go. Now they have arrested more people – this is what they do to drive us underground."

While Mr Mubarak appeared in court in the morning, a group of his supporters gathered around a bust of the former president for celebratory songs about Mr Morsi's fall. "It is good news; things are changing, we shall get back to normal ways soon," declared Farid Ekramy. "We have been living through some sort of madness." The fear among many is that the madness is, in fact, just starting.