Islamist movements and parties have announced they will demonstrate in Alexandria on Friday in solidarity with a Sheikh accused of breaching an order from the Ministry of Endowments not to discuss the referendum during sermons.
Mohamed Soudan, a spokesperson for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Alexandria confirmed that Islamist movements will be demonstrating on Friday outside Al-Qa’ed Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria. “We are demonstrating to show our solidarity with the sheikh after what happened last Friday,” said Soudan, referring to a standoff between pro and anti-constitution demonstrators.
Last Friday’s clashes led to Sheikh Ahmed Al-Mahallawy and worshipers being trapped inside the mosque for over 12 hours. An activist who attended prayers that day claimed Al-Mahallawy encouraged people to vote “Yes” during his prayer speech, something Soudan denied.
Soudan said, “[the Sheikh] does not belong to any group but the Islamist movements respect him, all Muslims respect him.” He added, “he spoke out against dictatorship during [Hosni] Mubarak’s era. I think that it won’t just be members of Islamist movements demonstrating.”
Zayed Salem, an anti-constitution protester who was outside Al Qa’ed Ibrahim Mosque last Friday said, “there has not been any confirmation of a counter demonstration but I expect that there will be.”
Salem said, “[Al-Mahallawy] has this reputation of being an opposition figure since he was imprisoned under [President Anwar] Sadat.” He continued, “Since the rise of Islamism over the last two years he has become a figure for the Islamists.”
Soudan confirmed that groups who will take part in Friday’s demonstration are the Muslim Brotherhood, the FJP, Al-Wasat party, Al-Nour Party and the Salafi Da’wa movement.
Soudan reported that many people are angry about what happened last Friday. He said “the protesters outside the mosque committed a crime against the Sheikh and against Islam.” He added, “some of the younger people in the mosque were so angry that we had to hold them back.”
There was some confusion as to how last Friday’s clashes started according to Salem. He said “No one knows how it all started and some are claiming that it was planned to intimidate voters in the referendum.” He added, “Many people of the older generation, including my mother, were too scared to go out and vote on Saturday.”
The police forces had to step in to calm the situation last Friday.
Mixing politics and religion is an issue that caused controversy in Alexandria causing Hassan Abdel-Baseer to resign over what he believed to be attempts by the Ministry of Religious Endowment to censor him.
A few days after Abdel-Baseer’s resignation, the ministry instructed all Sheikhs not to urge worshippers from voting one way or the other in the referendum on the proposed constitution at the beginning of December.
Soudan asserted that Al-Mahallawy did not use his prayer speech to encourage people to vote “Yes” to the constitution. He did report that the sheikh supports the draft constitution. “Priests in churches have promoted ‘No’ votes,” Soudan claimed. He added, “we do not protest outside churches. Fifteen hours inside the mosque. This is not democracy.”
On the topic of religious figures using their position to promote a political view Salem said, “it is sad, pathetic and unacceptable.”
The demonstration is expected to begin outside Al-Qa’ed Ibrahim mosque after Friday prayers, according to Sudan.