The fifth of September was a scary day for me. It was early morning, and I was rushing down Abbas Al-Aqqad Street when I heard a thunderous explosion. I knew right away that this was a terrorist attack; and my first response was to thank God that I was not in the immediate vicinity of the attack. My next thought was for its victims: how many were injured; how many died?
Later in the day, I learned that the explosion I heard was indeed a terrorist attack, and its target was the minister of interior, Mohamed Ibrahim. And while he escaped unscathed, 10 police officers and 11 civilians were injured — some very seriously.
The majority of Egyptians condemned this attack in the strongest terms. These distinguish between the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, which they support, and the promotion of a cause by the resort to violence, which they fear and denounce.
The next day, the supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi marching in the Friday demonstrations against the 30 June Revolution, chanted stridently: “We will get you, Mohamed Ibrahim.”
Here the angry words of Sheikh Atiyya, spoken from the heart of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya demonstrations, come to mind: “I say to Sisi: Know that what you did [depose Morsi] was to create a new Taliban and a new Qaeda in Egypt. And when the crowds in Rabaa are dispersed, they will destroy you and destroy Egypt. We will destroy Egypt.”
These and other angry protestations indicate an exclusivist, besieged mentality that condones the resort to violence. How can we explain the emergence of this outlook in Egypt today?
One, some Islamist leaders taught their followers to view the members of their group as the only true Muslims, which involves embracing the view “if you are not with us, then you are against us”. This idea follows the thought of Sayed Qutb, the father of Islamist radicalism; for he was the first to label all members of modern Egyptian society (which he termed a neo-jahiliya society) as apostates, which the true Muslims should spurn and ultimately kill.
Two, the discourse of Rabaa Al-Adawiya reinforced the feeling among Islamist supporters that they were “special” and “chosen by God” to lead society. Thus these supporters did not doubt the sheikhs who claimed that the “angels descended in Rabaa” in support of Morsi and the Islamist cause. Other sheikhs related dreams where Prophet Mohamed preferred to have Morsi lead the community in prayer than do so himself. I was shocked to meet educated young Egyptians who had come to view Rabaa Square as a holy site that overflowed with blessings from God. To these young people, at least one short visit to the “blessed square” had become a must.
Three, the use of excessive force in the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in heightened the sense of persecution among Islamist supporters. These, in turn, seek revenge for the deaths of their co-supporters. One young woman informed me that five of her friends, all, like her, aged 24, had died a needless death in Rabaa on the day of the dispersal of the sit-in. The state had the responsibility of exercising greater restraint, she explained.
She thinks that the Islamists (she counts herself one of these) alone lament the Rabaa deaths. That is patently untrue. We all grieved for the fallen; whether from the ranks of the demonstrators or from the police and military forces, these are Egyptians — our compatriots, our brothers and sisters.
Since that fateful bomb attack on the minister of interior, the Egyptian authorities have stepped up their efforts to fight terrorism in Egypt. To this end, President Adly Mansour has announced that emergency law will remain operative for another two months. This will enable the state to more quickly apprehend terrorist suspects and hopefully to thwart future attacks.
The minister of awqaf (religious endowments), Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, has also contributed to this effort by issuing new rules for the organisation of the Friday collective prayers. Attending these prayers is an obligatory religious duty for Muslims, men in particular. And although women are encouraged to perform their prayers in their homes, female attendance at the mosque prayers has increased noticeably. The problem was that some sheikhs took the opportunity of the Friday prayers to incite violence against the state and its supporters. One sheikh (Fawzi El-Said) went so far as to say “Whoever doubts that Morsi will return, doubts the existence of God.” He is supported by others who teach that opposition to the state will ultimately bring about the victory of Islam. What these sheikhs have done is make politics part and parcel of creed.
It is because he understands the importance of preventing the spread of the kind of discourse that teaches hate and discrimination in society that the minister of awqaf issued the new regulations. According to these, all imams (responsible for leading the Friday prayers) must be graduates of Al-Azhar University, and second, Friday prayers cannot be held in zawyas (small mosques) less than 80 meters. The ultraconservative Islamists (the Salafists) greeted these decisions, effective 1 October, with dismay; and tried to convince the minister to rescind the new regulations. Their implementation will result in the prevention of about 55,000 imams from leading Friday prayers, and nearly 130,000 zawyas will be disallowed from holding these prayers on their premises.
With Al-Azhar-trained imams delivering the Friday sermons, the discourse of moderate Islam, which teaches compassion and tolerance and respect for others, will replace that of radical Islam in Egypt. We hope it will, that is.