The Islamists have flexed their muscles all across Egypt in what was as planned the largest-ever gathering of Islamic forces. They, by far, outnumbered liberals and secularists in last Friday’s mass protest as their demands to enforce sharia (Islamic) law and “retain the country’s Islamic identity” overshadowed the original demands of the uprising. But as they enjoyed several gains by the end of the day, the Islamists have also suffered some losses.
The likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, unshackled by the silence of a domineering regime, were able to voice themselves more after the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in the wake of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution.
The vast congregation on Friday, which consisted of members from all three groups, was a further testament to their potential and influence on the political landscape and was deemed as their foremost accomplishment that day.
“They proved their ability to rally in huge numbers all over the country and to unify their lines when they need to; these were their main gains,” journalist and political analyst, Diaa Rashwan commented to Ahram Online.
“They showed supremacy today [Friday] and now they are seeking to reform the revolution and set a new list of demands, although all other political forces are opposing them.”
While most of the protesters from across the political spectrum have been chanting against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), calling for retribution against those held culpable for killing demonstrators during the 18-day revolt and reiterating the importance of fulfilling the uprising’s well-recognised demands, the Islamists were pushing in a whole different direction.
A host of pro-Islam chants, including “Hold your head high up because you are a Muslim,” resounded in a myriad of Egyptian squares, while banners and placards bearing aggressive anti-secularism slogans, such as “Beware of the enemies of the country and Islam” were widespread.
More significantly, the Islamists have also supported the under-fire SCAF. They also took a completely contrary take on the field marshal, who most political forces are asking to step down. The president seat is currently vacant, but as head of Egypt’s ruling military, Field Marshal Tantawi is the de-facto president.
Having overtaken the demonstrations venues in their own style, the Islamists have backtracked on an alleged agreement with many other political forces not limit their slogans to call for unity and the fulfilment of the revolt’s as yet unmet demands; avoiding controversial religious slogans. The Islamists, subsequently, have been condemned and accused by many of being “opportunists” who are trying to “steal the revolution.”
Numerous Islamists argued that they were not obliged to honour the agreement because they had not approved it, while others denied there was an agreement in the first place. Neither excuse gave them a respite, as the fact remains they have isolated themselves from the rest of the revolutionaries with a whole different set of objectives and agendas of their own.
“Their attitude didn’t open people very well towards them,” Rashwan explained. “They seemed to be only interested in achieving their goals and were obviously indifferent towards the revolution’s demands. There have been no calls for national unity, which has probably taken a toll on the people’s trust in them. Ignoring the agreement with the political forces also poses another loss for Islamists.”
The Islamists’ biggest loss
Although Islamists’ gathered in the millions it does not guarantee them triumphs in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections by any means, the renowned columnist believes.
“I think the Islamists’ biggest loss is that their Friday congregation seemed to be their maximum,” Rashwan elaborated. “They packed Tahrir Square but half of them were coming from different governorates. All over Egypt, they were estimated at only two million, which is not nearly enough for their political ambitions [to dominate the People’s Assembly and assume power].
“Their numbers might have been impressive for the protests, but winning elections is a whole different story. If they were two million on the streets, plus two more who supported their demands from home, that makes them four million overall. In Egypt, there are 48 million voters.
“According to these numbers, the Islamists comprise a minority, a negligible one, and that fact is obvious now.
“It was so apparent that Muslim Brotherhood member Safwat Hegazi was frustrated while talking on TV later after the protests. That’s why he said the Islamists could have gathered up to 20 million demonstrators if there had been enough space for them. He was clearly not satisfied with the Islamists’ numbers at the demonstrations," said Rashwan.
The Islamists have been trying for decades to be politically involved but have always been repressed and mistreated by the previous rulers, including Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat . They have high aspirations in post-revolution Egypt but their full potential is yet to be known.