CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood ramped up its calls Thursday for nationwide protests against Egypt’s military-backed government, while an Islamist ally of the ousted president spoke of an attempt to broker a deal before the “ship of the nation sinks.”
The Brotherhood’s call for mass protests and sit-ins Friday will test how much the fierce security crackdown has crippled the group and if they can still mobilize their base in the face of widespread public anger against them.
Egypt’s security forces have increased their presence in the streets ahead of the planned demonstrations and accused the Islamist group on Thursday of using rallies to create chaos. Authorities continued to hunt down wanted leaders, arresting two top Brotherhood figures.
Some fear Friday’s protests could tailspin into another bout of violence.
Bloodshed peaked two weeks ago when police, backed by snipers and bulldozers, attacked two Brotherhood-led sit-ins in the capital protesting the popularly supported July 3 military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime leader in the group.
The move sparked days of nationwide violence that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Morsi’s supporters. Many retaliated by attacking police stations, torching churches, and setting government buildings on fire.
In an interview Thursday, a leader of former militant group Gamaa Islamiya, Abboud el-Zommor, urged both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military to make concessions and acknowledged that both are responsible for the bloodshed.
‘The military is willing to find an exit knowing the dangers of continuation of the struggle.’ — Abboud el-Zommor, Leader of former militant group
‘‘There were miscalculations,’’ he said about the Brotherhood alliance refusing to disband the sit-in before the crackdown. ‘‘I knew there would be losses of many lives and I wanted to find a political exit.”
Gamaa Islamiya is one of two former militant groups who have offered an initiative to halt the political violence.
Zommor said he met with military generals and Brotherhood members who both welcomed his call to take measures to stop escalations. He suggested that the Brotherhood’s attempt to escalate protests might be a way to improve their position ahead of any possible negotiations with the government.
Under his proposed plan, the government would lift the state of emergency, stop mass arrests of Islamists, and offer assurances that Islamists would not be excluded in future elections. In return, he said the Brotherhood would have to promise to hold only peaceful protests and not attack churches or state institutions.
“We noticed that the military is willing to find an exit knowing the dangers of continuation of the struggle,” Zommor said. “It could lead to destruction of the nation.”
The Brotherhood, once Egypt’s most powerful political group, has been weakened by mass arrests of hundreds of top and midlevel leaders. Police also have gone after members’ relatives.
State television and police officials said Thursday that officers arrested outspoken former Brotherhood lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy and former labor minister Khaled el-Azhari. Both are wanted for allegedly inciting violence. Beltagy is also wanted over alleged involvement in an assault on a police officer kidnapped by protesters at the main Cairo sit-in before it was cleared.
Beltagy was among four top Islamists who took to the airwaves during a 24-hour period to try to whip up support for Friday’s protests after a week of small and scattered rallies. They called on people to stand their ground against the “failed, bloody military regime.”
The Interior Ministry, in charge of police, said in a nationally televised statement Thursday that its forces would deal with “firmness” against acts that threaten national security and that police had orders to use deadly force in defense of public and private property.
The ministry said that the Brotherhood’s calls are aimed at stirring chaos.