While secular Egyptian movements had intended to mobilize millions of Egyptians on Friday in order to support national unity and condemn attacks on Christians in Egypt, Islamist forces succeeded in turning the protest in support of what is referred to as the "Third Palestinian Intifada".
Secular Egyptian movements, including the National Association for Change, the Campaign to Support El-Baradei, and the April 6 Youth Movement, had called for a million-person protest in support of national unity in the wake of clashes last Saturday between Muslims and Christians in the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, in which 15 people were killed.
The clashes were sparked by rumors that a Christian girl who had converted to Islam was being detained in a local church. Angry Muslims burned a church during the violence. It was the second incident of its kind in recent months, after a church in Upper Egypt was burned in March.
For their part, Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups, had called for a protest on Friday to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (calamity) and the establishment of the state of Israel.
Anti-Israel chants dominated the protest as the Muslim Brotherhood set up a large stage in the square.
Protesters, who held Palestinian flags, chanted “To Jerusalem we are headed… martyrs by the million,” and “Abbas, Hania… Do not let go of the rifle,” in reference to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Hania.
The Friday sermon in Tahrir Square was dominated by pro-Palestinian discourse. The preachers called on Christians and Muslims to go to Jerusalem to pray in mosques and churches there.
The Tahrir protest was preceded by dawn prayers in various mosques around Cairo, held under the banner “The people want to return to Palestine.” The prayers were a response by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to a call on Facebook to launch the "Third Palestinian Intifada".