Middle East

Support ebbs in Muslim Brotherhood's birthplace

Anti-Muslim Brotherhood graffiti in Ismaliya
Image caption Dissatisfaction with President Morsi is not hard to spot in Ismaliya

The Egyptian city of Ismaliya, 150km (93 miles) north-east of Cairo, is deeply symbolic for the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is where Egypt's largest and most powerful Islamist group began in 1928

The al-Rahma mosque, in one of the city's poor neighbourhoods, served as the group's first headquarters, and a launch pad for a mission that combines political Islam with charity.

Historically, its charitable work has served the group well, generating strong grassroots support and unwavering loyalty.

In a house on a discreet suburban side street, tonnes of food supplies are stored, to be distributed among poor families during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Young Brotherhood members shuttle to and from the house, carrying bags loaded with sugar, rice and flour to a pick-up truck waiting outside.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has done a lot of work for charity over many years now," said Shukri Khaled, a 52-year-old electrician.

"They help the poor, the orphans, and young couples planning to get married. And they are doing all this for God - not for themselves."

Mr Khaled lamented the growing anti-Brotherhood sentiment in Ismaliya following the ousting of the former president Mohammed Morsi, himself a Brotherhood figure.

"It's a shame that many people have forgotten a history of struggle and wonderful work, and listened to conspirators from the old regime," he said.

Last month, many in the city joined the wave of massive demonstrations nationwide against Mr Morsi's one-year-old rule.

Angry crowds took to the main streets, protesting against what they described as Mr Morsi's power-grabbing, and failure to save the country's collapsing economy.


If its charitable work was all the Brotherhood needed to remain popular, it would be safe. But clearly, it was not enough.

The group is currently facing one of the most profound crises since its establishment. It has lost a lot of support, most notably in its birthplace.

Visible evidence of pro-Brotherhood sentiment in Ismaliya is hard to spot.

Image caption The rising cost of basic commodities is a big issue for ordinary Egyptians

During our travels around the city we saw hardly any posters backing the ousted president, or the group he represents.

Instead, we found quite the opposite - anti-Brotherhood graffiti spray-painted on the wall of the main government building in the city.

"Leave", read one, while another said: "No to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood".

A major reason why the Brotherhood's support has slumped can be found at the nearest market.

Costs of basic commodities have increased dramatically since last year. Locals told us they could not wait for another three years until Mr Morsi completed his first term in office.

"If you bought a packet of butter and found it expired, what would you do? You would throw it away," said 49-year-old Mohammed Gad.

"Morsi's year in office was all negative - and that's why the Egyptians revolted against him, backed by the military."

A widely held sentiment here in this former Brotherhood heartland is that the army backed a public uprising against the former president.

Few in the city will describe what happened last month as a coup.

And many appear happy the generals are back in charge - at least for the time being.