No Mubarak, but no better
Tahrir Square is likely to witness a large protest Friday as many Egyptians feel little has changed since Mubarak was ousted seven months ago, reports Khaled Dawoud
Despite the announcement by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups that they will not take part in the million-man march that a coalition of leftist and liberal groups called for Friday, organisers still expect a large turnout due to growing feelings among many Egyptians that the main demands of the 25 January Revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak have not been met.
Originally, the protest was called for in opposition to the elections law adopted recently by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The law, according to which the first parliamentary elections after the removal of Mubarak will be held in late October or mid-November, mixes the individual and party lists systems. Nearly all opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, say this law will produce a parliament that includes members of the now defunct former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and would not guarantee genuine change in the way the country has been ruled for decades.
Liberal and leftist parties prefer the party list system, saying it would improve their chances of winning seats, contrary to the individual candidacy system that would provide better opportunity for wealthy candidates and those supported by families and clans in rural areas and Upper Egypt. But the Brotherhood's opposition is milder, reflecting a higher degree of confidence that they will win enough seats in the upcoming parliament regardless of the law organising elections. The Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would not run for more than 30 to 40 per cent of the parliament's seats, but non-Islamist parties fear that they could still win a majority in coalition with other Islamic parties.
Independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouk both reported Wednesday that an undeclared meeting took place this week between leaders of the newly formed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and several senior military leaders and members of SCAF, after which they agreed not to take part in Friday's protest in Tahrir Square.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, refused to deny or confirm the reports. SCAF has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the staging of new protests in Tahrir, saying that it has met many of the 25 January Revolution's demands, and asking for more time to carry out the remaining reforms. SCAF also announced Tuesday it would hold a special and unprecedented rally on Friday at Cairo Stadium to mark Peasants' Day, in which thousands are likely to take part. Observers considered that rally as an attempt to counter the Tahrir protest, and a bid to display SCAF's popularity.
On Wednesday, the SCAF issued Communiqué 74 in response to calls for Friday's demonstration. The statement stressed the people's right to peaceful demonstration but put the responsibility of organising and securing the protest and places of gathering on its initiators. It furthered, "any violation committed against Armed Forces units and camps or strategic locations is considered a threat to Egypt's national security and interests of the people and will be strictly dealt with".
However, the organisers of the protest, including political parties such as the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians, the Tagammu Party, political associations such as Kifaya and the National Association for Change, April 6 Movement, youth coalitions that emerged following the 25 January Revolution, and supporters of presidential candidates such as Mohamed El-Baradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, have also faced their own difficulties in order to agree on a single slogan that would unite protesters in Tahrir tomorrow.
Several meetings among the organisers that lasted until late Wednesday, and are likely to continue until early Friday, failed to achieve that goal. Protesters in the square Friday are likely to raise a long list of demands.
The demands topping the list include putting an end to military trials of civilians, setting a clear timeline -- with exact dates -- for when SCAF will hand over power to an elected civil authority, cancelling a recent law issued by SCAF that prohibits sit-ins and strikes, ensuring that the Egyptian police focuses on ending crime and restoring order, adopting a law that sets a minimum wage for workers and maximum salary for top public sector officials, and adopting a new law that would ban former top officials and NDP leaders from taking part in political life because of their past participation in spreading corruption and rigging elections.
Opponents of the mass protests in Tahrir, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and a number of newly formed Salafi parties, have warned that average Egyptians no longer support such demonstrations and prefer action to improve their deteriorating economic conditions. They also point out that the majority of Egyptians who voted in the public referendum on 19 March over a number of constitutional amendments stated clearly that they wanted to hold elections soon, in order to restore stability and return to civil rule.
Protest organisers nonetheless expect thousands of people to take part Friday due to growing feelings of frustration at the way SCAF has been running the country since Mubarak's ouster on 11 February. Presidential candidate El-Baradei sharply criticised the fact that SCAF did not consider the demands of opposition groups on the newly released elections law, saying that this law "would produce a parliament that is not based on providing equal opportunities for candidates, or one that represents the people and reflects the demands of the 25 January Revolution."
El-Baradei added that the new parliament would, "be a continuation of Hosni Mubarak's style of democracy". He appealed to SCAF and Egypt: "Do not abort the revolution."
Adding to the anger of activists that want to take part in Friday's protest were clashes that took place Monday between the Central Security Forces (CSF) and families of the victims killed during the 25 January Revolution at the gates of the Police Academy where Mubarak is being tried together with his two sons and top former security officials. Activists charged that the CSF used excessive violence to push the families away from the gate while seeking to attend the trial.
Protest organisers picked the title "Returning to Course" for Friday's demonstrations, implying that SCAF has retreated from genuine change after Mubarak's removal. They believe numbers will swell also following clashes between Ahli football club fans -- or the Ultras -- and police at Cairo Stadium Tuesday night. More than 130 were injured in the clashes and scores arrested. The Ahli Ultras, who gained prominence for their role in defending Tahrir Square during the 25 January Revolution, said the police attacked them after they had chanted slogans against Mubarak and his former interior minister, Habib El-Adli.
Police insist the fans have developed a habit of attacking and insulting the police, and that they had to react.