Tens of thousands of protesters returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a massive demonstration Friday [April 20] demanding that the ruling military generals immediately hand over power to a civilian government. The protesters also called for former regime members to be barred from running in next month’s presidential elections.
Revolutionary forces had earlier called for a day of rage which they dubbed “Self Determination Friday”. They accuse the military generals running the country in the transitional phase of “hijacking the revolution” and hope to steer the country back on the right path of democratic reforms.
“The military council has only plunged the country into deep political chaos and has not carried out any of the aspired goals of our revolution,” lamented Hazem Mahmoud, an activist who works for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Trade.
Military Authority Wants its Tight Grip on Power
He and other protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday expressed skepticism that the military regime had real intention to bring about the desired change, alleging that the military authority’s aim instead was “to maintain its tight grip on power and to ensure the appointment of yet another military candidate as the next president of Egypt”.
“Down with military rule!” and “The people are the red line” chanted the pro-democracy activists, insisting that they would foil SCAF’s attempts to re-instate a “feloul” (as former regime remnants are referred to) in the top job.
Liberals had stayed away from an earlier protest organised by Islamists on 13 April. The latter are angry at the election commission’s decision to disqualify two Islamist candidates — who were both seen as frontrunners in the presidential race.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi and the Presidential Elections
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat El Shater and the Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Abou Ismail have been barred from running in the upcoming election along with eight other presidential hopefuls.
El Shater was disqualified as a candidate because of earlier convictions of money laundering and for funding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood during former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. He was released following Mubarak’s fall after spending four years behind bars.
Salafi candidate Abou Ismail was meanwhile disqualified from the presidential race after the country’s election commission confirmed that the popular contender’s mother held American citizenship. According to the rules of the presidential vote, those who have criminal record or hold dual citizenship (themselves or their close relatives) cannot run for the presidency.
Mubarak’s Former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman — highly unpopular with both the Islamists and the liberal revolutionary forces — was also barred from the presidential race in what was largely seen as an attempt to appease a disgruntled public.
“The Military Wants to Trick Us”
“The move is a ploy by the military council to trick us into believing that they weren’t deliberately targetting the Islamist candidates alone. The Egyptian public did not accept Suleiman as Vice President in the weeks that followed the January mass uprising, why should they want him as their President now?” asked Sabbah el Sakkary, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Freedom Party who had joined this Friday’s protest.
No Deal with Islamists – the Liberals
But despite agreeing on the target goal to remove old regime remnants from the upcoming presidential election, liberals had refused to close ranks with the Islamists and join them in last week’s protest because of widespread sentiment among revolutionary youths that the Islamists had “betrayed the revolution , placing their own political ambitions before the country’s interests.”
“The Islamists have largely stayed out of anti-military protests since the revolution and have tried to appease the military council all along in the hope that they would get a sizeable slice of the pie (meaning a share in political power),” said Ahmed Mostafa, an activist who had come from Alexandria to join this Friday’s protest.
“Islamists Must Apologize for their insincerity”
He demanded an apology from the Islamists for “their insincerity” — a demand voiced by other secularists in the Square.
Other secularists believe that the Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political group, had initially struck a power-sharing deal with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ( SCAF ) and had thus, forsaken the revolution.
Islamists dominating the new parliament however feel powerless to effect change. They believe the SCAF is marginalizing them and has been monopolizing power.
“When parliament requested that the military-backed cabinet headed by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri (a former Prime Minister under Mubarak) be dissolved, SCAF rejected the demand. This prompted the Brotherhood in turn, to renege on an earlier promise not to field a presidential candidate,” said El Sakkary of the Freedom and Justice Party.
Meanwhile, the Islamist-dominated assembly whose members were handpicked by parliament to draft the constitution last month was annulled by the military after fuelling anger among the liberal forces who saw it as an attempt by the Brotherhood to unilaterally determine the country’s future.
Members of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the hardline Salafists turned up in large numbers at Friday’s protests — a move that could pile pressure on the military to cede some of its own powers.
Using the Protest to Campaign for their Candidate?
Bearded supporters of Abou Ismail were seen flaunting posters of the ultra-conservative contender and called for his reinstatement. They were eyed with skepticism by liberals who accused them of “using the protest to campaign for their candidate”.
Fourteen months after the toppling of Mubarak, Egypt is divided into two main camps: secular and Islamist with further fragmentation within each camp.
The common goals shared by both camps is that the military return to the barracks and that former regime loyalists be barred from coming to power. Yet, the shared goals have not succeeded in unifying the two forces and it looks unlikely that their ranks will be closed anytime soon.
Although presidential elections are scheduled for 23-24 May and SCAF has pledged to hand over power at the end of June, many Egyptians are skeptical — fearing the election may be postponed.
Statements made by the ruling generals last week that Egypt’s new constitution should be written before a president is seated have fuelled worries that the military is serious about handing over power.
“Writing the constitution that will stay with us for a long time is a task that is impossible to complete within the limited timeframe. That is one more reason for us to be back in Tahrir,” said Mohamed Fathy, a sales manager for a pharmaceutical company.
Shahira Amin is a well know Egyptian journalist and analyst. Currently she is Senior Anchor/Correspondent, Nile TV, and CNN contributor. Amin resigned from NileTV in an open protest against the biased, pro-regime coverage of the Egyptian revolution, which she actively joined in Tahrir Square. Shahira Amin is known for her unwavering defence of freedom, democracy, social justice and gender equality.