14 August 2011
A rally is expected to be held on 12 August in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and simultaneously in squares in other Egyptian towns, to call for a civil State in Egypt.
Under the motto “For the love of Egypt”, some 30 non-Islamist Egyptian political movements decided to launch a demonstration on Friday. These movements comprise groups from across the Egyptian political spectrum that call for rights and freedom, including Coptic youth groups, Muslim Sufi groups, and liberal political parties.
What swelled into a 30-particpant alliance began with representatives of some dozen movements meeting over a Ramadan iftar at the sheikhdom of the Azmi Sufis in Cairo where Sheikh Alaa’ Abul-Azayem presided.
The participants unanimously criticised the Islamists’ behaviour on Friday 29 July, a day which was earmarked for “unifying the ranks” but which notoriously ended in exposing the deep rift between the Islamist and liberal forces on the Egyptian arena. The Islamists banished the flag of Egypt from the scene, and raised instead flags of Saudi Arabia and banners which depicted the famous double swords of Islam.
Sheikh Abul-Azayem said that, since the revolution last January, Egypt has been living through an increasingly perilous phase in which Islamists strive to suppress non-Islamists. Coptic churches and Sufi shrines were attacked, he reminded, and the North Sinai towns of Arish and Rafah were the targets of vicious assaults with the objective of instating an Islamic emirate. Islamists rode the bandwagon of the revolution, he said, and furthermore sought to gain the support of the poorer masses by offering them aid in money and in kind. It is an open question, he said, where that money comes from. But in the end, it came as no surprise that they were able to mobilise huge numbers for their notorious show of force on 29 July. They transported them from their villages and towns to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in air-conditioned buses and provided them with free meals for the day. “The Sufis, Copts and liberals,” Sheikh Abul-Azayem said, “are also capable of mobilising their supporters in large numbers, but for the sake of principle not for financial aid.
“The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafis,” he explained, “are strong in the Delta but not in Upper Egypt. There, we retain a majority.”
Freedom and citizenship rights
It was decided that the stand “For the love of Egypt” should begin in Tahrir and in other squares at 5:00pm and continue through iftar—the sunset meal that marks the end of the daily fast during Ramadan—till dawn of the following day. The choice of timing was made to evade the sweltering midday heat of Cairo. There was no intention of any sit-in, the organisers said; at dawn the squares would be cleaned up before leaving.
The organisers said they would provide for iftar a huge qidret foul midammis (pot of cooked fava beans, the famous Egyptian breakfast meal) and an enormous plate of qatayif (a Ramadan dessert of nut-and-raisin-filled pancakes in honey syrup).
The rally features Muslim and Christian ensembles for religious chanting, as well as the popular crooner Ali al-Hagaar, the opera singer Azza Balbaa, and others.
Besides the standard demands of restructuring the police apparatus to instate security in the community, the independence of the judiciary, the trial of civilians before civilian not military courts, purging the political scene from figures of the previous regime, and bringing to justice all those accused of corruption; the Friday demonstrators are calling for a civil State based on citizenship rights alone regardless of gender, religion, colour or ethnicity; the rule of law, and freedom of belief and expression.
As Egyptians not Copts
Top government officials, tried to dissuade the organisers from their initiative, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. The government persuasion, however, convinced some 27 political movements which had initially planned on joining the rally, to withdraw. The organisers of the rally said they would call it off or willingly postpone it, as the government had asked, if the government would issue a declaration condemning the non-Egyptian, Islamist stance adopted by the Salafis and MB on the notorious Friday 29 July. A source in the Cabinet told Watani the PM decided not to issue such a condemnation in the wake of Salafi threats.
The Egyptian media first handled the issue as a Sufi affair. Sufis are considered by mainstream Sunni Muslims as not strictly orthodox. Then it was depicted as a Sufi Coptic alliance—which served to put it in an unauspicious light. Contradictory news of disputes between the participants of the rally; of its being postponed or called off, followed. All this produced a huge public mix-up.
The organisers feared, however, that the football game between Egypt’s Ahly team and the Algerian Melodie, scheduled for the evening of 12 August, might act as the final blow to the rally, since the famous Egyptian craze over the game might work to keep many home in front of their TV sets.
For their part, the Salafis condemned the Friday rally. The Egyptian media had initially reported that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) declared it would participate, but it made no sense that the MB should share in a demand for a civil State; their raison d’être is the establishment of an Islamic State. They later said they would not participate.
The Coptic participants stressed they were participating in the 12 August rally in their capacity as Egyptians not as Copts. No religious slogans would be used, they confirmed, since they will not be there to express Coptic protest or demands, but to call for an Egyptian civil State based on equality, justice, and citizenship rights; and that would aim to end poverty, disease, and unemployment; thereby creating a better life for Egyptians.