Prayer replaces violence in continuing Egyptian protests

Prayer replaces violence in continuing Egyptian protests

By staff writers
5 Feb 2011

Millions took to the streets in Egypt yesterday, with scenes of violence giving way to the sight of people praying and Muslims joining arms with Christians.

The regime change and pro-democracy demonstrations took place after the traditional Islamic Friday Prayers.

While the much-heralded 'Day of Departure' did not lead to President Hosni Mubarak's resignation - he has said he will go in September 2011, and still hopes to cling on - it did see the pro-Mubarak protesters thoroughly outnumbered and marginalised.

The huge crowd made it clear that their core demand was for the Egyptian leader to leave, after 30 years of authoritarian rule. As prayers ended, thousands gathered on the southeastern edge of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, chanting: "No negotiations until he leaves!"

For some time there had been fears that Friday Prayers would result in a violent confrontation between armed Mubarak loyalists and the anti-government protesters. In the event, the spirit of unity and determination won out.

The Egyptian government agencies who had commissioned people to go out in support of the President seemed to have ordered them not to invade the square again, and in any case they were hugely outnumbered by peaceful demonstrators.

Time Magazine's correspondent reported: "Friday was about celebration, rather than fighting. In the hours that followed the midday prayers the crowd swelled as tens of thousands more people poured into the square, entirely filling the giant space. From a balcony directly above where the sheik had conducted prayers, there was now a round of speakers and a local guitarist, who led thousands in protest songs."

A picture from a few days ago by Nevine Zaki, showing Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers last week, has been a viral phenomenon on the internet.

Yesterday, some Muslims likewise joined arms with Christians, emphasising that the movement against Mubarak aims to be pluralistic rather than sectarian. Muslim Brotherhood members have been in evidence, but nothing like a majority - despite scare stories in the US and elsewhere.

Some sections of the crowd chanted "Muslims and Christians are all Egyptians." Among other gestures, Muslims protected the Cathedral in Cairo.

Presiding Bishop Anis of the Episcopal Church (Anglican) in Jerusalem and the Middle East said: “I would like Christians around the world to pray for the safety of all Egyptians, Muslims as well as Christians, and pray for the continuation of a civil government, not a religious one.”

In an open letter issued on Wednesday 2 February 2011, Bishop Anis thanked people for their support, and called for further prayers. He said that he “was touched to see young adults, Muslims and Christians, guarding the streets, homes, and our churches”. He also “admired all our expatriate clergy and diocesan staff who refused to leave Egypt”.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has told President Mubarak to make "the right decision" after weeks of protests, and resign.

[Ekk/3]

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