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Islamists Show Solidarity in Massive Egypt Rally

Protesters gather with a banner with a Koranic verse in Tahrir square in Cairo, July 29, 2011
Protesters gather with a banner with a Koranic verse in Tahrir square in Cairo, July 29, 2011

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Tens of thousands of Egyptians supporting a variety of political movements rallied on Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday.  The groups don’t necessarily agree on what kind of country to build in the wake of the revolution five months ago, but their leaders decided to try to show solidarity during Friday’s protest.

Busloads of devout Muslims from around the country swelled the crowd and chanted for the establishment of Islamic Sharia law in Egypt.  Transportation for the demonstrators was arranged by several Islamist political groups that are eager to assert their influence after being largely sidelined during the revolution.

Video clip of today's protest:

One young non-religious man, Mohammed Deraz, welcomed the newcomers, but said they are trying to “jump on the shoulders” of the secular liberals like himself who played the largest role in the revolution.

“We made this revolution and we will continue," he said.  "They can come and say what you say.  We want everybody to live the real democracy.  But nobody will steal my revolution. I made it by myself and I will continue to the end or I will die.  Give me liberty or give me die, that’s what I’m doing.”

One of the many Islamists on the square said there is no plan to takeover the revolution.

“No, no, no,” said Ismail Sayed, wearing a traditional white galabiya, or robe.  He said he wants Sharia law applied in Egypt, but through a constitutional framework.  And he criticized the ruling military council for trying to impose rules that could empower the army to prevent an Islamic takeover in Egypt.

It was an impressive showing for the Islamists Friday, but one of their rivals in the square, Leila Hashem, said she is not concerned.

“It doesn’t worry me at all because even if you see them as many people today, they are not the majority," said Hashem. "They will never be the majority.  Most of the people don’t’ want this to be Egypt one day.  When it is election time, I don’t think these people will win.”

Estimates of Islamist support in the coming election vary from 10 to 35 percent, but the leading Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, says it hopes to attract coalition partners and achieve a majority in the Egyptian parliament.  Top leaders of secular parties say they will try to form an alliance to challenge the Islamists.

There is no date set yet for the parliamentary vote, but the military council has promised it will happen this year.  The Islamists want the election as soon as possible, when they believe their support will be greatest compared to the new and relatively disorganized secular political groups.

But for one day Friday, officially at least, the various movements put their differences aside.  A council of more than two dozen Islamist and secular groups agreed to focus on unity.  Among the few demands they agree on are an end to military trials of civilians and swift prosecutions of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and other former officials.

There was a report that some of the secular groups withdrew from the protest after it started Friday, accusing the Islamists of trying to dominate it.  But a spokesman for one of the main secular groups, the April 6th movement, denied the report.

A young man in the tent city in the middle of Tahrir Square, who called himself an ‘independent’ and said he was shot and arrested during the revolution, welcomed the unity theme.  Giving his name only as Alaa, he said the revolutionary movement needs all the support it can get as it continues to fight the vestiges of the Mubarak regime.

“This is the democracy that we need, that we want," Alaa said. "They have some opinions that they say, and we have some opinions that we say.  But we have much things that we agree about - many, many things.”

That view was reflected even in the suffocating heat and intimidating crush of the crowd in Tahrir Square Friday.  Many people said their main goal was to operate as “one hand, one Egypt.”

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