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Dispatches From Cairo: Ramadan, Revolution and Rumors
Posted on Aug 9, 2011
Americans keep asking me about this development and I need to say: DON’T FREAK OUT. The numbers at the gathering were misleading, and the groups concentrated their supporters, importing them from all over Egypt, with what we suspect was the support of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The Salafi movement in Egypt is not united; it is made up of different groups and movements. They are new to politics and awkward and obedient to the SCAF, to Field Marshal Tantawi. This demonstration in Tahrir Square was a message from the SCAF to the West, especially to the U.S., using the old Islamist boogeyman to scare foreigners about real democracy in Egypt. Some protesters were holding photos of Omar Abdel Rahman and Osama bin Laden. Some Salafi groups also used slogans and shouted demands that were not approved by the majority of political forces, breaking the agreement to unify their rhetoric during the Friday protest—and of course the SCAF is happy to support the divergence of power and weakening of the masses. Though its members were not present in great numbers at the Salafist rally, the Muslim Brotherhood too referred to “the uncontested Islamic identity of the Egyptian people, which is spelled out in Article 2 of the outgoing constitution.” Twenty-eight secular parties and coalitions, rejecting the slogans, decided to pull out from Tahrir in opposition to what they called the Islamists’ hijacking of the protests with their own demands.
“The participation of well-organized Islamist forces, as well as Wafd Party, have made the 29 July demonstration look much stronger than former ones,” claimed Maj. Gen. Mohamed Abdellatif Tolba. Yet military officers asserted on Friday that the Egyptian people will not accept a state governed by religion.
The demonstrators ignore the fact that they are being used as pawns in the same old political game of psych-out, division, distraction and mass manipulation that the system has perfected over the years.
We still do not know each other at all. Rumors rule. The truth is not important. No one is talking about the funding of the Salafi television channels—though they sure did talk last week when there were big accusations of the April 6 Youth Movement being funded and trained by foreigners! When a New York Times article reported that that organization and a number of Arab revolutions and revolutionary groups have been supported by United States funding and training, local media jumped on it.
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Erian, vice chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, criticized the provocative slogans used by some Islamists in Tahrir Square on Friday. The Freedom and Justice Party formerly rejected these types of minority demands, and today it is also rejecting the actions of Islamists trying to impose their vision on the people’s revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood is organizing itself and holding internal elections. This either means they are gaining clarity and focus or they will splinter. Waiting to be seen. The vast majority of the people are still firmly if confusedly cohabitating the political center. There are no less than 30 political parties now. The people still want unity; most push for a democratic Egypt but many cannot fully understand what exactly they want. It is all new and there is no precedent to follow. All they recognize as familiar are the emotions—fear, anger, pride, revenge, unity, nationalism, hope, suspicion, disappointment, grief, joy, faith … trust and distrust, love and hate. “Each political group or party has a certain viewpoint on Egypt’s problems, but the whole Egyptian population will decide who they will trust to manage their affairs,” Erian of the Muslim Brotherhood said.
Incidentally, Egyptian intelligence chief Mourad Mowafy met Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C., to talk about regional issues and the process of democratic development in Egypt, according to U.S State Department spokesperson Mark Tone.
I have been out of Egypt again, in the USA, and observing Ramadan here has been a challenge, but it’s been interesting getting to know a broader Egyptian- and Muslim-American community and their perspectives. Stopping in France on Wednesday, and I am returning for the big iftar on Friday, inshalla, and to watch the real beginning of the trial of Mubarak.
In California people arrived in nice cars for the iftar, panicking about “Black Friday” and the recession in the USA. Is a big depression coming? I have family and friends losing their homes and jobs … while in Egypt, the ex-dictator is on public trial, people throw rocks at each other outside and make plans for gathering a million people foriftar, pushing the world and their country forward, a huge show of support for unity. But unity in what? And it is all still a big fog; the people cannot see the future yet, but they can see the Pharaoh Mubarak picking his nose in his hospital bed in the accused cage of the people’s court. This trial is huge and they made it happen—whatever the ending. Don’t think that because the people do not understand politics and are being used as pawns they are weak or stupid. No, they are strong and learning what they want. And they have tasted blood.
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