Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Exploitation of religion

Islamists are preparing for 28 November, day of the so-called Islamic Revolution. Amany Maged reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The “Islamic revolution”, as billed by the Salafist Front, is scheduled to begin at dawn tomorrow morning.

“Every mosque in every part of the country” will be a rallying point for demonstrations that will set off after Friday prayers. The demonstrations are “for victory for God and in preparation for a great uprising from all the mosques of Egypt to defend identity, reject dependency and bring down regimes,” said a Salafist Front statement.

On its Facebook page the Front proclaimed: “The hour of assent draws near. The dawn of freedom is about to shine. The call of prayer is nigh: ‘Come to prayer!’ The sun is about to rise and emit rays of mercy over our nation and the light of emancipation from the slavery of degradation, injustice and dependency in the beautiful bright morning of Islam. Let the timid seek shelter here and the hungry ask for sustenance. Let those who demand freedom and dignity seek comfort in its shade. Now is the time for those who were driven from their homes to cry ‘our Lord is God’ and to return to their homes with pride and dignity. Now is the time for Egypt to return to what it once was: a beacon of peace for the world, a place of safety for all who enter it, a leader of nations and pioneer of civilisation.”

The Facebook declaration continues: “Let all the workers and peasants emerge with the dawn prayers to ignite revolution against capital and the brutality of the business magnates who form the retinue of the regime. Let them seize their rights and not return without them. Let all those who demand dignity rise up against the mercenary companies and militias of injustice. Let the inhabitants of the slums and graveyards reclaim the humanity which the regime exploited by recruiting their children to perform dirty jobs after which it tossed them into prison on charges of thuggery. Let the volcano of anger erupt in Sinai against those who killed its people and then killed the soldiers in it.”

While the Salafist Front leadership is accompanying the countdown in rhetorical fashion, the Salafist Front youth are making preparations of their own, many of them musical. One song, by the Ultras Nahdawi, is called “The pharaoh still rules” and has been composed especially to support the “uprising of Muslim youth”. In the same spirit young singer Abu Anas Al-Malki has released a song “The November of massing men”.

The Ultras Nahdawi, a youth group formed in April 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to rally support for the party’s platform, the Nahda Project, and for Mohamed Morsi’s presidential campaign, issued a statement saying they will take part in the 28 November demonstrations which, they say, seek to achieve three objectives: “impose identity, reject hegemony, overthrow the military”.

Their statement went on to call on Egyptian youth “to turn out in all the squares in Egypt to take part in demonstrations and raise the banner of Islam”. The statement added: “Our participation in the day is not an expression of racial discrimination or religious persecution. It is to claim what is right. For they want a religion tailored to their whims.”

The Ultras Nahdawi has been implicated in a number of incidents of political violence.

The Salafist Front defines itself as a league comprising independent Islamist and Salafist figures and proselytising groups from various parts of the country that share an ideological outlook. The Front is a member of the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) that was formed in the weeks leading to the 30 June Revolution to support then president Mohamed Morsi. Its campaign marks the first open call for an “Islamic revolution” in Egypt since Morsi was ousted from power on 3 July 2013.

Some voices associated with the 25 January 2011 Revolution have been raised after a period of silence. Political activist Wael Ghoneim, administrator of the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page, says he will join “the revolutionary ranks” against the current regime. “The revolution continues and the fight continues at the same time as the Islamic Revolution on 28 November,” he proclaimed.

The Muslim Brothers were delighted by Ghoneim’s return. Khaled Al-Sherif, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood Council in Turkey, hailed the political and media reemergence of activists as “a good step”.

“Wael Ghoneim is still an icon of the [25 January] revolution,” he said, adding, “repentance is open to all”.

The authorities have been taking precautionary measures. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Ali Bishr and several Salafist Front leaders have been arrested and security tightened in sensitive areas. Security agencies are on high alert in anticipation of violence on Friday.

Other Salafist quarters continue to oppose the Salafist Front’s campaign. The Salafist Calling and its political wing the Nour Party have disassociated themselves from the Salafist Front and are urging the public not to heed calls to demonstrate. They called the Front’s campaign an “abomination of the devil” and branded the Front’s members as “Qotbists”, a reference to radical Islamist ideologue Sayed Qotb.

The Salafist Calling has released a video warning of the dangers of the Salafist Front’s campaign for 28 November. In the film Salafist Calling Vice-President Yasser Borhami cautions viewers against taking part in the demonstrations. “The guerrilla warfare that some forces want, works only in occupied territories, not in Egypt,” he said. He explained that some forces were seeking to distort the Salafist Calling, to delude Salafist youth and to use them as gun fodder. The advocates of the so-called Islamic Revolution, he claimed, numbered no more than 15 people.

Sheikh Ali Hatem, a member of the Salafist Calling board of directors, said his organisation opposed the call to demonstrations by the Salafist Front on 28 November or any other time. He explained that once it became apparent the purpose of the Salafist Front was to undermine the state it became obvious that all its talk about Islamic Law, freedom and equality was a form of deception. “They know that such disturbances obstruct those causes, the cause of Islamic Law above all,” he said.

Hatem also denounced some of the activities planned for the demonstrations, particularly the notion of carrying copies of the Quran. This means bringing the Holy Book into the confusion and skirmishing that occurs during such events. It means exposing the Quran to the risk of it falling on to the ground and becoming torn or trampled on. To expose it to such a risk is to demean the sanctity of the Quran, he said. He also warned of the spectre of an outbreak of strife similar to that which occurred in 1947 when the Muslim Brotherhood precipitated a confrontation with security forces at the Khalifa police station by circulating rumours that its police chief had torn up a copy of the Quran.”

Religious authorities are also campaigning vigorously to dissuade youth from taking part in the demonstrations. Awareness-raising caravans have been formed to tour towns and cities and drive home the message that the demonstrations will cause instability and undermine the economy.

Echoing Sheikh Ali Hatem, Al-Azhar warned that bringing Qurans into the demonstrations could trigger civil strife. Deputy of  Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Abbas Shouman said that holding up Qurans in demonstrations conjures painful memories of sedition and strife. Shouman described the call issued by “extremist groups” to carry copies of the Quran on 28 November as “an exploitation of religion with the purpose of inflaming religious passions among the Egyptian people through the wrongful use of the Holy Quran.” He condemned the intent to use the Quran “to ignite strife, spread dissension and achieve political gains at the expense of the Book of God”.

Shouman, who delivered this statement via an Arab satellite television station, said: “The terrorist groups that call themselves ‘Islamic’ have no connection with the true meaning of any religion and their acts are of the sort that no Muslim would commit, not even a radical one.”

“The first outbreak of strife that broke the back of the nation occurred when copies of the Quran were raised on the tips of lances several centuries ago in the early Islamic era.” He added: “The Muslim Brothers are using copies of the Quran for profane political purposes in their demonstrations.”

He also took the opportunity to underscore the status and moral authority of Al-Azhar.

“Al-Azhar is an ancient institution known far and wide for its contribution to the movement of the enlightenment, resistance against errant thought over the ages, the dissemination of the enlightened spirit of Islam, raising people’s awareness with regard to what is of benefit to them in their religion and their world while alerting them to all attempts to sow sedition.”

With regard to the awareness-raising caravans that Al-Azhar helped organise, Shouman said that their purpose was to alert the Egyptian people “to the destructive ideas espoused by people who are more enemies to themselves than they are enemies to the state” and “to the conspiracies that are being woven with the purpose of undermining national security and stability and hampering the development of the spirit of belonging to, and love for, the nation”. He added: “The Egyptian people will not be deceived again. They will not respond to the call to hold up copies of the Quran, a call based on lies and trafficking in religion.”

Whatever happens when zero hour arrives it will have far ranging implications. Tomorrow may well turn out to be the day that marked the end of political Islam.

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