News / Middle East

Egyptians Defiant Over Use of 'Rabaa' Symbol

A fan gestures with a Rabaa sign after the 2014 World Cup qualifying second leg playoff soccer match between Ghana and Egypt in Cairo, Nov. 19, 2013.
A fan gestures with a Rabaa sign after the 2014 World Cup qualifying second leg playoff soccer match between Ghana and Egypt in Cairo, Nov. 19, 2013.
Reuters
Shortly after Egyptian security forces violently dispersed two sit-ins by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in August, killing hundreds, Morsi's supporters began raising the four-fingered 'Rabaa' salute to show solidarity with the victims.

Rabaa means 'fourth' in Arabic, and the symbol was named after the Rabaa al-Adawiya square, where the larger of the two sit-ins took place.

While some say it was Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, himself the head of a nominally Islamist party, who invented the symbol, its origin is not clear.

The four fingered salute and the iconic black hand on a yellow background have now become ubiquitous at rallies by Morsi's supporters.

Morsi was ousted in July by the military following mass protests against him. After the dispersal of the sit-ins, the government launched a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's main backers, killing hundreds more and arresting thousands.

Protesters gesture with four fingers after blocking Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, Nov. 19, 2013.Protesters gesture with four fingers after blocking Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, Nov. 19, 2013.
x
Protesters gesture with four fingers after blocking Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, Nov. 19, 2013.
Protesters gesture with four fingers after blocking Al Nasr street in front of Al-Azhar University headquarters at Cairo's Nasr City district, Nov. 19, 2013.
Egyptian kung fu champion Mohamed Youssef has felt the harsh end of the intense debate over the Rabaa symbol and the deep polarization of Egyptian society that has followed Morsi's ouster.

After wearing a T-shirt with the Rabaa symbol on it after winning the gold medal at the World Championship in Russia, Youssef was harshly criticized in the state-backed media and then given a one year ban by the national kung fu federation.

But Youssef says that wearing the T-shirt was not a political statement and that he is not a member of any political group.

Speaking at the gym he trains at in his home city of Alexandria, he says he simply wanted to show solidarity with those who lost their lives.

“First of all, I raised the Rabaa symbol in solidarity with my colleagues who died there, just as thousands of other Egyptians died that day and as an Egyptian I must mourn for the blood that was lost. I must stand in solidarity with my colleagues who died that day because I wish they were here instead with me to share the joy from the championship I won. But unfortunately they died and I had to remember them somehow,” he said.

While supporters of Morsi and even some opponents of the government who are not Morsi supporters, say it is just a symbol of solidarity with the innocent victims of the mass killings in Rabaa and Nahda, their opponents say it is a rallying cry for supporters of militancy.

While rights activists describe the killings in the Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares as a “massacre”, the interim government contends that there were armed men in the camps which they say were used as detention and torture centers.

The government has said it is waging a “war on terrorism” and has accused the Brotherhood of inciting violence and backing illegitimate groups, including militants in Sinai waging war on the Egyptian military.

Kung fu champion Youssef says that calling the Rabaa symbol a “terrorist” insignia, as some opponents of the Brotherhood, have done, is absurd.

“There are a lot of rumors being said about the Rabaa symbol being a terrorist symbol but of course it isn't. The people that died that day were Egyptian and they died for the sake of Egypt so we cannot call them terrorists nor can we say that this symbol has become anything other than an international symbol of perseverance and determination,” he said.

Youssef is not the only Egyptian athlete to be penalized for showing solidarity with the Rabaa and Nahda victims.

Al-Ahly football striker Ahmed Abdel-Zaher's status with his club is in doubt after he made the four fingered sign during the club's African Cup victory earlier this month.

Rabaa memorabilia has now become something of an industry, with vendors selling everything from T-shirts to rings and key chains at rallies.

Opponents of Morsi, on the other hand, have their share of posters, coffee mugs and even chocolates bearing the picture of the man who ousted him, military chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

The success of the Rabaa symbol has led to several imitators, the most noticeable so far being the three fingered salute by those disillusioned with both the military-backed government and the Brotherhood.

Many of the liberal activists who were heavily critical of Morsi now fear a regression in rights under the interim government, and a resurgent interior ministry.

Activist Ronny Habib says the three fingered icon symbolizes opposition to the Brotherhood, the old government of former President Hosni Mubarak and military rule.

“This symbol says down with all traitors: military, remnants of the old regime and Brotherhood. The remnants of the old regime said on January 25, 2011 that these people [the protesters] were funded by America and got free Kentucky Fried Chicken meals. Then the Brotherhood came and hijacked the revolution and they betrayed the revolution and conspired with the military so that Mohamed Morsi could win the elections. The military has always been against the revolution, they have been there for 60 years. Down with everyone that betrayed us, the military, remnants of the old regime and the Brotherhood,” he said during a recent rally to commemorate the killing of protesters in central Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud street two years ago.

In Egypt's sharply divided political landscape, symbols have taken on enormous importance.

How many fingers you hold up at a protest or even sporting event can earn you applause or scorn depending on the affiliation of your audience.

And the debate over the iconic Rabaa symbol has laid bare the divisions that continue to deepen during Egypt's tumultuous political transition.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid