Protests against Israeli War on Gaza Strengthen Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Article excerpt

ISRAEL'S WAR against the Gaza Strip has done more to enrage Arabs across the region than any other single event in recent years. Egypt faced the brunt of the frustration, as Cairo was seen as having been told of Israel's intentions days before the bombing campaign began on Dec. 27. Organizing the efforts in support of Palestinians and against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak was the country's most powerful opposition movement: the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks following the air strike, the Brotherhood leadership spearheaded demonstration after demonstration, reminding the Egyptian government that they still carried much weight in the Arab world's largest nation.

Following last summer's massive protests in Mahalla Al Kobra, in northern Egypt-where residents were angry at low wages paid by the region's largest textile factory and at rising costs of living-the Brotherhood lost much of its popular support because it failed to live up to expectations, largely ignoring the demonstrations.

This all changed two days after Christmas, when Israeli bombs began to fall on Palestinians in the impoverished Gaza Strip. The Brotherhood began the mobilization of its members that resulted in hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Egyptians heading to the streets to protest the Israeli offensive and the Egyptian government's response to the war and its alleged knowledge of the attack before it occurred.

Ahmed, an activist who does not consider himself a regular Brotherhood supporter, was a prime example of what the government fears. He participated in almost every demonstration in support of Gaza and said that despite his apprehension to join the ranks of the Brotherhood, they were "by far the most organized and largest group constantly moving."

In Ahmed's opinion, the demonstrations had given the Brotherhood new life that is likely to continue beyond Israel's latest war against the Palestinians.

"Whatever they [the Brotherhood] lost last summer in Mahalla, the Gaza war has given new life to the movement," he observed, "and it will likely grow larger, especially as the average Egyptian sees the lies that the government said about the war and what they were doing."

Essam El Arian, a leading member of the Islamic movement, believes non-Brotherhood activists were quick to join the demonstrations not only because of the organization's structure, but also because they knew that Brotherhood action would cause a government reaction.

"Activists know that we are strong and will continue to fight against injustice wherever it is," he said, "and this is a perfect example of when the government's policies are not the same as what the people want. We were right to protest."

El Arian held the Mubarak government responsible for allowing the Jewish state to continue its bombardment of "innocent civilians" and demanded that Cairo "should have intervened on behalf of its citizens' demands to make the war end."

According to a statement issued by Brotherhood Supreme-Guide Mehky Akef, Egypt needed to "withdraw the Egyptian ambassador to the Zionist state, dismiss the Zionist ambassador to Egypt and close both embassies, open the Rafah Crossing to allow access to all humanitarian aid and receive the injured, in addition to cutting off gas and oil supplies sent to the Zionist nation."

Ahmed, and a number of activists who do not usually support the Brotherhood, believe the movement understood the sentiments of the country toward the war on Gaza.

"They know what people want and are able to act on it," he argued, "so it is not suprising how many people are out supporting the Brotherhood, even if they usually do not. …