Egyptians mass to demand army retreat from power (REUTERS) By Shaimaa Fayed and Edmund Blair CAIRO, EGYPT 04/20/12 6:37pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
Reuters News Service Articles-Index-Top
(Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Egyptians demanded on Friday that
their military rulers stick to a pledge to hand over power by mid-
year after a row over who can run in the presidential election raised
doubts about the army´s commitment to democracy.
Two leading Islamist candidates, one representing the Muslim
Brotherhood who was seen as the frontrunner, were among those
disqualified this week from a vote that starts on May 23-24, drawing
a storm of criticism from supporters and the candidates.
Khairat al-Shater, the Brotherhood´s former candidate, said his
ejection showed the generals who have ruled since Hosni Mubarak was
ousted last year had no serious intention of quitting. The movement
is now fielding a reserve candidate.
"We are all here to protect the revolution and complete its demands,"
said Sayed Gad, 38, a pharmacist and Brotherhood member. He had
joined a protest which attracted both Islamists and liberals to a
packed Tahrir Square in central Cairo, although the two sides were
not united on all their demands.
A council of generals, who stepped in 14 months ago after mass
demonstrations in Tahrir and elsewhere had sapped Mubarak´s power,
has led Egypt through a turbulent transition punctuated by spasms of
violence and frequent protests against their handling of the move to
The army says it will stick to its timetable to hand power to a new
president by July 1 and has promised to oversee a fair vote. But some
remarks from military officials suggesting the army might also seek
now to have a new constitution in place before that handover - an
impossibly tight deadline for many - has added to popular worries
about the military´s ambitions.
Western diplomats expect the timetable for transferring powers to
hold but say the army which supplied Egypt´s presidents for six
decades, including Mubarak, and which has built up sprawling business
interests throughout that time, will remain an influential player
behind the scenes for years.
"Down with military rule" and "The people want the execution of the
marshal," some protesters chanted, a reference to Field Marshal
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak´s defense minister for two decades
who now leads the ruling military council.
Some demonstrators sheltered under awnings and umbrellas to shade
them from the sun. Many waved Egyptian flags.
Although the protest passed off peacefully through the day, minor
scuffles erupted between some Islamists and vendors in the square
late into the night.
Witnesses said some protesters also threw stones and banged on the
sides of buses carrying Brotherhood members as they tried to drive
away, screaming "You sold the revolution".
Thousands also gathered in the second city Alexandria and turned out
in some other cities. The hours after weekly prayers at mosques on
Fridays are traditional times for protests.
Another candidate, Omar Suleiman, Mubarak´s former spy chief and
briefly his vice-president, was also ejected from the race. His
candidacy had raised fears the army wanted to roll back gains made
since last year´s uprising, but there are still others in the race
seen as vestiges of Mubarak´s old order.
"No to remnants. No to military rule," read one banner that carried
pictures of Mubarak´s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a former air
force commander, and of Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister. They
are both strong contenders, especially now that the Brotherhood´s
Shater has been disqualified.
Responding on Twitter to Friday´s protest, Moussa said: "The
exploitation of some of the square for narrow electoral goals and
attacking some of the candidates is a negative phenomenon that should
be followed up."
Rain rivals for Moussa and Shafiq will be Mohamed Mursi, the head of
the Brotherhood´s political party who will have the weight of the
group´s broad grass-roots network behind him, and Abdel Moneim Abol
Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who was expelled from the Brotherhood
when he announced his plan to run. At that time, the Brotherhood had
said it would not field a candidate.
Mursi may have an edge because of the Brotherhood´s disciplined
supporters behind him, but Moussa has strong name recognition as the
former head of the Arab League. He won popular support for tough
criticism of Israel. Abol Fotouh, who has been campaigning for
months, could pick up voters now that more prominent Islamists have
been pushed out the running.
Shafiq could be a choice for those Egyptians who are tired of
protests and upheaval and view the military experience of the one-
time air force commander positively, offering them hope that he can
stabilize the nation.
But analysts say predicting an outcome is difficult when the race has
no historical precedent in a nation convulsed by political turmoil
after decades of post-colonial autocratic rule. Mubarak was elected
by single candidate referendums or, in 2005, a multi-candidate vote
that was widely viewed as rigged.
Friday´s demonstration was the first in months to bring both
Islamists and liberals together. Some of those gathered called for
protesters to camp out in the square, as has happened in some
previous protests since Mubarak was ousted.
"Those who left the square in difficult times must come back and not
leave until the revolution´s demands are met," Kamal Helbawy, who
quit the Brotherhood after its U-turn over a presidential bid, told
protesters from one of the podiums.
Hundreds of soccer fans, or "ultras", gathered just off Tahrir. In
February, clashes had erupted in that street after 74 supporters of
the popular Al-Ahli soccer club were killed in stadium violence which
fans blamed on bad policing. There was no immediate sign of a fresh
flare-up, however, as fans chanted slogans against the military and
praising those who had died.
Although broadly united in criticism of the army, the demands of
Islamists and liberals are not fully aligned. Liberals also fret
about the strength of political Islam after Islamists - notably the
Brotherhood and smaller, harder line Salafi movement - swept a
parliamentary vote in December.
Rows over who is eligible to run for Egypt´s first real presidential
election in its history has added to tensions already running high
over who should write the new constitution.
Liberals, as well as Christian and Muslim religious establishment
figures, quit an assembly that was picked to draw up the new
constitution because they said it was dominated by political
Islamists and did not represent Egypt´s diversity.
The assembly, appointed by the new, Islamist-dominated parliament,
has now been suspended.
But most demonstrators sought to play down any rivalries in Friday´s
protest. "Hand in hand," protesters chanted, while one banner
read: "Together against the continuation of army rule."
The April 6 youth group, which helped galvanize the anti-Mubarak
demonstrations last year, had called for Friday´s protests in part to
demand that new criteria be laid down to ensure a diverse make-up for
the constituent assembly.
Also among the protesters were supporters of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail,
an ultra-conservative Salafi candidate for the presidency who had
built up a big popular following but who was also disqualified from
the race because his mother had U.S. nationality, violating one of
the rules for holding the office.
From a stage in Tahrir Square where his supporters had also gathered
on Friday, people chanted over loudspeakers: "Islamic revolution!
With our soul and blood, we sacrifice for Islam!" and "The Koran is
Hundreds of his supporters, among the last remaining in the square,
vowed to stay overnight to express their anger at his
(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by
Edmund Blair; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Alison Williams)(©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 04/20/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY