7 August 2011
What had been planned as a “Friday of unifying the ranks” ended, as unanimously agreed by the Egyptian media, as a “Friday of splitting the ranks”. While the day began with various political groups, including Islamists, converging on Tahrir Square in numbers that came close to a million, it ended with some 36 political groups which do not endorse political Islam withdrawing from the scene. The Islamists had their heyday.
Chants of “Islamic, Islamic” dominated the scene. “The people desire the implementation of the sharia of Allah”, “Islamic, despite the seculars”, and “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest)” drowned everything else.
The Islamists, in their famous garb, filled the square. The talks were delivered by famous tele-sheikhs. The participation of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt’s best organised political force, and other Islamist groups including the Salafis, significantly boosted the turnout. Busloads of Islamists hailed from various regions in Egypt. Non-Islamist groups or movements were harshly elbowed out of the scene. The growing rift between them and the Islamists could not have been more obvious. And they were vastly outnumbered.
The Islamist ‘show of force’ that famous Friday raises serious questions on what future implications it carries. Will it prompt the ruling Military Council to take any action? Watani took the questions to the experts.
Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, sees the Friday events as a big mistake especially, he says, since the religious slogans raised express only specific political groups but not the Egyptian society in general. We are in a phase, he says, where the first priority is to set up a framework that would be inclusive of the various political forces and independent pundits, to reduce differences and build up on common perspectives.
The ultra-conservative slogans raised last Friday, according to Dr Nafaa, are amazing in that there appears to be nothing to justify them, Egypt being already an Islamic country. The only possible explanation, he believes, is that the Safalis wish to stretch article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the principles of Islamic sharia are a main source of legislation, to have Islamic sharia the main source of legislation. This, he says, is very critical since the various interpretations of Islamic teachings lead to different versions of sharia. And Egyptian society, he says, is not entirely Muslim, but includes Christians and other non-Muslims. So the full implementation of sharia might be very divisive.
Islamists oppose the adoption of a set of guidelines for drafting a new constitution after parliamentary elections later this year but, Dr Nafaa says, this is only to avoid the exclusion of the interests of any of the national group components from being represented in the drafting of writing of the new constitution.
Most serious, however, according to Dr Nafaa, is that among the slogans raised was “No to the judiciary”. “If a given movement objects to a civil judiciary,” he says, “how can this movement respect any State institution?”
He demanded the intervention of the Military Council to protect the State and Egyptians’ basic rights.
Essam Sultan, vice-president of the moderate Islamic al-Wassat Party, says there is no need to fear what happened on that Friday by the Islamist groups. The answer, in his opinion, lies in dialogue not fear. “Before, Islamists were kept behind bars, now that they are free to voice their views they are being accused of trying to dominate the country,” Mr Sultan says.
Judge Tahani al-Gebaly terms the use of religious slogans to reject the notion of guidelines to the constitution as ‘blackmail’. “All the various groups in the community,” Ms Gibali says, “have a right to be part of drafting the constitution. We need the harmony of constructive dialogue not the manipulation by a certain group through religious slogans. We can take our cue from nations among whom are Germany and South Africa, whose constitutions are governed by basic principles to protect the nation’s security.”
Seifeddin Abdel-Fattah, professor of political science, says that depicting Egypt as Afghanistan or the Taliban could provoke the Military Council into waging a coup d’état. Most Salafi and Islamist groups, according to Dr Abdel-Fattah, are newcomers to the political field, meaning they lack know-how.
In the aftermath of that Friday
For their part, the Coptic youth movement Maspero Youth issued a statement in which it declared its deep concern at the dominion of the Islamist currents. They revealed their total discontent with the raising of the Saudi flag by the Islamists, and said they were fully prepared to defend the option of an Egyptian civil State that would secure equality, freedom, and social justice, just as they confronted—to the point of shedding their blood—the tyranny of the former regime.
The union of Coptic associations in Europe also issued a statement in which it supported the statement of the Maspero youth and the stance taken by all Egypt’s liberal movements. The statement, signed by the head of the union Medhat Qelada, reminded that Copts had been part and parcel of the 25 January Revolution, and had spared nothing dear for the sake of Egypt. It described the Islamists’ rally in Tahrir and the raising of non-Egyptian, Islamic flags and banners as a “flexing of muscles” and an attempt to instate a religious State. The union, the statement declared, was directing all collective means available to it for the sake of Egypt, to defend it against a catastrophic end at the hands of those who plan to steal the Tahrir Revolution.
The sit-in in Tahrir, which should have supposedly ended as last Friday drew to a close, was extended by a relatively small number of protestors. This resulted in violent clashes between them and the shop-owners in Tahrir who had obviously reached the end of their patience with the closed square. The clashes, however, spilled over into nearby roads and, coupled with other clashes and demonstrations near by, resulted in near-complete traffic paralysis in the Downtown Cairo area. The Army finally dispersed the protestors.
Other commercial districts in Cairo witnessed violence between various tradesmen owing to disputes over territory or trade rights. In Muski, 39 were injured and 84 arrested following a dispute between two clans of vendors, in which glass bottles and Moltov cocktails, stones, and gunfire were used. In Sabtiya, Sayeda Zeinab and Boulaq al-Daqrour similar fights resulted in scores of injured.