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Tens of thousands of ultraconservative Muslim males in long beards, robes and prayer caps thronged Cairo’s central Tahrir Square in a massive show of force Friday, calling for the implementation of strict Islamic laws and sparring with liberal activists over their visions for a post-revolution Egypt.

It was the first rally with religious overtones in Egypt, and one of the largest, since the uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down in mid-February. The strong showing by the Islamists demonstrated their powerful organizational abilities, which will likely help them in parliamentary elections later this year.

“Islamic. Islamic. Not Western or Eastern. No liberal or secular,” chants of Salafis, who follow a strict form of Islam, echoed through the square.

The youth activists who have been at the helm of mass protests calling for faster change from the country’s interim military rulers withdrew from the rally soon after Friday prayers, accusing the Islamists of violating an agreement to avoid divisive issues.

“While the civil organizations are trying to respect the effort to complete the revolution by unifying the ranks, the Islamic groups insisted on breaking the unity and assisting the military council in a deal that I think will divide this country in two,” said liberal activist Mustafa Shawki. “This is what we were afraid of.”

Salafis are ultraconservatives, close to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Many reject all forms of Western cultural influence.

Source : Albany Times Union

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