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Offices burned and leaders jailed, Muslim Brotherhood struggles to respond to Morsi ouster

One week after Egypt’s military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, his followers in the Muslim Brotherhood are under siege and struggling with no clear strategy to find a way back into the political arena.

The political wing of the movement Wednesday rejected any role in the interim government now being assembled or in elections that are to follow in the next six months. A spokesman said the Brotherhood is hoping that nationwide protests will somehow return Egypt’s first ever democratically elected leader to power.

“They will collapse within days,” said Mohamed Zidan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, speaking of the interim government headed by Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, 76, a former finance minister. As for Morsi’s supporters, “Our first reaction will be in the streets and the squares. We are not going to leave the squares for one day, for one week, for our lives.”

Morsi, his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and four other senior associates are now under arrest. On Wednesday, the first day of Ramadan, the newly named state’s attorney issued arrest warrants for nine others, including Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader. Government officials said none was immediately arrested, however.

Egypt’s prosecutor-general ordered 206 people held for further investigation following a clash between the military and Morsi backers at the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, in which at least 55 people died. Another 446 were released on bail.

In another development, Kuwait became the latest Gulf Arab state to throw its support behind the new military-backed government, pledging $4 billion in aid and fuel to the $8 billion promised Tuesday by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Zidan acknowledged that many “normal people are not happy with Morsi’s performance” in his year in office, which ended July 3, three days after the June 30 anniversary of his taking office.

But he said Morsi’s future “is not negotiable.”

“You can kill 10 million people. I will be in the street,” Zidan said.

He predicted the pro-Morsi demonstrations would be much bigger than the estimated 13 million to 20 million who turned out to oppose him, in demonstrations that began June 30 and lasted until the military made its move.

Zidan said the protests will remain peaceful but that Morsi’s backers are ready to die.

“I don’t want to live this life without democracy,” he told McClatchy. Citing 7th century Islamic history, he referred to Hamza, the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, who died while defending his nephew, as the “best martyr,” for he’d spoken truth to tyrants. Hamza is sometimes called the “Chief of the Martyrs.”

The Freedom and Justice Party no longer has a formal headquarters – its Cairo offices were burned last week, and Zidan said he couldn’t venture out into the city for fear of arrest. To interview him Wednesday, two McClatchy reporters had to proceed on foot into a sort of no-man’s land that gave a sense of the siege under which Morsi supporters now operate. Armored personnel carriers and paddy wagons are stationed at the foot of Gamat el Dewal street, near the Cairo zoo in the upscale Giza section. Beyond them, Muslim Brotherhood security personnel have thrown up a barbed-wire barrier, where they demanded press credentials before admitting the reporters onto the sun-baked street.

The interview took place at curbside on the garbage-strewn dividing island.

It was the first day of Ramadan, the sacred month in the Islamic religious calendar when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. It is a big family holiday, and the first time in nearly two weeks demonstrators mostly stayed home.

Zidan made it clear that like any movement under enormous stress, the main objective of the Brotherhood is to keep its followers fired up and to avert divisions that already have occurred between it and some other Islamist parties. The conservative Nour party, whose members are followers of the fundamentalist Salafist branch of Islam, backed the military’s ouster of Morsi.

Nour’s position, however, now is open to question. It objected to a decree Tuesday that gave the militarily installed president, Adly Mansour, the Supreme Constitutional Court’s chief justice, broad powers. On Wednesday, a Mansour spokesman said Nour would not serve in any new government.

Meanwhile, the National Salvation Front, the largest anti-Morsi bloc whose leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, was named the country’s vice president, backed off its criticism of the decree even as the youth wing of Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church took public exception to a provision that stipulated that Shariah, the Islamic legal code, would be the source for all future legislation.

That sort of arguing was played in millions of Egyptian homes, where families gathered to break the daylong fast with dates, fruit juice and decadent sweets and to debate the military’s decision to remove Morsi and impose its own government.

At one such gathering, grandfathers recalled the days after 1952 when then-Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a coup and upon taking power rounded up members of the Muslim Brotherhood, beginning a long period of government suppression of the group. They suggested history was repeating itself, this time through Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the minister of defense and commander of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, who announced Morsi’s ouster in a nationally televised address.

The adult grandchildren at the table rejected the comparison, calling what happened a week ago a popular referendum backed by millions of Egyptians.

That was a fair reflection of the nationwide debate in the week since Morsi’s ouster, making for an unusually contentious first night of the holy month.

Nancy A. Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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