The Friday of Unity demonstrates disunity


Protesters gather with a banner with a Koranic verse in Tahrir square in Cairo, July 29, 2011

Photo: Reuters
Protesters gather with a banner with a Koranic verse in Tahrir square in Cairo, July 29, 2011

Friday in Cairo and yes the big crowds are back, but with a difference.  This week was to be called the Friday of Unity, on an agreement of all of the various parties which were calling upon their supporters to attend.  However, the original working title suggested by the various Islamic groups might have been more apt, they wanted to call it the Friday of Sharia (Islamic law).  For the first time, Islam dominated the demonstration, in part because the Islamic parties had put out a call to their members all over the country to come to Cairo to pray and demonstrate.  Therefore those advocating an Islamic Egypt far out numbered the secular demonstrators for the first time.   In confusion and anger, the secular parties beat a retreat and held news conferences declaring Tahrir and Egyptian Revolution to have been stolen by Islamists.  It would appear everyone is now out of the political closets in Egypt and a new set of battle lines have been drawn; there are now three separate and clear factions, the army, the secular parties and the Islamic parties.

Early this week and before today’s events, the secular factions accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being in bed with the army;  and as if by coincidence this week,  an army spokesman said the Brotherhood represents no threat to Egypt.  The army and the brotherhood are not necessarily antithetical and could make form a partnership to govern without any major compromise on either part.  That is quite unlike the secular demonstrators who demand a government without the army.  For the rest of this weekend Islam will rule in Tahrir Square, the government has not been sent amy new message, so next week should not produce any startling developments.  Mubarak’s trial is scheduled to begin and if it is not postponed it might take the focus away from the square’s occupants and delay any potentially violent confrontation between the groups. In any case,  those who have dominated the square and the dialogue up to this point have now met those they will face in the polls, if not before in the streets of Cairo.

Jordan also had its demonstration this week and it too was dominated by Islamic parties. Nothing startling or different, 3,000 people demanding change.  People demonstrated in Syria also, but Syria’s protests remain secular; but as long as one risks getting shot possibly they are waiting in the wings for things to be safer.  The new leader of Al-Qaeda sent a message this week to his brothers in Syria telling them he and his fighter would be right there by their sides fight and dying, except the evil Americans were keeping them boxed in elsewhere.  He wants to be there, he wants to be there really badly to die with his Syrian brothers, but he would have to die to get there.  However, they are in his prayers.

The demonstrations in Israel have not stopped either, in fact they are gaining momentum.  The young people looking for a secure future, a job and an affordable place to live stayed in the streets long enough to attract the attention of more conventional politicians.  The Israeli labor party, histadrut (General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) joined in as has WIZO and Na’amat, two of the countries largest women’s organizations and striking doctors from the Israel Medical Association are also demonstrating.  Everyone with an axe to grind sees an opportunity to get the government’s attention. In a way it is like what was happening in Egypt in January and February, except the degree of emphasis on the economy versus government change is reversed.  There have been some calls for the Israeli government to resign, but that is not the main issue, the economy is the issue.  However, if the demonstrations continue I would expect peace to also become an issue in the streets of Israel and that will definitely be an issue of governance also.   Clearly that would be unlike the demonstrations in the Arab countries as up to this point peace and Israel have not entered into the dialogue, but if the Islamic parties start to dominate the discusions,  Israel is certain to become an issue there also.

And in case you think I am exaggerating, here is a quote from one of the demonstrators in Cairo as broadcast by Al-Jazeerah: “To Mr. Obama, We are all Osama bin Laden, all Egyptians are Osama bin Laden; all Muslims are Mohammad, we are all Mohammad.”  Within a week Europe and the Middle East seem to swinging into religious and ideological extremism – what happened to the hope of the Arab Spring?

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