Happy Thanksgiving to American friends and family, but as you are thankful today be aware about tomorrow, at least as concerns your interest in Egypt. Friday may be black here as well.
There are two reasons this could be true.
First, the Salafi Front has called for nationwide demonstrations, seeking a ‘Muslim Youth Uprising’. They announce their intention to ‘impose Islamic identity’, feeling it weakened by secular efforts against sharia. Within their propaganda are pictures of the black flag of Islam, used by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. This connection does not come through in their rhetoric (that I have seen), and the flag has a place in Islamic history beyond current use by jihadis. They do, however, support a caliphate in principle and have criticized the government for calling it terrorism.
Second, this same government has promised to meet the protests firmly, threatening live ammunition if they turn violent or destructive. If Egypt has another round of deaths the day will surely be black.
It is difficult to say if the turnout will be simple or substantial. Egypt’s largest Salafi party has condemned the protests, as have the official religious establishments. But noteworthy is that the Muslim Brotherhood has announced its support, though it has not publicly indicated if it will participate.
The Brotherhood statement indicates a desire to ‘preserve’ Islamic identity, avoiding the Salafi Front’s use of ‘impose’.
It would be good if they were able to be contacted within Egypt, to further explore their meaning. Certainly the Brotherhood needs others to protest with them, as they are in a very poor situation currently. If the regime is to fall, they need allies.
But here, it is the Brotherhood supporting others. And what does it mean that they have chosen these allies?
In the West there is understanding that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamist organization. Indeed, since the fall of Morsi they have been consistent in their public posture not to employ violence. Whether or not this is truly the case is contested, but they present themselves as a democratic organization that can be trusted to govern well within the norms of the international system. If political change comes to the region, so goes the argument, better the Muslim Brotherhood through the ballot box than the jihadis through the sword.
In Egypt people have been aware of Muslim Brotherhood double-speak for some time. But in announcing their support for a rally to ‘impose Islamic identity’, could their intentions be clearer? Some room should be given for nuance, of course, and desperate people do desperate things. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, it could be argued.
Please monitor the news tomorrow, and see how events are reported. Will the demonstrators be labeled as Salafi crazies, akin to the Islamic State? Or will it be a ‘revolutionary’ action, against the ‘coup’?
And be thankful for your identity, whatever it is. In Egypt as in America there is much to be thankful for, no matter the current unrest. Many, of course, are disagreeing to the point of protest. Be thankful for this right as well, if you have it, but be wary about imposing.
Does an Islamic identity demand its imposing? This Thanksgiving, the Muslim world is being forced to confront the question. For the good of the world, be thankful the conversation is happening, and may all decide rightly.