Egyptian Islamists seen having limited strength
July 30, 2011
A massive show of force by Islamist groups at a rally in the Egyptian capital on Friday may have showcased their organisational skills, but their actual political clout remains limited, analysts say.
Hundreds of thousands of Islamists from across the country packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square to defend what they called “Egypt’s Islamic identity” in the country’s largest protest since a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
But while the protest may have been visually dramatic, divisions within the Islamist groups and their lack of nationwide support are bound to restrain their strength, analysts said.
Chants calling for Egypt to “implement the law of God” rang across Tahrir in an impressive display of religious banners and slogans, dotted with Saudi flags.
The sheer size of the protest appeared to have angered, and in some cases intimidated, secular activists.
But analysts say that while Friday’s rally showcased the Islamist groups’ organisational skills and their ability to mobilise members efficiently, its political impact remains limited.
“Friday’s demonstration represents the full capacity of the Islamist forces, there are no more of them,” said Emad Gad, a political analyst with the Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies.
The Islamists who thronged the square “came from all over Egypt. The turnout was a reflection of their full political power,” said Rabab al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
Egypt has more than 40mn eligible voters, so the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir demanding an Islamist state, while significant, are not representative of the overall population, Mahdi said.
Divisions among the groups also need to be considered, she said.
“Dealing with the Islamists as one homogenous group is wrong,” said Mahdi.
“There are different trends, the Salafis, former militant groups like the Gamaa Islamiya, the Muslim Brotherhood and they all have different ideas on how to conduct politics and what they mean by an Islamic state,” she said.
The rally “will have a negative impact (for Islamists) because it showed that they are not able to co-operate with other groups,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
“They are powerful and organised, but they represent a... minority of the public opinion,” he said.