LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds protested outside Egypt’s embassy in London on Saturday calling for President Hosni Mubarak to go, but differences in message highlighted tensions between Islamists and others over the country’s future.
Islamists in one demonstration wanted an Islamic government and Islamic law to replace Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule, around the corner was a secular protest.
The parallel London protests came after five days of mass demonstrations across Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, calling for Mubarak to go. Egyptians have defied curfews in an unprecedented display of public anger over his rule, poverty, repression and corruption.
“Mubarak out, Islam in,” and “Allah take Mubarak the pharaoh,” chanted Islamist protesters, including organisers Hizb ut Tahrir, a hardline Islamist group. Women and men in the group protested separately.
Nearby, other demonstrators were careful to distinguish themselves from the Islamists, sticking to secular chants.
“We’re completely unrelated to that demonstration ... It feeds into Western fears on how it would affect their interests, and that’s the excuse the Egyptian government is using to avoid change,” said protest organiser Rafik Bedair, 36.
London has a large Arab community, and the Egypt protests, as well as the toppling of Tunisia’s strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two weeks ago, have electrified talk in homes, coffee shops and restaurants.
Western governments have long supported Mubarak, partly as a bulwark against a rising tide of Islamist sentiment in the Middle East, and also because of his rapport with Israel.
Islamist protesters said fears of subjugated women and extremist, al Qaeda-style rule was propaganda peddled by Mubarak and the West to justify their grip on the Middle East and its assets such as oil.
“The Muslim community has mobilised. We don’t want the same governance with different faces. We want an Islamic government and an Islamic society,” said Haj Yusif, 42, a Syrian exile.
“As long as the West has interests in our countries, they will promote these lies,” he said of fears of Islamist rule.
An Egyptian Islamist demonstrator said he wanted a new Egypt in which alcohol is prohibited and women dress modestly.
Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood group has long been the strongest opponent of Mubarak’s rule, and a London-based member told Reuters Islamist rule posed no threat to the West because it would be democratic and broad-based.
Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters it was not up to foreigners who runs Egypt, but “certainly we would not want to see a government based on the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Ahmed Elkalagy, 26, a protester outside the Egyptian embassy, said most Egyptians just wanted a fresh start.
“Everyone just wants change. We’re not pushing for particular ideologies or new leaders,” he said.
Editing by Matthew Jones