More than Religious Symbolism: Friday Protests in the Arab World

Analysis, posted 06.20.2011, from Libya, in:
More than Religious Symbolism: Friday Protests in the Arab World (Photo: Qantara.de)

Friday has become the most important weekday in the Arab world. Instead of being simply a day of worship and rest, it has evolved into a very special day for the "Arab Spring". For regimes in the countries concerned, Friday has now become such a cause for concern, rulers wish they could strike it from the calendar altogether.

After starting out as a jour fixe for mass demonstrations calling for greater freedoms, it has in the meantime also become a unit of measure, with dictators calculating how many more Fridays they can hope to stay in power. In addition, a reciprocal relationship between revolts as a means to liberation and religion as a means to incite revolts has manifested itself – if only externally, as Fridays became a symbol of those revolts.

Religion as a unifying factor

The choice of Friday is all the more significant for Arab societies, as it means that crucial questions are thereby addressed – in particular that of the relationship between religion and daily life, the understanding of Islam as one of the fundamental components of identity and as a unifying, not divisive factor: not just in the sense of monotheism, but also national unity.

Moreover, it has become increasingly evident that the mosque, following its marginalisation and the withdrawal of its political powers since the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate 12 centuries ago, has now been reassigned a role that was thought to have been lost.

The Egyptian Revolution of 25 January represented the clearest example of the role of the mosque and in particular of Friday as a model full of irony. The model lies in the fact that the revolution was a concern for the masses, in which traditional political organisations did not play any leading role (even though they were undeniably present in some form), and the irony in the relationship between revolution and Friday, for two reasons:

Firstly, because there is a large Coptic minority in Egypt and secondly, that the Copts accepted Friday as a day of rest in full awareness of its holiness for Muslims. They could have, for their part, insisted on the Sunday, something that would have weakened the dynamic of the street.

The acceptance of Friday manifested itself in the involvement of Coptic spiritual leaders in Muslim Friday prayers and joint Christian prayer services held by both Copts and Muslims on Tahrir Square – which for its part became a unifying factor without an overbearing impact.

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By Mustafa Fetouri (Translation by Nina Coon)

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