On Sunday [July 28] at the same time as EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton's visit to Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood organized a tour for foreign correspondents to see the area of Rabia al-Adawiya where ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters have been protesting since June 28. The ostensible purpose of the visit was to introduce these journalists to the protesters. Afterward, the reporters were invited to join the protesters during iftar meals in the company of a number of ex-ministers and governors drawn from the ranks of the Brotherhood’s leadership.
As-Safir received an invitation as well, and accepted. There to receive us was Murad Ali, the official spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and Gehad al-Haddad, the official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was clear that the group took an interest in the foreign press, sharing a widespread lack of trust in the Egyptian media and its capacity for neutrality.
The first stop was an event hall in the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque that had been converted into a media center for the protesters. The hall was divided into two parts. The first was located behind a divider and held around 20 young Brotherhood activists hunched over computers, uploading pictures, communiqués and news related to the protest. The second half was an open space in which Brotherhood leaders meet with foreign journalists, serving as a sort of studio for the media center.
The only individuals allowed to maintain a permanent presence here are journalists from Al Jazeera and the Rassd News Network (RNN). Haddad did not allow us to take pictures of the young activists working in the media center, ostensibly for security reasons. He explained each group's purpose. One group is responsible for photography and camerawork, another edits footage into montages and a third uploads the resulting content onto social media forums and websites that can then reach the press.
One of the young volunteers at the media center told As-Safir that he is here “to stand up for what’s right and legitimate.” However, he quickly added, “I’m not one of the Muslim Brotherhood.” When asked about the pictures being uploaded from the media center — some of which, it subsequently came to light had been taken of old events that took place in Iraq or Syria — the young man responded angrily, denying that any events or pictures had been falsified. When reminded that several pro-Brotherhood social media pages have published images of a dead child who, it was later revealed, had died in Syria, he answered, “I don’t know what pictures you’re talking about.” He then went back to his computer, ignoring the presence of those around him.
The next stop was the protesters’ hospital. It was being run out of the prayer area inside the courtyard of the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque. There, a doctor greeted visitors, describing to As-Safir the hospital’s various departments. The hospital is equipped to treat wounded patients and even to conduct basic operations. When asked if the wounded had in fact been treated here, he replied, "Several of the wounded have been taken to the Rabia hospital next to the protest." He denied rumors that clinic doctors and protest leaders had refused to transport the wounded to hospitals outside the protest area, for fear that they would be detained by security forces.
Within the field hospital, there is a large pharmacy containing enormous quantities and varieties medications. Queried about the source of these medications, the doctor replied, “They are donated by kind, decent people.” Regarding the clinic’s capabilities, he said, “There are nine refrigerators in which to store medication, two machines for sterilizing, 40 beds and a group of over 20 doctors working in two shifts.”
The third stop was the main kitchen — there are two other branch kitchens in the square — where the supervisor spoke about its capacity to prepare iftar, or Ramadan fast-breaking meals, for 20,000 people, as well as the pre-dawn suhur meal.
There are eight brand new refrigerators in the kitchen. When asked about their source, the supervisor replied, “They came from donations originally sent to the hospital, but the clinic had more than enough, so the funds were passed on to us.” The refrigerators were filled with meat and chicken, which are handed out to the president’s supporters, as the kitchen director put it.
“Yesterday, we ate four tons of meat collectively,” he said with evident pride, attributing all this to “good and decent people.” In response to a question about meals he replied, “Iftar meals are composed of a quarter of a chicken, or two pieces of meat, cooked vegetables and mixed greens while suhur meals are made up of ful, a bit of cheese and a hard-boiled egg.”
The fourth stop was at the gates of the protest square. A brick wall augmented with sandbags had been set up by the protesters “to protect and defend.” When asked about the sandbags, Haddad answered, “Bullets can penetrate the brick wall, but they can’t get through the sandbags as well.” When asked if that would be enough to prevent the protesters from being forcibly dispersed, he replied, “The number of protesters is what prevents them [from trying to do so] — if they wanted to disperse the protest, they would have to kill 100,000 protesters. They cannot do this. We are fully willing to sacrifice 100,000 martyrs.”
At the iftar table organized by the Brotherhood for the foreign correspondents, As-Safir met with a number of prominent Brotherhood leaders who had occupied high-level positions in the government: Usama Yassin, Bassem Awdah, Saad Husseini, Hassan al-Baris, Gamal Heshmat, Murad Ali and Gehad al-Haddad.
Some preliminary observations: None of them are reading Egyptian papers, watching Egyptian TV stations and as a result they were stunned at the position of the army and police. They are in denial, stubbornly rejecting any independent indications regarding the extent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s — and the ousted president’s — fall.
Husseini was the most agitated of those present, beginning by stating, “Their idiocy lies in the fact that they began with fighting when that should be the last stage. But now it is only logical that, having begun with killing, they have nothing to escalate toward.”
Husseini appeared confident that “the army is divided,” adding, “This doesn’t bring us any joy. But we have information that there are officers who are refusing to execute orders and they are being executed — killed, if necessary— just as it happened at the Republican Guard.”
“The Republican Guard officers killed on July 8 were killed for refusing to carry out orders,” he said, citing as evidence the fact that “they were not given a military funeral. We consider them martyrs, but as far as [Gen. Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi is concerned, they’re nothing.”
Husseini completely denied that the Muslim Brotherhood possesses any weapons, or that they have been among those calling for violence. When he was reminded that many eyewitnesses confirmed that Morsi supporters had used automatic weapons during the protests at Rabia al-Adawiya and Nahda Square, he replied, “The people of Upper Egypt might carry a grudge, and they are the ones who bore weapons.” He hastened to add, “We don’t carry weapons.”
Concerning the events of al-Manil and Bayn al-Sarayat, in which a large number of young men were killed, Husseini denied knowledge of the events. In his words, “I haven’t heard anything about either al-Manil or Bayn al-Sarayat before.”
He continued defiantly: “We are protesting until we achieve our goals. Let them show us how they plan to clear us out of the square. What happened to the Republican Guard was a harsh lesson for the army. Since then they haven’t fired a single bullet. Instead, they rely on the police, and they’ll have to give up on them too.”
Usama Yassin, a former minister of youth, began to speak in coded language. "The solution is to return to legitimacy," he said. "We are in the street. Real power is with us. The freedom-minded people are with us. We are committed to peaceful means and resistance until the president returns."
When asked what, precisely, he means by the word “legitimacy,” Yassin replied, “A return to legitimacy means the return of the president, the parliament and the constitution.”
Bassem Awdah dismissed the possibility of a transformation into a Syrian or Libyan scenario. In his view, both are “thoroughly remote from Egypt, given the nature of the Egyptian army. In fact, we are afraid for the army because of what Sisi’s actions might do to it.”
Awdah recognized the “many mistakes and serious problems” over the course of the year that the Brotherhood governed Egypt, but he stressed that “this does not give anyone the right to launch a coup against the president.” He then qualified his remarks, stating, “The Brotherhood’s government was one of the cleanest that Egypt has ever known.”
Husseini went so far as to deny reality altogether, stating, “We possess the real numbers. Those who went out into the streets on June 30 [to protest against Morsi] were no more than 360,000. The photographic and televised images from the protests are just Photoshop, and other tricks concocted by [film director] Khaled Youssef.”
Extremely agitated, he continued, “By God, if the people had rejected us, we wouldn’t have stayed for an instant.” He added, “Our level of popularity on the street is now far above 60%.”
We asked, "So long as you are content with the verdict of the street, why don’t you accept the army’s roadmap and conduct new elections?"
He answered in irritation, “No, no! Don’t twist my arm! The president will return, the constitution will return and then we can go to a referendum.”
Gamal Heshmat, a member of the dissolved Shura Council, believes that Morsi was ousted due to “his success.” He explained, “If he was a failure, they would have left him alone,” adding that “the successes” of the ousted president “worried the state machinery, and so they all conspired against him.”
We asked, “If we grant that all the organs of state conspired against Morsi, how will he be able to return and work with them?” Without thinking, they answered, “All these institutions will be cleansed.”
“Cleansed of whom?” we asked.
"Of all the traitors,” he answered.
By "traitors," he explained that he meant “everyone who conspired against the president must be held accountable and punished.”
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