Egypt Braces for Possible Violence Ahead of Islamist Protest

Egypt boosted security on campuses and across Cairo as the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi braced for an Islamist protest that may be the fiercest since his election.

With security forces in the midst of an offensive against Islamist militants in the Sinai peninsula, an ultraconservative group known as the Salafi Front has called for a “Muslim youth uprising” after dawn prayers tomorrow. The government today began deploying units in riot gear and backed by armored vehicles, according to photos and video clips released by the military spokesman and Interior Ministry.

Yesterday, the cabinet approved sweeping anti-terrorism legislation that essentially brands as terrorists any individual or group that disrupts public order.

Militant attacks that once were limited to the Sinai have spread to the capital and other areas. The government blames much of the unrest on the Muslim Brotherhood that El-Sisi set out to crush after deposing his predecessor, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, in July 2013. Preparations for tomorrow’s demonstrations, and condemnation of the protest call by religious leaders, highlight the anxiety it has generated.

Officials at Al-Azhar University, the Sunni Muslim world’s leading religious institution, denounced what they said were efforts to destabilize the country and inflame the population, the state-run Middle East News Agency and state television reported.

The university’s board ceded security to the Interior Ministry for a three-day period, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported, mindful of past eruptions of student violence since Mursi’s overthrow.

Lethal Force

Police and military officials said they would cooperate to avert unrest and that lethal force could be used. Since El-Sisi was elected in May, security forces have quelled protests by Islamist groups who accuse him of leading a coup against the country’s first democratically elected civilian president.

After Mursi’s removal, the government went after the Muslim Brotherhood that fielded him for office, killing hundreds of its members in clashes with security forces, arresting thousands of others and declaring it a terrorist organization. At the same time, the military has gone on an offensive against militants in north Sinai, especially Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a group that has allied itself with the militant Islamic State currently fighting in Iraq and Syria.

The protests are to take place the day before an expected verdict in the retrial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his security chief. An acquittal in that case could further stoke Islamist unrest, and anger secularist and activists who had played a pivotal role in the 2011 uprising that deposed Mubarak.