The Muslim Brotherhood has called on the Egyptian armed forces to secure its headquarters against protesters in the Cairo suburb of Moqattam. Meanwhile, media reports indicate that Salafist sheikhs have called on the country's youths and Muslim Brotherhood brigades to protect Brotherhood offices across Egypt from attacks. Tens of thousands of pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators have gathered in Tahrir Square and in volatile Cairo neighborhoods, such as Mahalla, in a standoff over Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's recent attempts to neutralize the judiciary and consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood's power.
The situation is clearly escalating, and it does not appear that the Muslim Brotherhood is confident that it will be able to contain the unrest. So far, internal security forces and police have been deployed to contain the riots, but there has been an increase in attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices, with 16 reported in nine cities over the past week.
Notably, the Muslim Brotherhood specifically called on the military to protect its Cairo headquarters. There are significant political undertones to this message. Calling on the army to protect the headquarters of a political party, as if it were the seat of government, would imply that the Muslim Brotherhood expects the army to recognize and protect its influence.
This is not something the military is prepared to do. An army spokesman responded to the request by saying, "The Egyptian armed forces are only loyal to the people and land of Egypt, and are playing their due role in protecting the nation." He also said Egyptian soldiers and policemen are stationed at the entry points to Greater Cairo as part of the army's plan to increase security measures on highways and main roads. In other words, the military will do its part to serve the people, but it will not obey a Muslim Brotherhood request to protect and uphold Morsi's decree by standing between protesters and Brotherhood offices that are under attack. However, Interior Ministry forces, including police, have clashed with protesters trying to attack some of the Brotherhood's offices.
The military is essentially telling Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters that they got what they wished for. The Brotherhood wanted the military out of Egyptian politics, and the military is going to be very careful about intervening at this stage. However, the military can use the demonstrations to pressure the Brotherhood and put Morsi back in check. It should be remembered that Morsi's presidential candidacy was only made possible by the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which earlier rejected the Brotherhood's preferred candidate.
It may be that the military predicted that Morsi would eventually miscalculate in thinking that the foreign policy victory achieved with the Gaza cease-fire would give the movement the momentum to make bolder moves on domestic policy to consolidate its power. We need to watch closely for how the current demonstrations can be exploited against the Muslim Brotherhood — as we did when the military used demonstrations to oust former President Hosni Mubarak — especially with reports of Salafists and other groups taking up arms and with the potential for more violent clashes on the horizon.