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Egyptian Thermidor redux

Forebodings are in the air about tomorrow's Friday demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square following two violent clashes between protesters and regime elements in Egypt over the past days. On June 23, knife-wielding thugs—apparently supporters of the ruling military council—set on thousands of activists determined to march on the defense ministry. A day before the march, the military accused the April 6 Movement, one of the youth groups that launched the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, of seeking to turn people against the army. In verbiage redolent of the Mubarak regime, a senior army general was quoted as saying the group had received training abroad to destabilize the state. (Financial Times, July 24) Then, on July 26, clashes broke out between police and workers at an industrial free trade zone in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, injuring at least 38 people. It was the second day of a strike by the workers, who are demanding a raise in the minimum wage. Suez Canal zone workers have been staging a series of protests and labor actions since the beginning of June. (The National, UAE, July 28)

In this atmosphere comes the ominous re-emergence of the Gama'a Islamia or Islamic Group—although it is uncertain that it is the same entity as the underground armed organization of that name which carried out a string of grisly terror attacks in the '90s. Egypt's informs us July 25 that a thusly named group "held a large meeting following the noon prayer [on Friday the 22nd] where they called for a march to Tahrir this coming Friday, titled the 'Friday of Stability.' Assem Abdel Maged, spokesperson for the group[,] called the protesters in Tahrir 'liberal traitors' and called for the need to clear the square from their sit-in."

This of course drew widespread outrage—including from the one Islamist group that is still aligned with the protesters, the Free Islamic Coalition (FIC). The FIC's Abdel Fatah told Bikyamasr that his organization "denounces these comments completely." He added: "We are not a Salafist group or the Gama'a Islamiya. We are an Islamic coalition and we are open to all other political groups in Egypt."

We have noted that Egypt's Islamists have broken with the protest movement over its calls for a postponement of elections to give new parties time to organize. The military regime recently conceded to this demand, agreeing to push the elections back from September to October or November—but may still be grooming the Islamists for an Egyptian ThermidorPublic Radio International notes July 28 that tensions between Islamists and secularists persist over other issues: "Secular groups want a set of rules that would limit Islamist influence on the process of re-writing Egypt’s constitution, which will follow elections this fall. Islamists see that move as a threat to Islam and Sharia Law."

In a bid to pre-empt any violence, tomorrow’s mass mobilization in Tahrir Square has been given the name "Consensus Friday."

We'll be watching.

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