Islamists under fire in Egypt

AFTER years of bending before the Islamic winds, Egypt's national press has begun reflecting a major shift in public opinion and challenging those who would have a more Muslim society.

All six national daily newspapers, whether government-controlled, opposition mouthpieces, or independent, and the main weekly magazines, have in the past week or so broken with their practice of not criticising the Islamists. In the past such criticism would have brought the charge of being anti-Islamic.

Now, however, the press suddenly feels free to criticise the 'Islamist' current, that is, those people who seek political and social change under the banner of Islam. The home news pages, features and opinion pages are full of articles and letters from readers directly attacking the Islamists.

No longer is criticism directed solely at the more extreme elements, who were categorised as 'terrorists' by journalists and government officials alike. Now the media have begun taking on the ideologues of the mainstream Islamist movement, including sheikhs preaching militant Islam.

Such overt and fearless criticism of the Islamist trend has not been seen in the Egyptian press since the days of the Muslim Brotherhood's campaign of terror during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, some 30 years ago.

Until a week ago, Egypt's top journalists and writers limited their attack to the extremists, with calls to the government to take tougher action. But since the weekend the mood has changed. Not only the extremists, but the established clergy, have been targeted with challenges to condemn the violence of some of the more extreme Islamist groups.

In the semi-official daily al- Ahram, a veteran liberal politician, Tharwat Abaza, named the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including MPs, as being behind the terror campaign that left six policemen dead in three months. 'We mustn't believe them (Muslim Brothers) when they say they have no connection with the terror groups,' wrote Mr Abaza, 'the Brothers and the terrorist are two faces of the same coin.'

CAIRO - Egypt will host a meeting on 19 January to launch a campaign to 'enlighten' people about Islam, Reuter reports.

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