CAIRO – Just two years ago, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood won the country’s first free elections, but now many in the country call its supporters terrorists.
It is a spectacular fall from grace for the Islamist movement, which saw its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, become the first president in Egypt’s history with a nonmilitary background.
The victory was based on the support of a fragile and reluctant coalition that splintered as the group alienated nonmembers in the alliance, paving the way for the July 3 coup against Morsi.
Now it faces powerful anti-Brotherhood sentiment, fanned by comments from government and military officials, and state television. Even the deaths of hundreds of civilians as police cleared two pro-Morsi protests last week has failed to sway public opinion, with many happy that security forces moved in.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew now begins at sundown in Cairo, and an eerie silence replaces the usual cacophony of car horns and music blaring from sidewalk cafes and Nile party boats.
The curfew was declared Wednesday after police moved to clear the two main pro-Moris protest camps in Cairo. It applies to 14 of Egypt’s provinces, but perhaps nowhere are the effects as pronounced as in Cairo.
In places, security forces or groups of residents man checkpoints, enforcing the curfew. But in most streets, the pools of light from street lamps are all that remains, occasionally illuminating a passing cat.
The curfew has forced the city’s residents to change their schedules, requiring them to do their shopping, eating and even partying during daylight hours.
On Saturday, as police dragged Morsi loyalists from a Cairo mosque after an armed standoff, residents cheered and beat the Islamists with sticks and iron bars.
“A small part of the population rejects the use of excessive force against the Brotherhood, but the majority supports it because some Brotherhood supporters are armed,” said Ahmed Zahran, an activist.
Zahran took part in the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak, and voted for Morsi when he ran for president in May 2012.
He wasn’t a Brotherhood supporter, but was willing to give the group a chance, and was eager to keep Morsi’s opponent — former regime member Ahmed Shafiq — out of power.
“Morsi’s victory was achieved on the basis of an alliance in the second round of the elections between the Brotherhood and the revolutionary forces and supporters of the (2011) revolution,” Zahran said.
But that alliance quickly began to strain, and reached breaking point last December, with a constitutional declaration that granted Morsi broad new powers. “The constitutional declaration totally changed the game,” Zahran said.
It was adopted in a referendum with 64 percent of the vote, but only 33 percent participation. It turned nervous Christians as well as liberal and political activists who had been willing to give the Brotherhood a chance against them.
The broad coalition that had been expected to participate in drafting a final constitution gradually dwindled to a uniformly Islamist panel.
“The middle class in particular became scared that their way of life would change because Egyptians are religious but certainly not radical and the Brotherhood seemed to be taking the path of radicalism,” Zahran said.
Wael Khalil, a left-wing activist, also voted for Morsi to keep Shafiq out of power, but quickly became disillusioned.
He “cried with joy when the results were announced because we avoided the disaster of electing a candidate from the old regime,” he said. “But afterwards, we discovered the scale of the damage caused by the Brotherhood.”
For writer Fahmy Howeidy, the Brotherhood’s downfall was of their own making, and partly a result of how quickly they came to power.
“Leading a brotherhood means speaking to your supporters, but leading a nation requires that you speak to your opponents as well,” he said. “And that was not the case.”
The army saw its reputation damaged by abuses during the 16 months it ruled Egypt after Mubarak’s ouster.
Now, however, most Egyptians seem to have forgiven it, and insist Morsi’s ouster was simply a response to popular demands, rather than a military coup.
Ali Hassan, a doorman, freely acknowledges that he regrets having voted for Morsi, and now says he hopes the Brotherhood “will be wiped out and won’t come back.”
Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said he saw anger against the Brotherhood growing by the day “because they refuse to admit their mistakes.”
“They are the best-organized force in the country, but they still function like a clandestine organization,” he said.
“They could end up worse off than in 1954,” he said, referring to the year the Brotherhood’s leaders first went on trial before military courts.
The group was allied with the Free Officers military group that overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952.
But they quickly fell from grace then, too, earning the wrath of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who pursued them ruthlessly.