Egyptian Socialists and Islamists on verge of war in Alexandria


Ongoing squabbles between different political factions in Egypt might seem ordinary in the light of the radical changes the country has been witnessing since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

What makes the matter more complicated, though, is the religious factor that seems to have become an integral part of any political discourse whether it is for or against it. The recent standoff between the Revolutionary Socialists movement and Islamists in the coastal city of Alexandria offers a good example.

The story began when members of the Revolutionary Socialists movement launched a campaign on social networking websites to call for banning Islamic preacher and Imam of Alexandria’s al-Qaed Ibrahim mosque Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahalawi from delivering the coming Friday’s sermon and suggested replacing him with a moderate preacher from al-Azhar. Members of the movement also called for a massive rally on Friday morning in front of the mosque to prevent Mahalawi from entering.

On the other hand, supports of Mahalwai declared their intention to form human shields to protect the sheikh and allow him to take the podium and deliver the sermon. Mahalawi and his supporters had earlier described members of the movement as “apostates” and accused them of implementing foreign agendas.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahalawi, born in 1952, is a graduate of al-Azhar and worked as preacher at the Ministry of Endowments, then moved to Alexandria and took charge of al-Qaed Ibrahim mosque.

Mahalawi was one of many opposition figures arrested by late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in September 1981, a month before Sadat was shot dead. In a speech he gave right after the arrests, Sadat made a famous disparaging remark about Mahalawi.

“The man who slandered me and my family… is now thrown in jail like a dog.”

Mahalawi was also among Mubarak’s staunchest opponents and had since 1996 been banned from giving sermons at the mosque. He came back only after the January 25 Revolution. He is seen as one of the symbols of the revolution in Alexandria.

In a sermon he gave last Friday, Mahalawi accused the Revolutionary Socialists movement of planning to bring down the state, sow the seeds of sedition between Muslims and Christians, and apply a communist system like the one in the former Soviet Union.

Mahalawi’s statements followed a video posted on the internet of a seminar held by the Revolutionary Socialists at the Center for Strategic Studies. In this seminar, Sameh Naguib, one of the movement’s leaders, called for toppling the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and paralyzing the country through a series of nationwide strikes and sit-ins. The video was shown on several satellite channels.

Gamal Tag el-Din, from the Muslim Brotherhood, filed a complaint against the Revolutionary Socialists movement accusing its most prominent figures – Sameh Naguib, Yasser Abdel Qawi, and Hisham Yousri – of planning to topple the state, turn against the revolution, burn strategic buildings, and incite clashes between the army and the people. Tag el-Din withdrew the complaint later amid reports that it was filed under pressure by the Brotherhood leadership.

Ali Abdel Fattah, a member of the Brotherhood’s political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, said he talked Tag el-Din into withdrawing the complaint.

“Egypt is now going through a very critical stage and we need to contain everybody and to stop accusing others of treason,” he said.

Abdel Fattah argued that despite ideological differences, the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to fight the Revolutionary Socialists or any other movement they disagree with.

“We can’t just keep finding faults with each other. If any party or movement is involved in any wrongdoing, this is the job of the government and not political parties.”

Revolutionary Socialists member Hisham Fouad pointed out that the movement is not involved in a conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, but with the current regime.

“Yes, we want to topple the state of injustice.”

Members of the Revolutionary Socialists distributed flyers containing a statement by the movement in response to the public outrage at the seminar’s speech.

The statement stressed that the speech was used to spread fear among Egyptians and that it was obvious from the speech that it was not Egypt that is to be toppled, but the oppressive regime governing it at the moment.

The statement included parts of the speech in which Naguib made his point clear.

“The military council does not protect the interests of the Egyptian people, but rather the interests of Egypt’s richest 1,000 families as well as the American administration and Zionism.”

The movement added in the statement that the regime that ruled for 30 years and for which the revolution erupted is still ruling Egypt.

“This regime allows capital to starve and render homeless thousands of farmers and laborers and discriminates between citizens based on religion, race, and color. This regime killed Sudanese refugees in 2005 and assaulted women in 2006 and 2011. It also took part in burning down churches and persecuting poor Copts, of whom it killed 24 last October.”

The statement reiterated Naguib’s words in the seminar about the Egyptian army.

“We believe that sooner or later, patriotic officers in the army are bound to join the revolutionaries.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)