On Cairo Streets, No Support for Islamist State
Last night, the Egyptian president said that he would not run for another term, and that the constitution would be debated by Parliament for changes. That seemed to take the wind out of the sails of many protesting, and as such, Liberation Square was emptying out of protesters. At the same time, pro-Mubarak supporters (who are increasingly being described by people on the streets as "the opposition" (!)) were gathering and preparing to march on Liberation Square. As news of that got around, people all around, from all types of backgrounds, were calling on Muslims to read the chapter of Ya-Sin from the Qur'an, and to send many salutations upon the Prophet, in the hope of invoking Divine protection upon the protesters. These people weren't Islamist forces — they were just ordinary people, hoping that violence would be averted.
If people now fear that the Muslim Brotherhood may simply take over here in Egypt, they've missed one of the most startling things that has been proven in the last few days. Egyptian civil society lives — and just as it would not be cowered into fear when the police were removed, I doubt it will simply allow for an Iranian-style regime to take root in Egypt. Not without one heck of a fight. Indeed, religion matters to the average Egyptian — but I doubt very much that translates into a desire for an Islamist state.
As news flowed around the world that Mubarak's reign was in its last year, many on the left were disappointed, arguing that he should leave immediately, and without delay. On the right, they were demanding that the West support his continued reign, out of the fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over, and Israel would be threatened.
One the streets of Egypt, though, the discussion was rather different. Many who had supported the protests now argued that since Mubarak had said he would not run again, it was time to go home and prepare for the future. If Mubarak just fled, then the country might fall apart completely. On the pro-Mubarak side . . . actually, there was not much of a pro-Mubarak side to listen to. There were some that had benefitted from his rule, and who simply wanted the status quo to remain — but at least in the neighborhood watch committees, none could bring themselves to really argue for his merits. Particularly after the last few days. Beyond the hardcore in Liberation Square, few were arguing for him to be put on trial, but all said that his order to remove police from the streets was a crime, and someone should answer for it.
There was a rather foolish decision made by some of the clergy of the major religious minority in Egypt: the Coptic Church. Historically, the Church was politically netrual, as many argued it should be alongside the Azhar University and the religious leaders of all in Egypt. But that changed in recent years, and in this protest, the Church came heavily out in favor of Mubarak's continued rule. In so doing, it made clear that they were in favor of a status quo that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians were seeking to change, including Christian Egyptians.
A rather foolish decision: a dignified silence might have been more appropriate. At some point, there will be change — the president has made that clear — and one hopes that the Church will not have to explain its support for the party on its way out. Not least to its own flock.
HA Hellyer is a Fellow of the University of Warwick, director of the Visionary Consultants Group and the Europe Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
This article was published by Religion Dispatches on February 2, 2011: