The Uneasy Coexistence of the Cairo Rumor Mill with Muslim Principle of Isnad

For H.A. Hellyer’s full coverage for RD from Cairo, click here.

The confusion continues. As the situation unfolds in Cairo, we see that significant numbers (if not compared to their opposition) of pro-Mubarak supporters have come out onto the street. All sorts of rumors abound about them, as well as about the anti-Mubarak supporters – and it’s hard to sift through it all. There are rather more rumors about the pro-Mubarak supporters being paid to go protest, by pro-Mubarak businessmen, although similar stories abound about anti-Mubarak supporters too. What’s clear about both is that only the pro-Mubarak supporters seem to have camels and horses – scenes out of a movie which must be making for incredible television overseas.

It’s definitely clear, however, that there are many who have decided to join a pro-‘status-quo’ camp, or anti-‘further protest’ camp, which strategically fit with a pro-Mubarak camp, but which are not the same in motivation. Many of them are simply tired of the situation, or believe that reforms will ensue immediately. It’s not that they have been loyal to Mubarak throughout this episode, but that they believe further protests are not the way forward.

Confirmed reports have come through about reporters and media being set upon, and violently – but so far, no one knows precisely who. The rumors of course get around about non-uniformed police officers or secret police – but it’s clear that certainly, the military has not touched them.

It’s incredible how many rumors do get around, and how easily they are believed or replaced by other rumors. This is a predominantly Muslim society, and Islamic thought is based on the principle of ‘isnad’ – from the Arabic word that means ‘support’. The idea is that no principle or idea can be believed or relied upon unless it has a confirmed and absolute chain of transmission, so that people can verify the authenticity of the information that is coming to them. It’s described by some Muslim sages as being the secret of Islam that ensures that it remains authentic to the original teachings of the Prophet, descriptions of which are themselves delivered to the contemporary Muslim community through strong chains of transmission. This co-exists uncomfortably with the rampant rumor mill that is at work at the moment, and is often at work throughout the contemporary Arab world.

Friday prayers have just ended in Cairo. And thus far, there is no violence in Tahrir Square, but there are many, many people. They ignored the advice of everyone who said not to go – and opinion was split on this even in the anti-Mubarak camp. An interesting new development has been the divide between anti-Mubarak activists inside and outside Egypt – I’ve been looking at the online debates quite intently, and see that those in Egypt are beginning to argue with those outside of Egypt. A feeling is beginning to spread that there are some inside of Egypt who feel that ideology is driving those outside of Egypt, and that those outside of Egypt are asking people in Egypt to do things they themselves wouldn’t do – like risk their lives by going to Tahrir Square. Inside Egypt, you can also find those who are calling each other traitors for not going to Tahrir Square today.