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.
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Photo of Salafists taken July 29 in Cairo by gr33ndata