The Muslim Brotherhood became the voice of moderation at a mass rally in Egypt’s Tahrir Square yesterday as tens of thousands of Salafis called for an Islamic state in a show of strength that took many by surprise.
The ultra-religious Muslims abandoned a prior agreement to keep religion off the agenda at the protest, originally billed as the Friday of Unity, that was aimed at putting further pressure on the army leadership to implement the demands of the revolution.
The MB, often viewed with suspicion by the west, were left scrambling to stay on message distancing themselves from the Salafis’ call for Sharia law.
Liberal and leftists groups, which pulled out of the demo on the day, were marginalised further as both groups of Islamists voiced their support for the army in its role as acting president however they both called for a quick transition to civilian rule.
Over the past two weeks secularists have been calling for the head of the army’s ruling council, Field Marshall Tantawi, to step down over the slow pace of reform and a failure to meet their demands.
However the sides managed to put out a joint statement calling for former members of Hosni Mubarak’s regime responsible for corruption and the deaths of hundreds of protesters to be brought to justice, an end to military trials for civilians and the need for a minimum and maximum wage.
The event left secularists, who have been camped out in the square for the past three weeks, looking less representative of the nation than their media coverage suggests.
Much of the nation is indifferent to the revolution, that saw former president Mubarak ousted in February, or simply tired of the detrimental effects they believe it is having on the economy.
With parliamentary elections due in November the left lacks a unifying leader and is fragmented into dozens of small parties with similar names [think Life of Brian’s the Judean Peoples’ Front and the Peoples’ Front of Judea] although coalitions are expected to be formed closer the time.
However the MB’s own standing is unclear with analysts revising the number of seats it can expect to take at the election from 50 to 20 per cent while the Salafis have just emerged onto the political scene forming the Al-Nour party in June flexing their muscle for the first time in Tahrir yesterday.
While it is likely the future parliament will have an Islamic majority, the army leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has assured the country that the constitutional committee will include a fair spread of political parties.
This will only increase the months of political wrangling it could take for the paper to be written before a date can be set for the presidential election some time next year.
Much to the ire of all sides, it seems the army will continue to rule Egypt for the foreseeable future.