Activist's death fuels anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment in Tanta

Khaled Abdul-Razeq helps Tanta protesters to put their chants on paper. He makes sure to do so in Islamic attire. (Photo: Sarah El Sirgany)

Tanta - Every Friday, Khaled Abdul-Razeq takes his paint and brushes down to the site of demonstrations. Stationed at a small table near the Gharbya governorate building in Tanta, he is surrounded by kids and adults brandishing blank paper and cardboard waiting for their turn. In beautiful calligraphy he pens their preferred slogans, which they have carefully thought through.

“This is a revolution and we should participate with what we can,” he says, waving his paint-covered hands. He does it for free.

At a protest with loud chants against the Muslim Brotherhood and the interior ministry, Abdul-Razeq stands out. He wears a thinly striped dark blue galabiya, and sports a bushy beard – a look associated with the Islamist supporters of the MB President Mohammed Mursi.

“I make sure to come here in my traditional Islamic attire to tell people that [the MB] are not what Islam is,” says Abdul-Razeq, who makes a living through calligraphy and other Islamic advertising-related activities. He wants to make a point against the political polarization that has divided the country along religious fault lines. His opposition to Mursi, he explains, stems from being an Islamist.

“The Brotherhood’s corrupt rule made people hate anyone who represents Islam,” he explains. “They wrongfully spoke in the name of religion… now people think every bearded man is a liar.”

Kids holding their freshly painting banners listen. Most of the requests to Abdul-Razeq that day include the word “retribution,” with a specific focus on Mohamed al-Guindy, whose family says he was tortured to death by the police.

A few streets away, protesters march through the city stopping under the home of al-Guindy’s mother. “We are all your children,” they chant as the tearful mother addresses the crowd.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that we are weak. We are not weak,” she says.

“I’m proud of Mohammed. I’m very proud of my son. He loved Egypt. Egypt is dear to us all. I want you all to love Egypt and preserve it,” she adds, reminding the protesters filling the street to use their brains, not to burn anything or get anyone killed in the process of seeking justice for her son’s death.

Al-Guindy’s death fueled clashes and demonstrations in the Delta town. Over 30 were injured in clashes that followed al-Guindy’s burial last Monday. On Friday, over 200 were injured in clashes throughout Egypt, many of them in towns across the Gharbiya province.

On Friday, the march in Tanta only attracts a couple of hundred at the beginning. The numbers increase as the protesters march across the city. “People are frustrated. They protest and nothing happens. My father told me there will be no one today and that I shouldn’t bother going,” one protester tells me.

There’s also fear. The teargas that seeps through the streets further away from the regular confrontation sites and the threat of physical harm deter and confuse people.

Compared to clashes between security and protesters in the capital, Friday is relatively tame in Tanta. Clashes spread across the small city, with concentrations near the two police stations, the security directorate and the governorate building. After chasing protesters through the side streets, police stands at the corners on main streets firing teargas intermittently. A video aired by al-Hayat TV showed a policeman firing shotgun pellets, and an unidentified man next to him firing a gun in the air.

Away from the sites of clashes, where many citizens go out as if nothing is happening, the old grievances that spurred the uprising in 2011 mix with opposition to the MB rule. This opposition camp comprises the young men and women that lead chants, many of whom knew al-Guindy and participated alongside him in protests over the past two years, and another conservative group that has consistently opposed the MB but is not necessarily supportive of the uprising.

Others like Abdul-Razeq, who initially said people should give Mursi and the Islamists a chance, are now regulars at marches. Abdul-Razeq has been taking his gear to protests for four consecutive Fridays in Tanta. “I didn’t participate after the parliamentary and presidential election, and I thought Mursi will be a president for all Egyptians. But he doesn’t listen to the opposition or the sound of reason,” he says. The crowd cheers him on as he criticizes Mursi’s rule with fiery statements.

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