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Pro-Morsy rallies buckle under Egyptian military's weight

| Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 12:05 a.m.
Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsy chant slogans during a protest in Giza Square, in Cairo's sister city of Giza, Egypt, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. Hundreds of supporters of Morsy took to the streets on Friday, holding scattered rallies across the city in a test of whether the ousted Egyptian president's allies can keep up the pressure on the government despite the arrest of much of their senior leadership.

CAIRO — A “Friday of martyrs” protest in support of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsy drew far fewer numbers than previous rallies.

Twenty-eight marches were planned, but some never materialized. Others were quite small by Egyptian standards.

Several thousand marched in Giza, chanting against the military that ousted Morsy, a former Muslim Brotherhood official, on July 3. They dispersed by early afternoon.

The reduced support for Morsy suggests a military crackdown on Islamist leaders — now dead, jailed or in hiding — has left the once-powerful Brotherhood in disarray. Many of its rank and file seem reluctant to risk more bloody clashes with security forces.

Across Cairo, soldiers blocked roads with armored personnel carriers, and marchers avoided them.

Khaled Hussein, 36, a banker, insisted he is not a Brotherhood member and did not vote for Morsy but “came out to demand democracy.”

Hussein said the army, which installed an interim civilian government, “put our votes in the trash bin.”

Morsy's ouster a year after winning office resulted from nationwide protests by millions of Egyptians demanding his resignation. But Hussein said democracy cannot flourish if every protest results in a president's removal.

“If Morsy comes back, I will oppose him again,” he added as a passing young man shouted, “No to the Muslim Brotherhood!”

Many Islamists carried a new protest symbol — a yellow poster with a black hand extending four fingers and a message: “Raba'a, the symbol of steadfastness.”

In Arabic, raba'a means the fourth; it also was the name of the larger of two Islamist sit-ins crushed by security forces last week. Many of marchers on Friday held up four fingers.

Shopkeepers and pedestrians watched impassively. Some returned the four-finger gesture; others said they want calm restored after a month of street battles that killed more than 1,000.

Baha'a Mosaad, 25, a hairdresser, condemned the Brotherhood as terrorists who “are burning all of Egypt.” He said Islamists have attacked or killed many of his fellow Christians, burned more than 50 churches and destroyed Christian shops and homes, and “no one is doing anything.”

“I am not with Sisi,” he said, referring to Egypt's defense minister, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who led Morsy's ouster. “I'm with justice. I want everyone to live together under the rule of law.”

As protests dwindle, Cairo is returning to its normal bustle — at least until a daily dusk-to-dawn curfew starts. But the military remains ever-present.

Six military vehicles were parked on Friday near the Egyptian Museum, where a sign on a nearby bridge declared: “The army, the police and the people, one hand against violence and terrorism.”

Another waited outside the locked gates of Fateh mosque, near where more than 100 Islamists died last week. There wall graffiti called Sisi “a killer.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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