The Friday of Reaction and Bigotry

by , under Blog

Islamists in Tahrir

What was originally announced as a “Friday of Unity” was anything but that. You can call it, the Friday of Disunity, The Friday of Bigotry and Reaction, the Friday of Religious Fanaticism.

For weeks, the Islamist forces, without exception, have been denouncing the Tahrir sit-in, spreading all sorts of cheap, filthy, sensationalist lies against the largely secular protesters, amid agitation by SCAF also, that already incited Abbassiya residents against marchers on 23 July.

The Islamist forces, whose leaders, also without any exceptions, are in one way or another allied to the SCAF awaiting their shares of the booties in the coming parliamentary elections and constitutional reform, decided to escalate their moves against the Tahrir revolutionaries by announcing roughly two weeks ago they were calling for mass protests in the square, to “assert Egypt’s Islamic identity, denounce supra-constitutional principles, and to demand the application of Islamic sharia.” Such announcement was coupled with an agitation campaign that spoke of “purging Tahrir from the secularists.”

There was tension in the square over the past few days. We didn’t know what to expect on Friday. Some were expecting an “Islamist invasion” of the square, medieval style, with swords and sticks. Others thought it was going to be a peaceful day.

الشعب المصري إيد واحدة لإستكمال أهداف الثورة

Some, like me, expected troubles, but we were hoping to at least try to polarize the Islamist protesters around different demands that their leaders had put forward. I suggested that Islamists would be welcomed at the gates, while distributing leaflets on the military tribunals, detainees, torture, retribution for the martyrs’ families, and social demands. There were calls by some to try to block the Islamists from entering. This was totally impossible even if you thought it was politically correct. It would have been a massacre.

As the countdown to Friday started, shuttle talks were taking place between protest leaders, representatives from leftist, liberal and secular groups with officials from the Islamist groups including the Gamaa Islamiya, Salafi Nour Party and last but not least, the Muslim Brotherhood. An agreement was announced yesterday whereby the Islamists vowed not to include the application of sharia on the list of their demands and not to attack or provoke any secular protesters. In exchange, the leftist and liberal groups agreed not to engage in the “Elections First” or “Constitution First” debate and promised not to chant against SCAF (liberals in general are not those who meant by the agreement, it was largely the leftists, since the liberals are cowing down everyday to SCAF). A statement was issued, with a list of demands agreed by all parties.

Islamists in Tahrir

What happened since the night of Thursday was a complete disgrace. The Islamists have broken the agreement. They started showing up on Thursday evening setting up their stages, only to be followed later by sound systems blasting anti-secular, anti-leftist propaganda, calls for the application of sharia and pro-SCAF chants.

To be fair, some young Muslim Brotherhood organizers tried to intervene and control the situation, but they failed. The ones who mainly broke the agreement were the Salafis. Over hours and hours, till Friday 7pm, Tens of thousands of Islamists were chanting for Sharia, the Quran as a constitution, intimidated secular activists and non-veiled women.

Left wing and liberal groups held a press conference in the afternoon announcing they were withdrawing from the activities of the day, denounced the Islamists for breaking the agreement, but asserted they would resume the sit-in. The liberals, freaking out, are crying asking the army to protect the secularism of the state. The army?! The liberals are only repeating the same mistake in the 1990s, when they as well as the Statlinists, threw themselves on the side of Mubarak in his war against the “Islamo-Fascists.”

Protesters carrying crosses, chanting for national unity متظاهرون يحملون الصلبان ويهتفون للوحدة الوطنية

Many secular protesters, especially the women, decided to leave the square, feeling completely uncomfortable with the situation. Others stayed and tried to engage in discussions with the Islamist protesters. There were marches too, and protests, where Muslims and Christians chanted for a secular state and national unity.

By 7pm, most of the Salafis and the Islamists had left the square as planned. Many of the Salafi protesters came from the rural provinces, not from Cairo. Buses awaited them to transport them back home from Abdeen, Talaat Harb Squares and Abdel Moneim Riyadh Squares.

And it was then that the secular forces started reclaiming the square again. Marches started, with strong chants: “Civil (State)! Civil (State)!”, and other chants for social justice and retribution for the martyrs’ families.

لا لاغتصاب الثورة

While leaders of the Islamist forces are knee-deep in their opportunism and clientalism to SCAF, I continue to be hopeful that the Islamist youth, those who defied their leaders and took part in the uprising shoulder to shoulder with their leftist and liberal brothers and sisters, would break the ranks and join us.

  1. Joshua Dunn

    The Islamists seem to have a more competent strategy for acquiring power. You can’t break down something like SCAF easily, especially from the outside, especially from the outside AND non-violently.

    That’s how it looks from here anyway. SCAF doesn’t seem to be backing down, so you’re going to have to either BEAT them, or JOIN them…

  2. Reader

    People should be free to express their views. I am happy that there was no violence and people from the far left to the far right could exist in the same square with opposing demands with no clashes. People who carry Salafi views are a segment of the Egyptian society that political parties can not ignore. The same apply to Christians too. I think the stage is set to have a centrist coalition that unite some Islamic centrist parties, centrist liberal parties and centrist social movements.

    Salafi ideas flourish in societies where there is no chance to exchange and question ideas and that is why they flourished under Mubarak. Two or three years from now, they will lose a significant number of followers to political and social movements that can better address their needs. In addition, interaction with other forces will help improve their acceptance of others.

  3. Tigger

    I’ve been watching Rageh Omaar’s “The Life of Muhammad” http://bbc.in/qGCAqT.

    I’d have to say, I knew much of this already, having lived for many years in an area of London with many Muslims.

    That said, it makes clearer than ever the degree to which The Prophet (PBUH) believed in different groups: Muslim and non-Muslim, living side by side in peace and equality.

    I suppose it would be far too much to ask that moderate Muslims should denounce the Salafists as *profoundly* un-Islamic?

  4. Julian

    Thanks for this. You guys don’t need any advice from me, but congratulations for sticking to the correct, as well as brave and principled, line in relation to the state and the islamists. The pressure must be enormous.

  5. amina

    It’s good that we saw such an invasion of them because now we know basically what the numbers are, also remember that very same night there was an attack by armed Salafists in Sinai, the same one I have to assume who were allowed back into Egypt from Afghanistan….I’m still trying to figure out who let them in…I mean strange timing. The other good news is that it opened up the door in many talk shows & news shows in Egypt& world wide to discussions around this sect & on air discussions were rather frightening for all Egyptians, especially as Salafist movements are totally against many traditions the Egyptian people hold very dear religiously. It’s also good that they showed how hypocritical they are and that they do not hold their word, or keep their promises.Now the thing is to seize the momentum.There is no way that Sharia has worked anywhere,& each country that professes to rule by Sharia seems to have quite different Sharia than another.That is to say in KSA women aren’t allowed to drive, in Iran they can be race drivers, in Somalia they aren’t allowed to wear bras(?), in Malasia & Sudan they aren’t allowed to wear trousers, in Afghanistan they aren’t allowed to live basically; When the prophet pbu immigrated to Yathrib, it became “el Madina” the city, because he ruled over all religons fairly & justly;He also had an agreement with Koraish(Mecca)that no Muslim would go to Mecca for 10 years & v.v. so that when a group of Muslims from Mecca came to him seeking relocation to Madina, he refused & sent them back to Mecca saying that he had made an agreement & had to keep his word…..so it seems that our Salafists are behaving not only contrary to Gods laws but in addition to the Prophet’s pbu teachings, & this can hardly be described as Islamic by any means.Those who did prove they were truly Islamic in keeping their word & trying to resolve problems created by the Salafist attitude were the young members of the Brotherhood, kudos to them for being correct & keeping their word.
    So all in all the Salafists had a much worse day than all of us because the facade of holier than thou has been destroyed.Now we must concentrate on more important issues…