Tensions in Tahrir: The Islamists and the Revolution

Last Friday, at the famous Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Mohandseen, the preacher was stressing the importance of unity in his sermon. Later on, he elaborated that we should be patient with the new government and give it a decent chance to achieve our aspirations, and that we should work with the "ruling authorities" for the good of the country. While he mentioned those words, I could not but help see the muted anger on the faces of many. As soon as the prayer where over, the mosque was rocking with the chant "down down with the junta's rule". The march to Tahrir then commenced, and it was orderly, peaceful, powerful, and glorious.

A year has passed since the Egyptian revolution began and despite the departure of familiar faces, the same old is system is very much intact. It just needed a bit of time to find construct a new rhetoric, exercise control on the media, and rebuilt is monstrous machinery of oppression. A year after the revolution, the economy is in tatters and the life of the average Egyptian is much harder. The security forces have shown increasing viciousness at curbing protests, but only marginal "improvement" in protecting life and property.   The marchers to Tahrir believe that this system still must  be fully dismantled and that could not happen while the ruling junta, aka SCAF, remained in power.  

However, Tahrir was not the marchers alone. The Islamists had been camping out there since Wednesday the 25th of January, not to demand anything in particular, but the to celebrate the "achievements" of the revolution. The Islamists, had a great to deal to celebrate. After having been marginalized, thrown in jail, and discriminated against for a very long time, they now have a parliamentary majority. Their spokespersons often imply that after the parliamentary elections all manners of protests are meaningless. They reason that since the people now have elected representatives, they should quite down and let parliament do its business. To many Islamists, voting means not just delegation by the citizenry in matter of politics, but fulling surrendering one's political will to that of the elected representatives. The Islamists like to portray protesters as a threat to democracy, a sort of a mob dictatorship standing in the way of the will of the majority. Their ploy at "celebration" in Tahrir as far as I tell, was nothing more than an attempt show that they can "control" that symbolic square and that they could muster numbers that would would dwarf any non-Islamist gathering. That plan went awry.

The turnout by the non-Islamist (a mix of liberals, leftists, and the ideologically neutral) was phenomenal on the 25th and also the 27th. As we entered Tahrir and crescendo of anti-SCAF chants peaked. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), who have built a gigantic stage in Tahrir, have been for the past couple of days playing 50's and 60's era patriotic songs, many of them idolizing the army. Their "control" tactic as this point was to pump up the volume to the max to drown out the chants. When this tactic failed, they started playing the Quran and asked the protesters to quite down to respect the recitation of the holy verses. That highly cynical use of religion made the protesters more furious and many started waving their shoes at the stage in a manner reminiscent to how Mubark's last speech was received.  Scuffles ensued, at which point prominent MB members started to chant (for the first time) against military rule. The protesters responded by chanting "hypocrites". Many, on both sides, managed to "cool things down" to avoid a violent escalation that could have spiraled out of hand.

Drunk with new power, and obsessed with consolidating it, the MB (and Islamists in general) have successfully managed to fully alienate those were like brothers to them a year ago. Most protester can only interpret the Islamists' behavior as reeking of dishonesty and betrayal. An increasing number of Egyptians are now growing immune to self-serving political agendas being piggybacked on religion. The revolution continues....

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