A voice for the silent majority?

On the anniversary of 25 January, the scene was reminiscent of the early days of the revolution as Tahrir Square overflowed with hundreds of thousands protesting against military rule.

That same day, about a hundred people showed up in Abbasseya Square, claiming to represent the majority of Egyptians and chanting in support of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Abbasseya Square has become a home for people who reject the protests in Tahrir. Those protesting there vary from Mubarak supporters, to those who say they support the revolution, but oppose the path it has taken since Mubarak resigned. They mostly gather around their support for the ruling military council.

Their gathering could in part be explained by the sense of agency Egyptians gained since the outbreak of the 25 January uprising. But the demonstrators also exhibit their deep rejection of how the revolution has developed, alienating them and their beliefs. 

“We don’t claim to speak for all of the silent majority, no one can, but we try to detect the opinion of a large sector in society that doesn’t feel represented by parties and youth groups in the spotlight, and give them a voice,” says Hossam Hazem, the founder of The Voice of the Silent Majority, an ad hoc group founded in February rejecting the continuation of protests following Mubarak’s resignation and supporting the SCAF.

The group supports the roadmap put forth by the military council to leave power by the end of June at the latest. Its members believe that the people gave legitimacy to the ruling council when they left the square after Mubarak appointed it to manage the country's affairs in February.

The group's members take pride in their participation in the protests that forced out Mubarak last year. In fact, they believe that the silent majority made the revolution.

“The spark of the protest was started by the youth, but it turned into a revolution when the silent majority joined,” says Hazem, seated among other group members in their minimally furnished new office in Heliopolis.

According to Hazem’s calculations, 20 million of those who participated in last year’s uprising are from the silent majority, who he defines as people with no political affiliations. Hazem says that those have now turned against Tahrir because of how dogmatic its crowds have become, constantly showcasing dissatisfaction at the fact that the revolution's demands have not been met by the ruling elite. 

“Tahrir Square appointed itself a new ruler, and the economy keeps deteriorating; all this has turned the credit that the youth had with the silent majority into a feeling that they are now faced with a new dictator,” says Hazem.

The scene on the anniversary of the 25 January protests, however, contradicts the group’s perception that Tahrir has lost its followers.

The 5,000 official members in The Voice of the Silent Majority group and its 100,000 online supporters failed to make much of an appearance in response to the group’s call for a Abbasseya protest on 25 January.

The group maintains that it is not responsible for everything that is said during the Abbasseya protests, as it does not exclude anyone who wants to participate, even if they have divergent ideologies. Yet at the same time, the group defines Tahrir protesters by their most extreme and violent elements.

The Tahrir protesters demand the immediate transfer of power to civilians, social justice, faster trials for the Mubarak regime’s figures and stopping the practice of trying civilians in special courts. The Voice of the Silent Majority perceives these demands as a plot to cause the fall of sovereign state institutions and create chaos.

Many members of the group believe that state failure will mean the fall of the SCAF. 

Hazem says the group dismisses all of the demands from Tahrir as premature and believes that the role of the SCAF is only to transfer power. He says other demands should be raised with the elected government. Even though the transition of power has stretched from six (as promised earlier by the SCAF) to 18 months, the group is content with its progress.

Group member and businesswoman Eman Ahmed told Egypt Independent, “They say they want the head of the Field Marshall [Hussein Tantawi, head of the SCAF], we want the hand of the Field Marshall to kiss it for protecting our country.”

Upon hearing this, Hazem snapped at his colleague, saying that the movement doesn’t idolize anyone, but stands by its belief in the SCAF's legitimacy.

“If I disagree with someone, but they [fell into] a position of power and people chose them, I have to support them. The parliament that represents the Egyptian people is the one that can hold them accountable, otherwise we’ll turn into a jungle,” says Hazem.

To prove it is loyal to the people and not the ruling military council, the group says that if the SCAF doesn’t leave power in June as announced, its members will join the protesters in Tahrir.

Members of the group also betray a deep hatred for the revolutionaries in the square and conservative mindset.

At the group's headquarters, Egypt Independent overheard two female members engaged in a side discussion. “A suitor from the Tahrir youth just proposed to my daughter; I rejected him, they’re impolite,” said one member. “Our daughters will only get married to police or military officers or judges,” responded the other.

At the Wednesday protest, the group denounced the woman who was filmed being beaten by military forces and stripped down to her bra during clashes outside the cabinet building last December.

The Abbasseya protesters chanted, “The abeya [a full-body veil worn by some Muslim women] girl turned out to be nude,” echoing those who have criticized the girl for not wearing any layers underneath her abeya.

Conspiracy theories abounded at the Abbasseya protest. According to the group's members, the US is financing a plot to divide the Middle East; the scene of the abeya girl was staged to raise anti-military sentiment; and protesters planned for some to die in the deadly Mohamed Mahmoud street clashes in November, as they believed that more martyr deaths would inspire more people to join them.

Even though The Voice of the Silent Majority says that it's against military violence, it questions the authenticity of the evidence of these violations, and complains that not as much attention is paid to violence committed by protesters. Members also blame demonstrators for leaving Tahrir and heading to locations where the clashes began, such as the Maspero state television building, Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and cabinet.

“Every action has a reaction; they must have committed a catastrophe to provoke this kind of reaction from the soldiers,” says Ahmed.

Some of those in Abbasseya have declared that they never believed in the revolution to begin with, saying that it has only brought ruin to Egypt.

One protester yelled at the father of one of the revolution’s martyrs when he approached Wednesday’s protest, holding up his son’s picture. “Where is security? How did he get here? We are not here to celebrate martyrs; we are here to celebrate police day.”

“The martyr is the one that died protecting our land, not this one,” she added, before being stopped by a protest organizer who told her that only men can talk.

The group rejects calls from Tahrir that demand retribution for the martyrs of the revolution. Hossam says that only the martyrs’ families are entitled to make that request.

“I don’t want them to use the martyrs to pressure us; if my daughter was a martyr I wouldn’t go and beg in her name,” adds group member Hala al-Sherbiny.

However, some other Egyptians ― who may fit into the group’s definition of the silent majority ― fiercely refuse to let the group speak on their behalf.

Wednesday’s Abbasseya Square protest was cut short by neighborhood residents who attacked it and dismantled its stage. 

“These people are pushing our limits, they have ruined our reputation. We are Egyptians at the end of the day and what they’re saying is not right. We will keep beating them up every time they return,” said one Abbasseya resident as he watched the protest under attack.

Mahmoud, a taxi driver walking past Abbasseya Square as the protest was taking place, also resented the group's claim that it represents the silent majority.

“No one asked me what I think and none of these people know anything about me. These are wealthy people; what do they know about the life of the poor?” he asked as he parked by the protest and listened to them chant, “We are the voice of the majority.”

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