Socialist Worker

Egypt: Christian and Muslim unity rooted in revolutionary traditions

by Anne Alexander
Issue No. 2237

The UK media is full of horrific stories about the violence of the Egyptian revolution. Over the past few days this has been focused on violence against foreigners, particularly journalists.

It is important to understand that the source of this violence is not clashes between “rival protestors”, as some accounts suggest. Rather it lies in the Mubarak regime’s attempts to cling onto power.

The gangs of thugs terrorising people trying to join the demonstrations has been organised by plainclothes security police in an attempt to stop the protest movement.

And despite their attempts, this is not a sign of a general descent into chaos and violence, nor does it represent a genuine wave of popular anti-foreign feeling.

The millions filling Tahrir Square again today, Friday, shows the hollowness of Mubarak’s claim to have any kind of popular support.

And as the preacher leading Friday prayers explained to the crowd in the square, this is also a movement that rejects both violence against foreigners and attempts to divide Egyptians along religious lines.

“This is an Egyptian movement, with Christians and Muslims taking part. It does not have a religious goal. It is spontaneous, and is not driven by party-political aims. Our aims are to get rid of Mubarak and his regime.”

It is important that these voices are heard here in Britain.

Over the past few days there has been an escalating tide of comments claiming that “Muslim extremism” is on the rise in Egypt. These have ranged from the racist filth spouted by the English Defence League on Newsnight on Tuesday, to Tony Blair worrying about the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power (and terrified that his “courageous” friend Mubarak may be deposed by the Egyptian people).

The many placards showing the signs of cross and crescent embraced and the joint Muslim-Christian prayers in Tahrir Square are not reflections of the views of a few isolated liberal intellectuals looking to please the international community. Rather they reflect deep roots in Egypt’s revolutionary traditions.

Embraced

In 1919 the nationalist Wafd party led a revolution against British colonial rule under the same banners showing the crescent embracing the cross.

At times of great popular mobilisation, from the 1950s to the recent wave of workers’ strikes, Egyptians have returned time and again to this symbol of national unity.

Asserting Muslim-Christian unity in the protests is also an explicit rejection of the sectarianism of the Egyptian regime.

The Egyptian state both maintains a framework of legal discrimination against Christians, and has a dirty record of encouraging anti-Christian violence.

This does not mean either that the Muslim Brotherhood is absent from the current protests, or that it is considered illegitimate and rejected by the majority on the streets today.

Far from it: the Brotherhood’s organisation dwarfs that of all the other opposition groups put together, and it will play a crucial role in shaping what happens in the coming period.

It has the respect and support of millions of Egyptians, who will be watching closely how the leadership of the Brotherhood responds to the challenges ahead.

And if the experience of the past is anything to go by, the revolutionary crisis will test the Brotherhood to the limit as its leaders struggle to balance popular pressure for change from below with their own desire to find a route to reform from above.


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