On the Friday of “popular will and a united front”, as the day was initially dubbed, slogans and banners demanding the implementation of Sharia dominated Tahrir Square. Thus the demand to turn Egypt into an Islamic state – peripheral to the revolution – hushed all others, prompting political forces to express their anger with the silencing of political groups present in Tahrir since 8 July despite a prior agreement with the Islamists participating in the Friday demonstration to unite all fronts.
A statement issued by three pm on Friday stated that 33 political groups, most of which have been part of the Tahrir sit-in for three weeks, have decided to withdraw from the Friday demonstration in protest of the violation of the agreement.
“There was an agreement signed by all political groups including most of the Islamic groups to hold a national-unity Friday,” Mostafa Shawky of the Revolution Youth Coalition explained, “upholding the demands of the revolution, and sending a message to the Military Council that Egypt’s political forces cannot be divided. However, only controversial points and demands disagreed on have been raised in the square today.”
According to statement, read by the Revolution Youth Coalition member Khaled Abdelhamid, “While all civil political forces, revolutionary groups and youth coalitions have abided by the agreement in opposing the military council’s divisive plans and keeping away from points of difference, some Islamic forces have violated this agreement and chanted slogans, hung banners and spread flyers that included our points of difference. Sticking to our principle of always maintaining peacefulness, we have decided to withdraw from this Friday’s demonstrations while continuing our sit-in which upholds the revolution’s demands”.
The revolution’s demands stated by the 33 groups included recompensing the martyrs’ families, setting a minimum and maximum wage, replacing the Attorney General, setting a timeline for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to hand over power to a civil body and putting an end to the military trials of civilians.
The groups who signed included the Democratic Workers Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the People’s Alliance Socialist Party, the Awareness Party, the Egyptian Current Party, the Karama Party, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egypt Freedom Party, the Hamdeen El-Sabahy Campaign, the Revolution Youth Coalition, the Lotus Revolution Coalition, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Free Egyptian Movement, the Popular Committees in Defense of the Revolution, the Participation Movement, the A Beginning Movement, the Progressive Youth Coalition, the Coordinating Committee for Awareness Movements in Egypt, the No to Military Trials Campaign, the El-Baradei Independent Campaign, the Justice and Freedom Youth, the Socialist Renewal Current, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Kifaya Movement, the Maspero Youth Coalition, the Sahwa Movement, Egyptian Women for Change, the April 6 Movement, the Democratic Front Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Artists Coalition, the National Council and the National Association for Change.
Abdelhamid says an arrangement to unify demands, in addition, was made with the Islamist Forces Front which includes 25 different Islamic political groups; a joint statement was signed on Thursday. For his part Mohamed El-Kassas, a former Muslim Brotherhood Youth member, confirms that the agreement was violated by some groups despite attempts by some of the Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to contain the violations. For example, Kassas explains, “the main stage in the square which belongs to the Justice and Freedom Youth was attacked for chanting slogans which upheld the revolution’s demands and because it was not chanting slogans demanding the application of Sharia, which only meets the demands of a particular sect in society, but luckily the stage was protected by the Islamist Forces Coalition.”
Ahmed Imam from the National Front for Justice and Democracy says there were attempts to stop such violations all through Thursday night. He said that together with some of the Islamic groups participating in the sit-in, young protesters systematically tried to remove all controversial banners. However, Imam added, “by early Friday morning this became impossible especially after the Salafi preacher Hazem Imam went on stage and started directing the demonstrators to uphold those demands”.
Ibrahim El-Hodeiby, one of those involved in coordinating between the different political groups, says all Islamic groups had approved the agreement except for the Salafist movement whose coordinator remained silent all through the meeting and then added at the end that they would sign the statement. “When the banners reading Sharia First were first carried into the square on Thursday night,” El-Hodeiby said, “I called the Salafi Islamic Preacher Abdelmonem El-Shahat to complain but he said that those banners did not belong to his movement. However, the next day when I asked those carrying the banners they said they belonged to El-Shahat’s movement and when I called him he did not answer. I sent him a message complaining – and then he said that he had not signed the agreement”.
El-Hodeiby insists that “this is not a division between Islamic forces and secular forces. There is an Egyptian national movement which includes Islamists and seculars and serves the national interest. Just as there are seculars who are not part of this national movement and serve foreign interests, there are also Islamists who are not part of this movement and serve foreign interests, not only in terms of where they get their ideas but also in terms of where they get their money”.
On the other hand, many Islamists would deny such claims, stating that there had been no agreement to unite. While most held a sector of the Salafi movement responsible for violating the disagreement, denying the agreement or never having approved it, Muslim Brotherhood member Safwat Hegazy also told Al-Jazeera Mubasher that there had been no agreement to unify demands before the Friday demonstrations.
On the other hand, Tarek El-Zommor, the Jamaa Islamiya’s member and spokesperson, admitted on the Tahrir Satellite Channel that there had been an agreement but said that the agreement was a trap made for the Islamists to lure them away from their original demands. He added that the seculars were manipulating the Military Council to uphold their demands.