On the Friday of Wrath, 28 January, I marched with thousands of Egyptians in demonstrations in the districts of Dokki and Mohandiseen. I stood for a long time in Galaa Square with throngs of protesters who were tear gas targets until four in the afternoon, when we found out that the police decided to withdraw and that the army will impose a curfew and deploy at key locations. On that day, the protesters chanted “No Baradei, no Brotherhood… These are the weary youth of Egypt” or, at other time, “the brave youth of Egypt.”
It was a simple and definitive slogan stating that the demonstrations have nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood who was always used as the bogeyman for the West in order not to pressure the former regime to carry out democratic reforms and candid elections. It also meant that these youth are a new force introducing themselves and leading demonstrations after organising on social networks.
It was already obvious since Tuesday 25 January, which witnessed the first demonstrations in Tahrir Square and across the country, that the Brotherhood had decided not to join these protests because they were organised by politically inexperienced people of whom little is known. In other words, the Brotherhood would not participate in action which they did not initiate and have a starring role.
In all honestly, there were young Muslim Brotherhood members in the protests, perhaps as genuine participants or perhaps only to survey the situation and find out what was happening on the street. They could also signify a generational division within the group. By coincidence, amidst the demonstrations and din and tear gas, I came upon my colleague Diaa Rashwan in Galaa Square. We also met with two young men who introduced themselves as members of the Muslim Brotherhood who said they were not participating but admiring the protests. They described the demonstrations as surprisingly well organised and professional and that they will relay these impressions to their leadership.
But developments took another turn when it became clear that Egypt was not merely witnessing a passing demonstration or protest, but rather the unfolding of a momentous event capable of rocking Egypt, and the region, to its core. With a deep political sense, everyone realised that the manner by which the police forces withdrew is the beginning of a victory that needs resilience and solidarity by the people to be realised.
Under these circumstances which forced everyone’s hand – whether they were organised for decades like the Brotherhood or freshmen like the revolutionary youth – the Brotherhood decided to join the revolutionary bandwagon. Its members joined the protests in many cities, especially Alexandria and Ismailia, while others camped out in Tahrir Square to participate in this historic event.
Whatever the reasons behind the Brotherhood’s decision to join the demonstrators and their immediate and future political agenda, revolutionary co-existence in Tahrir Square created a mutual acceptance between the Brotherhood and other political forces. According to what I heard from many people who contributed to the revolution and what I observed in Tahrir Square over two weeks, there is acknowledgment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s key role in defending the sit-in.
This is especially true during the bloody events of Wednesday 2 February – better known as the Horse and Camel Battle – but also against the lawless masses that surrounded the square and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at protesters. Brotherhood members courageously stood their ground and many of them were gravely injured but remained in the battleground with the other protesters. They protected the independence zone teeming with revolution until its greater goal was achieved, namely the departure of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency and some changes began to occur in the structure of the regime, to pave the way for its entire overhaul through presidential and parliamentary elections within six months.
This admission of the Muslim Brotherhood’s important role in defending Tahrir Square and the revolution is met with the reality that this revolution, the secret of its success and significance, has no specific leader. Everyone who took part in it is its leader, revolutionary and maker. Even those who stayed home or in faraway cities and villages, or continued to man vital production sites and prayed for its success, are also at the core of the revolution. Therefore, any direct or indirect attempt to imply that a specific faction paid a higher price or has the right to larger rewards is unethical and against its spirit.
I think this is a principle ingrained in the nature of the revolution itself since it is the revolt of an entire people against those who victimised and abused them, under the pretext that the former are not mature enough and do not deserve freedom, dignity and humanity.
This long introduction is necessary to discuss the reason which made the victory celebrations of Friday 18 February appear as a show of force by the Muslim Brotherhood. It seemed like a message that this revolution will unequivocally lead the country in a direction universally acknowledged not to be the consensus of all its society, even before the people are allowed to decide for themselves.
Preventing the young activist Wael Ghoneim from addressing the crowd during victory celebrations by those described as the bodyguards of Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawi, and the shameful chants against Ghoneim, are at the very least a worrisome indication of what kind of freedoms to expect in an imposed de facto reality that silences anyone with a contrary view or outlook.
The Brotherhood denied that it invited Al-Qaradawi to give the sermon of Victory Friday but it is clear that the group used their organisational skills to mobilise their members from across the country to take part in the event, and each person should come to their own conclusions.
What I understand from those in the inner circle of creating the revolution, others who participated and those who are optimistic about its future, there is deep concern about this unprecedented mobilisation. There is also apprehension that the political forces, parties and rising youth groups will not have a chance to participate in creating a new political regime through parliamentary or presidential elections. It is true that before this massive congregation took place, the Muslim Brotherhood issued several statements reassuring all sectors of society that they will not contest the parliamentary election for more than one third of the seats nor will they nominate a candidate for the presidency and that they believe in a civic state not a religious one which is contrary to Islam, according to the group’s leaders.
After the mass assembly on Victory Friday, they declared their rejection of the Iranian model and said it could not be applied in Egypt. I understand, as did many others, that the last denial was made after many compared Al-Qaradawi’s visit – which was no more than a visit – to the return of Khomeini to Iran from exile in France following the Iranian Revolution in February 1979.
But these three tiered denials contradict known facts of political life, in which actors are not later held accountable for their verbal guarantees. Neither does politics recognise good intentions and sugar coated words, but rather action and the balance of power. These denials should be deeply disconcerting for the Egyptian people. Perhaps the example of Algeria, where the Islamists won the elections at the end of 1990 followed by decades of violence, civil war and killings based on ideology, fuels the worries of many Egyptians that their rising homeland will witness the same.
What is most disturbing is that the coming parliamentary elections could usher in a religious state not a civic one, especially because of the frailty and weakness of existing political parties, and that these would be the first and last genuine parliamentary elections in revolutionary Egypt. Even more disheartening is the prospect of political parties, youth forces, opposition and revolution groups not seizing the opportunity to bond with the people and the street to renew their organisational structure, ideology and attract more members to urge them to conscientiously participate in creating a new Egypt. An Egypt which champions freedom, dignity and human rights, and is home to an ever-rejuvenating democracy which will never recede or be extinguished.