The MOD sit-in: Sometimes with the Islamists, Never with the State

by , under Blog

During the Monday march in solidarity with the Abbassiya detainees, a young comrade I know from Cairo University, a medical student who was among the field hospital doctors during the MOD sit-in, approached me, and told me the story of a Salafi woman in niqab, who kept on kissing the Revolutionary Socialists red flag during the sit-in, while shouting: “Forgive me I didn’t know about you before!”

I replied back with the story of another comrade, who was entering the MOD sit-in and was being searched by a Salafi sheikh. When the latter found in the student’s bag the flag of the Revolutionary Socialists, Marxist books, as well as issues from The Socialist newspaper, he told the young student: “Come in son, May God be with you!”

These were just two stories, among many, witnessed by our comrades during the controversial MOD sit-in which lasted for a week, during which it was subject to attacks by knives, swords, firearms, machine guns, fired by plainclothes thugs working closely with the army, and was finally suspended by a crackdown by the military police and army’s special forces last Friday, resulting in the arrest and torture of hundreds.

The sit-in started by a group of supporters of the disqualified Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who marched on the Ministry of Defense Friday night, 27 April, and decided to stage a sit-in calling for the dissolution of the Presidential Electoral Committee, which they blamed for the disqualification of their candidate, but the SCAF-controlled committee has also been the target of the revolutionaries’ wrath from all shades of the political spectrum.

If you think Islamophobia is on a worrying rise in Europe, you should have seen the Egyptian twittersphere during that week of sit-in, with liberals and leftists reacting in the most disgustingly way.

There are those who by default will stand against anything Islamist, anything with a beard or niqab, and will avoid them like a plague. Hence their position varied from neutrality, as if this fight between the Islamists and the army is happening on another planet; or praying that the two sides by some miracle will finish one another off; or support the army’s crackdown on those Islamists.

And of course you got the usual “مش وقته” chorus, which always comes up whenever there are clashes with the police and the army, shouting “It’s not the time for this, we have other important matters.” And usually those “important matters” are elections, or another SCAF-sponsored milestone in the political process.

But the “Islamists” are NOT a unified homogeneous block. We are talking about millions of Egyptians from different backgrounds and provinces who are part of the Muslim Brotherhood and the different Salfist groups. It’s even wrong to lump “Salafists” all in one basket. Let’s remember that young Salafis took part in the January 2011 uprising contrary to virtually all the Salafi celebrity sheikhs’ pro-Mubarak position. Many of the workers I have been bumping into during strikes from 2007 onwards have beards that almost reach their bellies and are followers of Salafi sheikhs. The latter had prohibited strikes and demonstrations, yet their poor followers obviously were moving in a different direction. Already the salafi movement is splintered, and the dismal performance of Abu Ismail in the crisis, including disowning repeatedly his supporters, is bound to create a disillusioned base. Isn’t there a critical mass that could be won to the side of revolution? Of course there is, and the revolutionary socialists have to play a role in influencing this base as much as they can, according to their capabilities and political weight.

There is nothing more farcical than the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood is an iron fist organization whose members are following the Supreme Guide’s orders blindly. The organization has been marred with factions and splits for years along generational and class lines. Despite refraining from mobilizing an entire year following February 2011, there is not a single time a serious clash happened with the state without stumbling on a group of young MB members who attended the protests or the clashes contrary to the group’s line. And I personally witnessed that on several occasions.

What do you do as a revolutionary socialist in the midst of this? One should not stop exposing the hypocrisy and the counterrevolutionary politics of the MB leadership, but we should not give up on trying to attract the youth and those in the MB who are sincerely pro-revolution once again to the revolutionary camp and even winning them to socialist politics, something that I’m also increasingly witnessing. And that’s not going to happen by sitting on Twitter and ranting about the MBs like many leftists are doing, but by physically being present on the ground in the events they organize, and continuously argue and debate with their young members. And when a fight breaks out with the state, you don’t withdraw and say may God burn them both, you have to take sides. But you take sides, while still maintaining your organizational independence and fight under your own red banner and shout your own chants.

The MOD sit-in presented a step forward for the revolution, not a regress, despite the army’s onslaught that saw several comrades detained, and brutally tortured. We have taken the fight to a new level, breaking a great taboo, which is staging sit-ins and direct actions in front of the headquarters of the counterrevolution itself; as well as reaching out to and earning the respect of the most revolutionary wing of the Salafist movement. I salute the bravery of all the comrades who took part in the sit in and in resisting the army’s crackdown.

All Revolutionary Socialist activists and sympathizers are now out of prison, but there are hundreds of Islamists, independent activists and ordinary citizens who are still languishing in custody and await military prosecution. We must do our best to stand by them and secure their release. We will continue to organize against SCAF and we should be more than keen to reach out to the Islamist cadres who are willing to join this fight. The polarization within the Islamist movement will only increase with every betrayal and compromise the Islamist leadership brokers with SCAF, with every confrontation with the state, with the growth of a revolutionary left that could provide an alternative for the disillusioned youth, and more importantly with the escalation of the strike wave. But in all cases, we must be vigilant enough to remain organizationally independent, move under our own banners, with our own literature, and compromise none. Sometimes with the Islamists, never with the state.

  1. shimaa

    Thank you so much for voicing the truth in English to the whole world to see. Comparing this to the nonsense other celebrity activists are writing gives me so much hope. Bless you Hossam for expressing what we would have said if we were more articulate :)

  2. Ali

    Very good article. I went to several marches going to Abasseya and witnessed the friday Abasseya clampdown by the army. I just have one reservation. You say the salafists’ demands were the dissolution of the presidential committee and amending article 28 of the constitutional declaration. From what I noticed at the sit-in -the MOD one- after several statements expressed by various factions at the sit-in, the main demand had escalated into SCAF relinquishing power to a national salvation government. I don’t think this had been the demand at first, but it was certainly clearly expressed especially at the MOD sit-in and not the Tahrir one held by the Salafists as well. I think this was a realization by the Slafist camp that the military in all cases could not be entrusted with the handover of power, and a clear radicalization on their part. A very positive turn of events as you point out

  3. Hanif Leylabi

    Brilliant entry. :D

    One thing. I don’t think criticism (however harsh or misplaces) of Islamists in Muslim countries, can be equated to the Islamophobia in the west. The latter is a form of racism. The same cannot be said for Egyptian Arab liberals attacking Egyptian Arab Islamists.

  4. Tarek Shalaby

    Thanks for the post yabnel balad – good stuff. I’m proud to have taken part in the sit-in (by regularly visiting – didn’t stay the nights).

    I even wrote a block post to try and refute misconceptions that were based on rumors spread by Islamophobic revolutionaries and counterrevolutionary forces:

    The top seven myths on the Abbaseyya sit-in:


    ‘sometime with islamist… never with the state’.It is what you say,but maybe one day islamist will be the state, and then what will you say…no compromise has never help any revolution…
    i know situation is difficult,and it is important to convince the heart of people,but losing yours,it is impossible to convince them deply…

  6. Taliawi

    I love the article, but i don’t agree with the “what do you do as a revolutionary socialist” tone. I guess for me it mirrors the whole case against which the article is based. As if being a revolutionary socialist is a tight-formed identity of a “unified homogenous block”. I am not a revolutionary socialist and the words of this article appeal to me just the same. In fact, being rallied after the “revolutionary socialist” label, i’m sorry to say, makes them repelling.