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Since Crackdown In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood's Support Wanes


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The confrontation between Egypt's military-led government and the Muslim Brotherhood is far from over and the situation in that country could get much more complicated. Today, an Egyptian court ordered the release of former leader Hosni Mubarak. This comes just a week since security forces violently dispersed camps of Brotherhood protestors. Mubarak's release would further incense the Brotherhood, which suffered years of repression under his rule. The group has been demanding that ousted President Mohamed Morsi be reinstated. Around a thousand people, mostly protestors, have been killed in recent clashes and even more are under arrest.

NPR's Leila Fadel went to one of the Brotherhood's recent rallies in a city next door to Cairo. She found a movement that is reeling but not giving up the fight.


LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: So we're standing at a gathering in Giza and really it's just a few dozen people. I'm not even sure there are a hundred here. It is a sign that the Brotherhood is losing its ability to mobilize. Fewer and fewer people are responding to calls to defy the curfew put in place by the military-appointed government.

At the protest in Giza, people stand outside a mosque. They hold up signs reminding passersby that security forces violently dispersed their sit-ins last week. Human Rights Watch is calling it the worst mass unlawful killings in Egypt's modern history. It has inflamed passions among young Islamists.

AHMED FAWZY: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Ahmed Fawzy is a young cleric. His face is bandaged. He was beaten and robbed during protests on Friday.

FAWZY: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Our strength comes from peacefulness, he says. Some of the youth want to retaliate with violence. But our leaders talked to us, they told us this is what the army generals wants, to turn Egypt into Syria or into Iraq.

Wael Haddara was an advisor to ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi.

WAEL HADDARA: What the army has shown is that there is nothing that they will particularly stop at. They've killed civilians, they've killed them unprovoked. They've killed them in mosques. You know, there's very little that they haven't expressed willingness to do.

FADEL: He notes this isn't the first time that the state has tried to dismantle the Brotherhood. It happened in 1948, 1954, 1965 and 1981. And with every crackdown, he says, the Brotherhood has reorganized and returned stronger.

HADDARA: History tells us that it's hard to try to kill ideas, which is fundamentally what the Brotherhood is.

FADEL: But this time Egypt's military is riding a wave of public support, and in fact Brotherhood supporters appear to be in the minority. All Islamist channels are shuttered and local Egyptian channels play constant videos of the police and military patrolling the streets in what they call a fight on terrorism.

Meanwhile, Haddara says the military is scaring people with the prospect of civil war, using that to justify their crackdown. Nearly all of the top leaders are detained and the Brotherhood is slowly going silent. Even mid-level figures have stopped answering their phones, either because they're under arrest or in hiding.

Khalil al-Anani is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. He says the Brotherhood will survive.

KHALIL AL-ANANI: The next step is for them is to go back to their normal life, which is to operate underground, and they have a remarkable ability to do that. They used to do that over the last 10 decades. They have a very strong structure and organization that can operate underground effectively.

FADEL: But Anani says he worries about the space left behind.

AL-ANANI: Radical and extreme Islamists might take the opportunity to retaliate and to fill this vacuum by recruiting many young Islamists who lost faith in politics and lost faith in democracy.

FADEL: Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Center in Doha, says the Brotherhood's leadership is in disarray. And as things get more bloody, the base is harder to direct, and the Brotherhood doesn't control more extreme Islamist groups.

SHADI HAMID: So I think we're entering into this dynamic where the Brotherhood is losing control of the very movement it spawned after Morsi was ousted.

FADEL: There are already signs of retaliation. Just over one hundred members of the security services have been killed since last Wednesday.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.