Last Friday’s rally in Tahrir was perplexing. Not because it showed the Islamists’ strong political presence, that much we already knew. Rather, because no Islamists ever called for such a mass protest under Hosni Mubarak. It was civil, non-religious groups — mostly youth — who initiated the mass demonstrations that sparked the revolution and brought down the former regime. Many Salafi groups, meanwhile, remained loyal to Mubarak till the end.
Any political group has the right to call for large rallies and raise whatever slogans it wants. However, the chants in Tahrir on Friday will only drag the country backwards because they’re entirely disconnected from reality. They incite simple-minded people to take revenge on their fellow citizens who want a constitution, or at least the adoption of supra-constitutional principles, before elections, on the basis that such calls threaten the Arab-Islamic identity of Egypt.
Other slogans like “The People Want the Implementation of Sharia” are elusive. Which Sharia Law do they mean? The version implemented in Sudan or Afghanistan, which helped drag those countries into their current dismal state? Or the Sharia implemented by Turkey’s AK Party, which helped that country progress? Or the Sharia of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, who made his country's economy one of the most important in Southeast Asia?
The implementation of Islamic Sharia requires ideas to be translated into political and economic programs for the country’s benefit. It should not be abused to raise fears about Egypt’s threatened Islamic identity, which the constitution already safeguards. Had Egyptian secular forces called for the abolition of Article 2 of the constitution, which recognizes Sharia as the principle source of legislation, the Islamists’ slogan may have been appropriate. But that’s not the case. The slogan reflects the Islamist camp’s internal weakness and intellectual bankruptcy; it does not suggest any real threat to Egypt’s identity.
Other Islamist slogans, like “Islam is the Solution”, are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes of the past — communist, ultra-nationalist, or religious fundamentalist — that adopt simplistic mottoes that fail to address the daily agonies of the people. Even though poverty, illiteracy and corruption are rampant in Egypt, Islamists have failed to deal with these challenges, instead preferring to confront illusory threats. If anything, their muscle-flexing on Friday has revealed their weakness, not their strength.
Translated and abridged from the Arabic Edition.