Tension forces NGO group to leave Cairo vigil

Concerns about volatile elements at Rabaa sit-in after an argument forces an NGO delegation to leave pro-Morsi vigil.

Organisers of the sit-in rallies in support of reinstating deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi continually invite rights groups, the media and NGOs to tour and inspect vigil sites to counter claims that participants are armed or violent.

But the visits do not always go smoothly.

On Thursday, a delegation of the NGOs and rights groups visiting the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City neighbourhood – where clashes with security forces left at least 72 dead – had to leave after being confronted by a sit-in participant.

Mohamad Zaree, Egypt Programme Manager for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, was among the delegation at Rabaa.

“We went to Rabaa to assess the sit-in as the first step to be there on a regular basis” to observe any potential for a crackdown on the vigil, said Zaree.

“There was a sort of not clashes but tension between [a Muslim Brotherhood supporter] and a member of the delegation, Mohamed Adel, who he accused of having anti-Brotherhood views. This tension made it very difficult for the delegation to continue its work, so we had to leave,” said Zaree, adding that the NGOs did not have enough time to do their work.

The source of the tension was Adel’s political affiliation with the April 6 Youth Movement, although he was not at Rabaa as a political activist, but, said Zaree, as a member of a rights group, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

Adel, whose uncle has been a participant in the vigil since its start over a month ago, told me that Thursday was his first visit to a pro-Morsi sit-in.

He said two men came out of the media centre in Rabaa and verbally attacked him, accusing him of calling the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group”. The men followed him and the delegation around, shouting at them, until they had no choice but to leave.

Adel said he’s received many apologies from members of the Brotherhood, who have assured him that he’s welcome in Rabaa, but he’s not sure he will return.

“My experience in Rabaa was very bad.”

Zaree said that the statement of apology issued by the Muslim Brotherhood suggested that the delegation exclude anyone with political views. Zaree said, he found this “weird” because, “the sit-in has been declared to be for all Egyptians, regardless of their point of view.”

Such a scuffle – minor as it was – also begs the question: How can sit-in organisers rein in the more volatile among the crowd?

Zaree said that despite intervention from both sit-in participants and the NGO delegation, the argument still “went out of control”.

“That makes us worry that in a critical time that maybe everything will be out of control, that if there are clashes that they could respond violently. This is alarming,” said Zaree, adding that he hopes that nothing bad will happen and the government uses negotiation rather than force to resolve the situation.

Voice and text messages left for a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman and a vigil media spokeswoman have, so far, been left unanswered.

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