Sept.14 protests in Cairo
Sept.14 protests in Cairo
Laura Thompson

TUNIS – At a recent Ghana vs. Egypt World Cup qualifying match, Ghanaian soccer fans wore yellow t-shirts and held signs featuring a dark black hand holding up four fingers. The clear attempt to taunt the Egyptian fans is the latest appearance of what has become an increasingly important symbol of the sharp divisions in Egypt — and broader regional fault lines between Islamist and secular forces.

Backers of the Brotherhood inside Egypt and abroad have been displaying the four-fingered hand to commemorate the Egyptian security forces' August massacre of more than 600 supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

The four-finger sign, also know as the "R4bia" salute, is a reference to the name of the Cairo mosque that held the largest pro-Morsi sit-in protest: Rabaa Al-Adawiya, as the word rabaa means "fourth" in Arabic. More and more images of the four-fingered hand are appearing, and have been accompanied on social media by hashtags like "#anti-coup," and have popped up elsewhere among those supporting the Brotherhood, from Turkey to Tunisia.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the four-fingered gesture to greet crowds during public speeches in August, while Turkey's official news agency reported that following the August massacre in Cairo, more than 300 Turkish babies were given the name Rabaa in a gesture of solidarity.

Across the Mediterranean, Tunisians anxious about the future of their own Brotherhood-branded Islamist party, Ennahda, have made the four-fingered hand their Facebook profile picture and have brandished the image at demonstrations.

Rabaa Al-Adawiya, the namesake of the Cairo mosque, was an 8th century Sufi mystic and poet, both radically different from and curiously similar to those who hid within her mosque's now destroyed walls:

A slave in Egypt who came from a poor Iraqi family, Rabaa Al-Adawiya was set free by her wealthy master who was moved by her resolute religious faith and patient devotion to prayer.

History aside, opponents of the Islamists have not taken kindly to the spreading symbol. When a photo circulated of an unidentified Tunisian school teacher and her students holding up four fingers for a class picture, an anti-Islamist Tunisian news site singled out the one young boy who appeared to be defying his teacher: "Let us salute the child to the left of the teacher who kept his hands in his pockets and who seems to refuse to participate in this masquerade."

In Egypti, anti-Morsi journalist and blogger Amr Ezzat shared an ironic Facebook update about a scheduled protest that vowed to shatter the coup by “adding two new fingers to the image of four."

In the meantime, pro-Morsi demonstrations — led by the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup — continue. On Friday, following the major Muslim religious holiday of Eid Al-Adha, Egyptian security forces closed off the space around what remains of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque.

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