Arab Spring

Islamists, Secularists Battle in the Streets of Alexandria

The city is considered an indicator of Egypt's direction


The Qaed Ibrahim mosque, revered by Alexandrines as the embodiment of their Mediterranean city's cosmopolitan heritage, has become a battleground between the two visions fighting over the future of Egypt, literally.

When prominent ultraconservative cleric Sheik Ahmed el-Mahalawi denounced opponents of the Islamist-backed draft constitution as "followers of heretics" in a sermon, angry protests erupted, turning into clashes between sword-wielding supporters of the cleric and rock-throwing opponents, while police did nothing. The 87-year-old el-Mahalawi was trapped inside for over 12 hours during the battle, while protesters outside tried to free several of their comrades detained—and beaten, they say—in the mosque.

Afterward, powerful Islamist groups in Egypt's second largest city threatened to deploy their own armed militias in the streets to protect their symbols.