Islamists Fill Tahrir, Egypt’s Secular Activists Boycott Protests


Protests planned in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today had first been called  ”The Friday of Unity and the People’s Will.” But secular activists “boycotted” and withdrew from the protests after they were “hijacked” by a huge showing of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, the most conservative and puritan of Muslim groups, says Al-Jazeera. Islamists called the huge rally a “Million-strong Demonstration of Islamic Identity” and a rally whose theme was to have been national unity instead revealed the divisions in Egyptian society.

Al-Jazeera‘s Ayman Mohyeldin reports that “secular and liberal political parties, including the revolution youth coalition” held a press conference on Friday and accused the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists of taking over the protest. The head of Egypt’s oldest and largest secular party, the Wafd Party, demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood state that it has no plans of forming an Islamist state. But several banners in Tahrir Square reading “Islamic law above the constitution” seemed to hint otherwise:

In Tahrir Square, protesters massed before the start of Muslim prayers at noon and religious chants such as “There is no God but God” and “Islamiya, Islamiya” rang out.

There are so many [Islamic] beards. We certainly feel imposed upon,” said Samy Ali, 23, student in Tahrir, adding Salafists had tried to separate women and men camping there.

More liberal groups have called for the ruling military council to delay parliamentary elections. Because the Muslim Brotherhood is the most well-organized political party, it is thought that holding elections earlier will benefit them over other groups.

The New York Times also reports about the rally:

Some activists were already calling Friday’s demonstration a turning point — a remarkable display of the Islamists’ ability to monopolize space, be it Tahrir Square, the streets or the coming elections, and of their skill at organization and mobilization, which for secular activists served as a bitter contrast to their own shortcomings.

“We’re showing today — to both the people and to the military leadership — that we’re the majority of the population,” said Haithem Adli, a 29-year-old resident, holding a banner that read in part, “Together on the path to heaven.”…

Around a dozen liberal activists huddled in a tent they pitched in the square three weeks ago, their faces gloomy. Occasionally, they chanted, “The people want the fall of the field marshal,” a reference to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the ruling body of 19 generals. But their slogans were soon drowned out.

Secular protesters’ demands include military trials for civilians, justice for families of those killed during the protests, raising the minimum wage and quick trials for former government officials.

In the past few weeks, activisits have increasingly clashed with Egypt’s current military leadership which has seemed “intent on maintaining a semblance of status quo.” With Islamist groups, including the Salafists, echoing “he military’s calls for stability, … many secular activists see an emerging alliance between the two,” notes the New York Times.

Next Wednesday, former President Hosni Mubarak will be tried in Cairo, as will his sons Alaa and Gamal, Al Jazeera says. 83-year-old Mubarak is accused of ordering his forces to shoot anti-government demonstrators during the Egyptian uprising, of abuse of office and of embezzling funds. If convicted of the first charge, he could be executed.

As recently as this week, reports had surfaced that Mubarak was not eating and was too sick to leave the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh where he has been detained since April, but Egypt’s health minister Amr Hilmy has said that   “Mubarak’s health is in an appropriate condition to be tried in Cairo.” Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly is also to be tried with him. The BBC reports that a hall at Cairo’s Conference Center is being prepared for the trial.


Related Care2 Coverage

Activists March Against Military, Fear Postponement of Mubarak’s Trial

“March of Millions” in Tahrir Protests Slow Pace of Reform

Victims’ Families Block Cairo-Suez Highway After Police Out on Bail

Photo of Salafists taken July 29 in Cairo by gr33ndata

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Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y.4 years ago

Ten thousand people mobilized does not a national majority make, however. The number of people in the initial Tahir demonstrations was about the same.

Nothing wrong with free expression and freedom of religion. Egyptian people are sophisticated, they know if neo-Islamists gain a majority they will try to impose a Sharia state which precludes democracy. Egyptians as a whole do not want Sharia.

Democratic politics is a messy business of very difficult compromises. If the Egyptians can do it after so many years of dictatorship, more power to them.

"When people are suddenly freed, they can do terrible things. But, they can also do wonderful things."

- Donald Rumsfeld, 2003

Pego R.
Pego R.4 years ago

Someone has been fussing with that pronoun thing since B.Franklin. The set that has gained the most consensus is this;

Ze, hir, hirs, hirself
he/she, him/her, his/hers and himself/herself

Ze laughed
I called hir
Hir eyes gleam
That is hirs
Ze likes hirself

Vicky Locke
Vicky Locke4 years ago

I agree with Camilla K. I also believe that everyone has the right to express him/herself, even if I disagree with him/her. (We need new pronouns in English!)

Dominic C.
Dominic C.4 years ago

Nothing surprising, its only a matter of time when the conservatives want to have a theocratic state. The Muslim Brotherhood has many associations and they have ties to Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.4 years ago

People who want a secular govenment or have one must fight every day to secure and keep it. The alternative is just too oppressive.

Giovanna M.
Giovanna M.4 years ago

(Cont, sorry)
...and unfortunately that's a very bad combination as it leaves the door open to those that do plan and that can take advantage of the power void.

As for the "There is no God but God", although it is one of the most important Muslim sayings, "La ilaha illa Allah" is something I've also heard Coptics say when flabbergasted (even though supposedly one who says this is expressing his/her Muslim faith). The banners demanding Islamic law above constitution are far more worrying.

Giovanna M.
Giovanna M.4 years ago

Well, this was predictable and -sorry if I repeat myslef as on other threads- this is why it is outrageous that the international forces were interested in this quick revolution; they were opening the gates to exactly this and in a country where the secon religious faith (Copts) is already divided because of Pope Shenouda's stubborn, archaic policies that don't meet the needs of its people. Many Copts are converting to Islam if only to break free of the unreasonable Coptic laws and to have the same rights as Muslims (in many legal areas more "advanced" than them). The Imbaba incident was because of this (just to name one). That foreign states encouraged a fast revolution in such a scene, with only the MB organized, was irresponsible to say the least.

As Suisaidh C.points out, the Muslim Brotherhood has been preparing itself even under Mubarak's government. They were not as prosecuted as we're let to believe at all, you could buy there books in bookshops all around Cairo!
On the other hand, given the Egyptian mentality, there was no real oposition other than the Muslim Brotherhood organizing itself, simply because if up to a couple of years ago you asked "If you're so tired of Mubarak why don't you do something about it?" everyone would go "What can we do?". Egyptians don't have much of initiative and/or resign themselves easily. They are also quick to pick up any spark without thinking of the consequences twice (that's what happened with this revolution), and unfortunate

Siusaidh C.
Susan C.4 years ago

I'm sure the Egyptian people didn't think it would be easy. While despite persecution by the Mubarak regime the Brothers got organized, the people who want a more secular State did not.

And powerful outside forces want anything except popular rule in Egypt. Very good on the subject is Noam Chomsky, "The West Is Terrified of Arabic Democracies":

Bruce S.
Bruce S.4 years ago

It's statements like “Islamic law above the constitution” that make even muslims concerned. It's going to be up to the "silent muslim majority" to rid their countries from people that would take THEIR rights away if given the chance.

Bernard Cronyn
.4 years ago

Utterly predictable!