Country in confusion
Besides the confrontation between protesters and SCAF, a more dangerous split has now emerged between supporters of the 25 January Revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood, reports Khaled Dawoud
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Egyptian protesters, left, clash with volunteer members of the Muslim Brotherhood guarding outside parliament in Cairo on Tuesday 31 January. Thousands of largely peaceful protesters clashed with a smaller number of Brotherhood loyalists who decided to act as "human shields" in order to protect their MPs who form a majority in parliament together with the Salafist Nour Party
Many unusual things have taken place in Egypt since the forced removal of former president Hosni Mubarak a year ago. But among the most uncanny was the scene near the People's Assembly building Tuesday evening, when thousands of largely peaceful protesters clashed with a smaller number of Muslim Brotherhood loyalists who decided to act as "human shields" in order to protect their MPs who form a majority in parliament together with the Salafist Nour Party.
The protesters, who headed to parliament building in demonstrations from different districts of Cairo, mainly belonged to leftist and liberal groups who insist that they were the ones who sparked the 25 January Revolution that started in Tahrir Square a year ago, only later joined by Brotherhood supporters when it became clear that the tide was turning against Mubarak. Their main demand was the immediate transferal of power from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to an elected president, disregarding an earlier timetable that set the transfer at 30 June.
After a series of bloody confrontations between army soldiers and mainly young protesters in which nearly 100 people were killed between October and December, the protesters said that they had no trust left that SCAF would remain committed to any timetable, or that it would not try to influence the process of drafting a new constitution that is supposed to start in early March in order to maintain its long-standing vested interests. Besides the now regular chant of "Down with military rule", demonstrators also repeated one short slogan: "Hand over power".
However, for Muslim Brotherhood supporters who blocked all the main roads leading to the parliament in cooperation with Army Forces and anti-riot police who stood behind their lines, the demonstrations they confronted were mainly aimed at sabotaging the results of the latest elections, and they chanted in return: "The people chose Muslim Brotherhood MPs".
The result was repeated rounds of clashes between the two sides, leaving nearly 100 people wounded, mostly lightly.
The protesters, who claimed they derived their legitimacy from the "Midan", or the Arabic word for square in reference to Tahrir Square, alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood supporters physically attacked a number of women taking part in recent anti-SCAF demonstrations. Others alleged that Muslim Brotherhood loyalists performed the role of anti-riot police during Mubarak's days, except for the absent black uniform, and that they had even went as far as using tasers in order to disperse the crowd and keep them from reaching the parliament building. That charge was strongly denied by a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood group.
"Sell, sell, and sell. Sell the revolution, Badie," the protesters who surrounded the parliament shouted in reference to the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie. Others took off their shoes and lifted them in the face of mostly young Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and in a few incidents they started throwing empty plastic water bottles and rocks. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters remained largely restrained, except when a new round of pushing started from demonstrators attempting to reach the parliament building. "This is shocking. I can't believe the day has come when the Muslim Brotherhood perform the role of the police. Shame on them," said Yasmine Mohamed, one of many young women protesters.
Groups like the 6 April Movement, Kifaya, the National Association for Change, the Revolution Youth Coalition and a number of small socialist parties, including the Revolutionary Socialists, received a major moral boost on the first anniversary of the 25 January Revolution last week when nearly two million people flooded the streets of Cairo and several other major cities, criticising SCAF and insisting that nearly none of the major demands of their popular revolt were met. That massive turnout took place despite a clear and determined effort by SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party to spread fear that widespread violence and arson attacks were expected, in a clear effort to discourage people from going out into the streets.
However, Mahmoud Ghozlan, the official Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, charged that leftist and liberal groups disrespected the choice of the Egyptian people during the recent elections. He said: "Even if one million people had taken part in the demonstrations during the first anniversary of the revolution, we should never forget that the Freedom and Justice Party (the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) won 10 million votes." He added: "It is clear whom the Egyptian people chose to lead in the process of meeting the demands of the revolution and assuring a peaceful transfer of power."
The widening gap between secular and political Islamic groups in Egypt coincided with clear confusion over the timetable of handing over power from SCAF to an elected president and the drafting of a new constitution. After the bloody clashes that took place in front of the Cabinet building in mid-December, in which 18 people were killed, SCAF had announced that both houses of parliament, the People's Assembly and the Shura Council, would meet on 28 February to start the process of electing 100 members who would form a committee to draft a new constitution. The door for nominations for president, according to SCAF's plan, would open in April, and elections would be held in late June according to rules set in the new constitution.
Anti-SCAF protesters who were likely to continue daily demonstrations, at least up until the anniversary of Mubarak's removal on 11 February, insist on holding early presidential elections, and that voting should take place in April and not late June as SCAF announced. But that proposal was not agreed upon even among anti-SCAF groups who remain clearly divided. Mansour Hassan, head of the Advisory Council that was formed by SCAF two months ago in order to assist the army generals in decision-making, said it made more sense to draft a constitution first in order to specify the powers of the president, the parliament and other political bodies. He added that members of the Advisory Council had presented a number of proposals on how to speed up the political process of electing the president, but he refused to provide details.
However, sources close to the council told Al-Ahram Weekly that they had proposed opening the door for nominations for the presidency in early March, to allow a reasonable period for campaigning, and more important, to calm fears among anti-SCAF groups that it was not serious about handing over power on time.
Salama Ahmed Salama, a prominent columnist at Al-Shorouq newspaper, earlier at Al-Ahram, warned of the consequences of the continual state of confusion since Mubarak's removal. He said that opinions and proposals for a timetable to hand over power to an elected president, "tend to change from one week to the other, and every day we have a new timetable to the degree that almost nobody knows now what would come first: drafting the constitution or electing a president, especially that youth groups had until recently insisted on drafting the constitution first."
Salama, who is a widely respected writer and largely moderate, warned of the effects of such deep splits among political groups in Egypt on average citizens who are mainly concerned with daily bread issues and were badly hit by the deteriorating economic situation. Salama added: "What we need is a clear timetable that we all stick to, one that would not change after each new wave of demonstrations or sit-ins." (full coverage pp.2-5 and Editorial p.14)