CAIRO – A demonstration Friday intended to show unity among Egypt’s many opposition political movements instead turned into a show of strength for the country’s Islamists, underscoring jitters here that elections in the fall will lead to rising influence for conservative Muslim adherents.
Tens of thousands of bearded men, and women with their faces fully covered, followers of Islam’s Salafi tradition, poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where their chants of “The people demand the laws of Allah” drowned out any competing ideology.
Hard-line Muslim clerics called for an Islamic state from several stages that had been erected by the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative Islamist movements, while thousands of followers marched around Tahrir Square repeating the clerics’ call: “Islamic, Islamic, not socialist, and not communist.”
Others displayed banners with Islamic slogans “Allah is Great” and “No god but Allah.”
By Friday afternoon, many of the secular political followers who also had gathered for the demonstration had abandoned the square.
“We agreed with the Brotherhood and the Salafis over the past week to come to Tahrir Square today, unite and pressure the government to work on reform. They lied to us and came down to promote themselves and show off their power,” said Youssef Adel, a 23-year-old member of the liberal Youth for Justice and Freedom group.
Earlier in the day, a crowd of Salafi men hurled rocks and bottles at the stage Youth for Justice and Freedom had set up.
“The Salafis attacked us because we were calling for the demands of the revolution,” Adel said.
Later, 34 political parties and youth movements, among them some of the principal groups that spurred the original demonstrations that led to the toppling in February of President Hosni Mubarak, announced their withdrawal from the demonstration to protest the Islamist takeover. Among the groups were the April 6 Movement, Kifaya, the Egyptian Labor Party and the Egyptian Socialist Party.
“The Islamist movements ignored the agreement between all political and community currents to unite against the attempts of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to divide us and tarnish the reputation of the revolutionaries,” the groups said in a statement.