- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
CAIRO — Gehad el-Haddad, the spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood and the son of one of deposed President Mohamed Morsy’s top advisors, meets me outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque just as the crowds start to throng in for Friday prayers. He’s every bit the young Islamist pol, periodically bounding away to grip and grin with his friends and supporters. We make our way from the mosque to his friend’s apartment; amid the tumult in Egypt, Haddad hasn’t had the chance to shower in three days.
Until a few short days ago, Haddad’s brand of politics appeared ascendant in Egypt. After massive popular protests spearheaded by the Tamarod ("rebel") movement and a military takeover that ejected Morsy from office, however, Haddad finds himself on the run — both legally and politically. But he has no plans of taking this setback lying down.
"I think this Tamarod is not just a youth activist thing," he says, as we walk through the cordon of Islamist supporters protecting the protest. "It is a military intelligence operation."
Friday will do much to determine whether the Islamist backlash to the military takeover fizzles or balloons into a mass movement that threatens the stability of the new regime — and risks plunging the country into violence. The Muslim Brotherhood has called its supporters into the streets after noon prayers for what it has dubbed the "Friday of Rejection" protest. Thousands had gathered outside the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque, the main pro-Morsy protest site, by 11 a.m., chanting "[Army chief Abdel Fattah] Sisi oh Sisi, Morsy is president" and "down with the military government."
Pro-Morsy marches plan to converge on Rabaa al-Adaweya, while Haddad said that there were plans to march from other mosques toward the Republican Guard headquarters, where Morsy is rumored to be under arrest, should their numbers grow large enough.
To Haddad, the crackdown has all the signs of a move that has been planned for months, and was not a spontaneous reaction to the massive June 30 protests that called for Morsy’s ouster. "Blame the Egyptian press — all these stories about selling the pyramids, about having sex with dead people," he said, citing rumors disparaging to the Brotherhood that appeared over the past year. "They were all rumors to destabilize the Morsy administration."
A resource crisis in Cairo has eased in the past few days, a development that Haddad also described as part of a deeply planned, meticulously orchestrated move to topple Morsy. While Cairo residents railed against long lines to fill up their gas tanks in the lead-up to June 30, "it’s been six, seven days now with no petrol shortage, no electricity cuts," Haddad said. "This has been planned long before."
Meanwhile, the Egyptian military continues to round up the top ranks of the Brotherhood’s leadership. "[Deputy guide] Khairat al-Shater and the murshid [Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie] are missing, we don’t know where they are," said Haddad. Former Supreme Guide Mehdi Akef and Haddad’s father, Essam el-Haddad, have also been detained. Haddad said that the new regime was building a case against some Brotherhood leaders for "inciting violence" at clashes at the Cairo University protests, which killed 16, and possessing weapons.
Many Brotherhood leaders who have not yet been arrested have taken up residence at the Rabaa al-Adaweya protest, which they believe the army will not dare to break up with brute force. "We have our news crews, we have our photo teams, stationed at the entrances," Haddad said. "If they try to attack they know we will capture their uniforms and capture their faces and beam it to the entire world within minutes."
The borders of the protest are guarded by ragtag groups of Brotherhood supporters, wielding wooden sticks and head guards that one might wear during a boxing match. At one of the entrances, pro-Morsy protesters had ripped up the sidewalk to build a stone wall. At another entrance, rocks gathered in piles to throw at invaders the previous day had been reassembled into signs: One message read "Down with Sisi’s coup."
While the army chief was rumored to have Islamist sympathies, the past week has proven that the Muslim Brotherhood was never as successful at taming the powerful Egyptian military as it claimed to be. Haddad admitted, in retrospect, that Morsy’s appointment of Sisi had been a strategic error. "We thought he was a patriotic Egyptian," he said. "But it’s the same story as always, they always have dreams for more power."