The scenes and images of millions of people marching and chanting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square no longer fills us with hope and admiration. Indeed today, months following the success of the Egyptian Revolution, there can be no doubt that such scenes fail to move us in the same manner as they did before.
The scenes that could be seen last Friday at Tahrir Square, and which were unenthusiastically broadcast by a number of Arab satellite channels, seem to indicate that Egypt will be facing some dark political times ahead. What multiplied the feelings of anxiety was the occurrence of other deplorable incidents across Egypt that did not receive much attention from the media. One such incident was the armed attack on a police station in northern Sinai, whilst the second incident was an attack targeting four Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt.
The reason for this anxiety and concern is the dominance that the Islamist trend enjoyed in last Friday’s million-man march at Tahrir Square. We saw a huge number of bearded youth, raising black banners and chanting zealous slogans calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariaa law and the establishment of an Islamic state.
An official representing an Islamist group later stated that the “dregs” had withdrawn from the street, in a reference to the [Egyptian] liberal and secular protests that had refused to come out and join with the Islamists protests in Tahrir Square.
However how did the situation in Egypt reach this state?
It is clear that the strength and influence of such Islamist groups predates the revolution. Islamist groups’ popularity in Egypt developed under the severe suppression and corruption that only intensified following decades of despotic rule. The political and media openness that can be seen following the 25 January revolution has allowed these Islamists to appear more frequently in the media, and work towards establishing media outlets of their own, whether this is newspapers, satellite television channels, radio stations, or internet websites.
There can be no doubt that the Islamist currents that flexed their muscles last Friday in Tahrir Square were only allowed to do so after the revolutionaries broke through the barrier of fear; they are today benefitting from the current openness following this revolution. More importantly that this, this [political] trend has benefited from the strong relationship that was forged between the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents, and the Egyptian military.
However we must not forget that the Islamists came to the revolution in its final stages. The Muslim Brotherhood was not part of the initial spark that lit the Egyptian popular uprising that overthrew the Mubarak regime, whilst the Salafists remained completely out of the picture until the very end.
They benefited from the social freedom granted to them by the former regime to establish a strong and popular presence on the ground, which they are now using as a spring-board into [organized] politics following the revolution. This represents a form of cunning that is based on the logic of the former regime, namely the idea of taking advantage of the situation – the protests and revolution – to suddenly pounce onto the [political] scene.
How can we forget the huge number of extremely backward fatwas that these Islamists issued and promoted in order to distract people during the former regime’s rule? Is celebrating Sham el-Nessim [the first day of Spring] religiously permissible or not? Should a woman who dies whilst committing adultery be allowed an Islamic burial? This is just two examples of the torrent of trivial issues that these Islamists brought into the lives of the people of Egypt. It was these same Islamists who took to the streets to protest in Tahrir Square last Friday. These fatwas carried these Islamists from the side-lines to the heart of the game, where they are now seeking to shape a dark political future for Egypt.
The people of Egypt from across the political spectrum have been denied the right to express themselves and exchange ideas. Today there is a chaotic scene in Egypt, particularly with regards to the different ideologies, political beliefs, and even media, competing with one another. This is a natural course that Egypt must follow, namely the natural course of a country that is finally seeing the light after decades of darkness and despotism.
The people of Egypt today are seeing the light, but it may take some time for their eyes to adjust to the brightness!
The article was published in the London-based Asharq Al Awsat on August 8, 2011. For more, please see: http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=2&id=26158