CAIRO -- A tight lockdown on Cairo by Egyptian security forces on Friday all but squelched a planned day of protests by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, suggesting that the new military government had gained a decisive edge in its battle against supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.
Armored military vehicles moved through the streets around dawn, unrolling coils of barbed wire across major thoroughfares encircling central mosques where protests have often broken out after prayers on Fridays. A few marquee mosques were closed, an extraordinary step here, forcing neighbors to go elsewhere for prayers.
Tanks and armored personnel carriers took up positions at bridges, tunnels and other crucial intersections. Soldiers and police officers sat in folding chairs with automatic rifles across their laps, shooing journalists and other pedestrians away from any potential flash points.
The relatively small number of demonstrators who did turn out were so cowed by the violence of the recent crackdown that they took steps to avoid even the smallest confrontation, gathering in only one place or moving in circles on a few blocks to avoid approaching army barricades. Few even blocked traffic.
"It is like an occupation," said Ismail Sayed Mohamed, 47, a printer at a demonstration of a few hundred people who gathered in a small space under an overpass near Giza Square, across the Nile from Cairo, the capital. "People want to go to the streets to defend their freedom, but they are afraid. They are killing us."
It was the latest sign that the escalating crackdown against "terrorism" called for by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, chief of the armed forces, appears to have broken the back of the Brotherhood, the Islamist organization allied with the ousted president, which has spearheaded opposition to the military takeover.
Egyptian security forces have killed more than a thousand and arrested at least as many in just the nine days since they dispersed two Brotherhood-led sit-ins by tens of thousands of Morsi supporters. In addition to detaining Mr. Morsi incommunicado, the police have arrested the Brotherhood's top spiritual leaders and much of its governing board, forcing a rushed and secret selection of new leadership. Its officials say most of its second- and third-tier leaders are now dead or missing, and on Friday an official spokesman was arrested as well.
The Brotherhood-led coalition against the takeover had called for the protests under the banner Friday of Martyrs. Crowds of a few hundred, growing to as many as a few thousand in some places, gathered after prayers at about two dozen mosques around Cairo. But many said they planned to stay in their own neighborhoods and head home early. Fear was their watchword.
For the first time since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, many demonstrators were afraid to give their names, and some denied, unconvincingly, an affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist group. "Everyone's very scared of the security forces," said Ismail Mustafa, 27, a technician demonstrating in Helwan, just south of Cairo along the Nile. "We have lost many martyrs."
In addition to a state of emergency suspending the right to due process and other limits on the police, the new government has imposed a strict curfew of 7 p.m. in half the country as well on as the capital, a normally frenetic 24-hour city of about 20 million. And unlike previous efforts to impose such restrictions under Mr. Mubarak or the generals who took power from him, this one has scared residents into obedience.
"Sisi is treating us as if we are not human," said Sarah Gad, 24, a software engineer in a full-face veil, complaining about the intense crowds as people rushed to squeeze in their round-the-clock schedules before the curfew. "They are packing us into subway cars as if we were chickens and making all the people sleep at 7 p.m."
In at least one neighborhood, Shobra, demonstrators met enough hostility from the neighbors that their crowd dispersed within a few hours, witnesses who supported and opposed the marches said.
There were no signs of weapons at Friday's demonstrations. It was a stark change from the conspicuous presence of guns among civilian supporters and opponents of General Sisi's takeover during demonstrations last week that paralyzed Cairo, plunging it into violent chaos. Around the country, state media reported only one death during Friday afternoon's demonstrations, in the Delta city of Tanta.
Despite the decimation of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership, the protests appeared well planned and organized, suggesting some continued coordination.
Many of the demonstrators arrived with freshly printed T-shirts or signs emblazoned with a sophisticated graphic image of a black hand raising four fingers against a bright yellow background: the new logo of the movement against the military takeover. The feminine form of the Arabic word for "fourth" sounds almost the same as Rabaa, the name of the square where tens of thousands of Morsi supporters staged a sit-in for six weeks and where more than 700 died on Aug. 14 when security forces dispersed them.
The four-fingered gesture was first used in a speech denouncing the violence by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a hero to Islamists across the Mideast because his ideologically allied Islamist party ended his own country's military rule. Egyptian Islamists instantly embraced the four fingers as the symbol of their opposition to the takeover.
There were also signs Friday that a small but growing number of liberals and non-Islamists were joining the protests against the takeover.
"We are here to demand justice for the martyrs who died -- all the martyrs," including the Islamists killed by the police, said Abdo Qassem, 25, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine as an example of the liberal activists who led the 2011 revolt against Mr. Mubarak and on Friday led a reprise of the old "freedom" chants at a rally in Giza against the military takeover. "Democracy should be respected even if it brings results the people are not happy with, and the army should be protecting us, not shooting us," he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.