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Monday, 17 June 2019

Thousands gather in Tahrir for the 'Love of Egypt Iftar,' calling for a civil state

Thousands gathered to call for a civil state and regain the right to demonstrate in the revolution's symbolic square, chanting against military and theocratic rule

Salma Shukrallah, Friday 12 Aug 2011
A sufi man participating in The Love of Egypt Friday (Photo by: Mai Shahin)
A sufi man participating in The Love of Egypt Friday (Photo by: Mai Shahin
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About 5000 participated in the For the Love of Friday iftar (the meal that breaks the Ramadan daily fast), initially called for by several Sufi Orders and adopted by several political groups. Numbers increased after iftar reaching about 15000 demonstrators across the square, but not completely blocking the traffic flow.

According to Ayman Abou El-Kheir, the Imam of Abou El-Azayem Mosque, there are four orders participating in the demonstration calling for a civil state, including El-Azmeya, of which he is a follower, El-Shabraweya, El-Saeideya and El-Moghazeya.

Contrary to expectations, the numbers of Sufis participating in the Friday rally were not a majority. Political activists and groups were many and led the demonstrations rotating through Tahrir. The demonstrations and chants were mainly against the military rule and for a civil state. Several chants were also against the establishment of a religious state. “We neither want a military state or a theocratic state” and “we want a civil state” were the main slogans.

Most of the Sufis participating stood near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, while the other participating groups were standing near Omar Makram Mosque and the island opposite to the Mogamma governmental administration building.

The Sufis focused on their stand against the formation of an Islamic state, while political activists rotating the square mostly chanted against military rule, provoked by military police and Central Security Forces that tried to forbid anyone from nearing the square's central island.

While hundreds of the demonstrators standing near Mohamed Mahmoud Street were chanting “the people and the army are one hand” a couple of hours before iftar, demonstrations rotating the square led by thousands of political activists were chanting throughout the evening against the military and against their presence in the square.

"Why are there guards everywhere? Are we in a prison?” and “Down with the rule of the military” chanted the demonstrators.

Shortly after iftar when the numbers increased, thousands of demonstrators attempted to break through the military and Central Security Forces (CSF) guards surrounding the central island chanting “Tahrir is ours.” The attempt ended violently as military police chased demonstrators with sticks and fired shots in the air.

The demonstration was also attended by the head of the Azmeya Order, Alaa Abou El-Azayem, who arrived minutes before iftar and was met by tens of his Order’s followers, who rushed to greet him and followed him as he walked around. Abou El-Azayem, who was one of the main persons calling for a demonstration demanding a civil state, said “we are gathered here; Muslims and Christians together in unity. We are all part of one society.”

Abou El-Azayem called and adopted the Friday for a civil state, despite the objections of the Supreme Council of Sufi Orders. On that he commented “the constitution and the law are above the Supreme Council of the Sufi Orders. The law says people have the right to demonstrate and we are exercising this right.”

Abou El-Kheir, on the other hand, said “we are here for a civil state. We do not want an Islamic state. We will not allow the Salafists to force their way, following Saudi Arabia. We want a constitution based on the consensus of all in society. We are against that Egypt become a new Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, a man gave out flyers arguing, using many Quranic verses to back up the argument, that to be ruled by anything but sharia (Islamic law) is Kufr (heresy), making a statement against the event and purpose of the "For the Love of Egypt" Friday. 

On the other hand, demonstrations circulating the square chanted for the rights of the revolutions' martyrs saying “we either get their rights back or die like them” as they were facing the military police occupying the centre of the square and minutes before the clashes between military police and protestors erupted.

The square returned to normal and clashes quickly ended while the stage sponsored by Abou El-Azayem was finally set. Muslim prayers started shortly after and thousands started praying in the middle of Tahrir Square.

This is the first demonstration to take place in Tahrir since the military forcefully ended the three weeks long July 8 sit-in. Hundreds had attempted to have an iftar in the square days earlier but were attacked and chased away by military police. However, several political movements and Sufis went into negotiations with the prime minister to ensure that the For the Love of Egypt iftar will be allowed. Many of the demonstrators' slogans focused on retaking the square, now a symbol of the revolution, insisting that it is their right.

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