CAIRO - More than 1,000 Islamists rallied in Cairo on Friday and called for the implementation of sharia Islamic law, highlighting divisions in society as rival factions jostle to shape the new Egypt.
Liberals have locked horns over the role of Islam with Islamists who dominate a 100-strong assembly that is drawing up a new constitution, which must be approved in a referendum before a new parliamentary election can be held.
"Islamiya, Islamiya," the protesters chanted in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the center of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak who spent 30 years keeping a tight lid on Islamists.
The turnout at Friday's demonstration was smaller than had been expected after some of the main groups that espouse the ultraconservative Salafi school of Islamic thinking backed out. The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President Mohamed Morsi to power earlier this year, was also not involved in the protest.
"No to liberalism, no to secularism, I don't want anything other than
sharia," the protesters also chanted, some waving black flags emblazoned
with Islamic slogans.
Drafts of the constitution drawn up by the assembly so far indicate it will have more Islamic references than the previous constitution, worrying more liberal-minded Egyptians and Christians, who make up about a tenth of the nation of 83 million. They fear the imposition of social restrictions.
A key article stating that "the principles of sharia" are the main source of legislation has until now remained unchanged from the old constitution but a new article seeks to spell out what those principles are in Islamic terms.
However, that is not enough for many Salafis who want an unequivocal call to implement sharia rather than wording that they say liberals will use to water down the meaning.