Considering Egypt's presidential elections take place later this month, last weekend's Islamist clash with the military could not have come at a worse time.
First, the story: due to overall impatience—and rage that the Salafi presidential candidate, Abu Ismail, was disqualified (several secular candidates were also disqualified)—emboldened Islamists began to gather around the Defense Ministry in Abbassia, Cairo, late last week, chanting jihadi slogans, and preparing for a "million man" protest for Friday, May 4th.
As Egypt's Al Ahram put it, "Major Egyptian Islamist parties and groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist Calling and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya—have issued calls for a Tahrir Square demonstration on Friday under the banner of 'Saving the revolution.' … Several non-Islamist revolutionary groups, meanwhile, have expressed their refusal to participate in the event." In other words, last Friday was largely an Islamist protest (even though some in the Western media still portray it as a "general" demonstration).
There, in front of the Defense Ministry, the Islamists exposed their true face—exposed their hunger for power, their unpatriotic motivations, and their political ineptitude. For starters, among those leading the protests was none other than Muhammad al-Zawahiri, a brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a seasoned jihadi in his own right, who was only recently acquitted and released from prison, where, since 1998, he was incarcerated "on charges of undergoing military training in Albania and planning military operations in Egypt."
Before the Friday protest, Zawahiri appeared "at the head of hundreds of protesters," including "dozens of jihadis," demonstrating in front of the Defense Ministry. They waved banners that read, "Victory or Death" and chanted "Jihad! Jihad!"—all punctuated by cries of "Allahu Akbar!" Likewise, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya—the group responsible for slaughtering some 60 European tourists in the 1997 Luxor Massacre—was at the protests. Even the so-called "moderate" Muslim Brotherhood participated.
Two lessons emerge here: 1) an Islamist is an Islamist is an Islamist: when it comes down to ideology, they are one; 2) Violence and more calls to jihad are the fruits of clemency—the thanks Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) gets for releasing such Islamists imprisoned during ousted President Hosni Mubarak's tenure.
As for the actual protests (which, as one might expect from the quality of its participants, quickly turned savage) this Egyptian news clip shows bearded Salafis wreaking havoc and screaming jihadi slogans as they try to break into the Defense Ministry, homemade bombs waiting to be used, and a girl in black hijab savagely tearing down a security barbed-wire—the hallmarks of a jihadi takeover.
More tellingly, jihadis in the nearby Nour Mosque opened fire on the military from the windows of the minaret; and when the military stormed the mosque, apprehending the snipers, all the Muslim Brotherhood had to say was: "We also condemn the aggression [from the military] against the house of God (Nour Mosque) and the arrest of people from within"—without bothering to denounce the terror such people were committing from within 'the house of God."
It is worthwhile contrasting this episode with last year's Maspero massacre, when Egypt's Coptic Christians demonstrated because their churches were constantly being attacked. Then, the military burst forth with tanks, intentionally running Christians over, killing dozens, and trying to frame the Copts for the violence (all of which was quickly exposed as lies). Likewise, while some accuse the Copts of housing weapons in their churches to "conquer" Egypt, here is more evidence that mosques are stockpiled with weapons.
At any rate, what was billed as a "protest" was quickly exposed as Islamists doing their thing—waging jihad against the infidel foe. Yet this time, their foe was the Egyptian army; as opposed to SCAF—the entrenched, and largely disliked, ruling military council—the Egyptian army is popular with most Egyptians.
As one Egyptian political activist put it, "The public doesn't differentiate between Salafists, Wahhabis or Muslim Brotherhood any more. They are all Islamists. They have lost support with the public, it is irreversible. Egyptians have seen their army and soldiers being attacked. It has stirred a lot of emotions." A BBC report concurs: "The army holds a special, respected place in Egyptian society, and as far as many Egyptians were concerned it was attacked, not by a foreign enemy, but by Islamists…. One soldier died in the attack. Egyptian TV also showed dramatic pictures of injured soldiers."
The remarks of an Egyptian news anchorwoman as she showed such violent clips are further noteworthy. In dismay, she rhetorically asked: "Who is the enemy? They [protesters] are calling for jihad against whom? Are our soldiers being attacked by Israeli soldiers—or is it our own people attacking them? Why don't you go fight the Israeli enemy to liberate Palestine! Who are you liberating Egypt from? This is unacceptable. Do you people want a nation or do you want constant jihad—and a jihad against whom, exactly"?
To place her comments in context, known that, in Egypt, jihadis are often portrayed as the "good guys"—fighting for Egypt's honor, fighting to "liberate Palestine," and so on—while Israel is portrayed as the natural recipient of jihad. After Friday's violent clash, however, Egyptians are learning that no one is immune from the destructive forces of jihad, including Egypt itself and its guardian, the military. Two weeks before the presidential elections, perhaps voters are also learning that an Islamist president will bring only more chaos and oppression—just like his followers on display last Friday. Time will tell.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.