Political faultlines abound as Egypt returns to Tahrir Square (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Sarah Lynch CAIRO, EGYPT 04/20/12)
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Protests in Cairo today were ostensibly focused on Egypt´s military
rulers. But the division between protesters, as the country heads
towards presidential elections, was the real tale.
Thousands of protesters from across the political divide took to
Tahrir Square today. Ostensibly united for a common goal, the
competing camps of protesters revealed deepening divisions amid
Egypt´s ever-more turbulent transition.
“On the inside, the protest is divided,” says Rafik Atif, a member of
the April 6 Youth Movement, a secular political group among those
that called for the demonstration. “But overall we are here to say:
Bring down SCAF.” "SCAF" is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,
the junta that has run Egypt since Hosni Mubarak stepped down in
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the April 6 Youth Movement, and
fans of former Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail,
among others, rallied against SCAF and called for an end to military
rule. Speeches and chants boomed across a bustling crowd from over a
dozen stages, large and small, attempting to revive the revolutionary
Who´s who in Egypt´s election
But despite the simple official message of the day, "SCAF Out!", the
unity of purpose of 2011 has been replaced by sharp political
divisions within the protest movement itself, as Egypt seeks to forge
its next phase. A presidential election is scheduled for May 23. The
writing of a new Egyptian Constitution is still up in the air, but
it´s scheduled to be done this year.
What´s next? “There is a lot of opacity as to what is going on,” says
Michael Wahid Hanna of The Century Foundation.
The pre-election period has not been smooth and has frequently been
upset by startling developments – first when the Muslim Brotherhood
announced they would field a candidate in the presidential race
despite claims over the last year that they would not do so. Former
intelligence chief Omar Suleiman then submitted his presidential bid,
sparking outrage among critics who sought a flattening of Mubarak´s
regime when they ousted the dictator in last year´s 18-day uprising.
Further upsetting the political sphere, the court suspended the
nation’s constituent assembly, charged with drafting a new
constitution. And this week, the presidential election commission
barred ten contenders including Mr. Suleiman, the Muslim
Brotherhood’s Khairat al-Shater, and Mr. Abu Ismail from running.
“I’m here because Hazem Abu Ismail was removed from the race,” said
protester Khaled Hassan, carrying a poster of the banned presidential
hopeful as he made his way through the square. Like thousands of
others, he believes the decision to bar Abu Ismail over his mother’s
reported US citizenship is unjust.
Some critics blame the governing council for the barring of the 10
nominees and believe the group of ruling generals is interfering in
the election. The truth of these assertions is unclear.
“There are a lot of competing centers of authority,” Mr. Hanna says,
adding that it´s difficult to judge whether the court or election
commission acted on their own or if the military politicized thee
Calls for Friday’s protest came after Suleiman entered the election.
But following his disqualification, the reason for the rally depended
on who you asked.
Many protesters Friday called for the cancellation of Article 28 of
last year´s Constitutional Declaration, which makes the presidential
election committee immune to challenge.
Despite at least one unified demand, rhetoric in the square revealed
the divisions between Egypt´s "opposition" groups.
Some Muslim Brotherhood members called for complete removal of the
felool, or “remnants” of Mubarak’s regime, while April 6 demanded a
constituent assembly with less Brotherhood influence and more
representative, in their opinion, of Egyptian society as a whole. The
Salafis, more theocratic in outlook than the Brotherhood, were deeply
concerned with the fate of Abu Ismail.
More politics, more problems
“Last year, things were much simpler,” laments writer and blogger
Bassem Sabry about the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni
Mubarak. “There was one enemy and the goal was very clear, to topple
the enemy, and the square was 100 percent unified. Today you have
Islamists, liberals, [soccer fans known as] Ultras, non-aligned
protesters. All these different political forces are fighting to
influence political decisions toward one direction or another, with
these directions often contradictory.”
After long avoiding demonstrations, the Brotherhood rejoined the
protest movement last week with a march on Tahrir – a move that upset
some secular groups who believe the Brotherhood is only protesting to
achieve their organizational ambitions.
“The Islamists are coming to hijack the protest movement,” says Amal
Sharaf, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, who protested in
Tahrir. “When we needed them to come, they didn’t. They only came
when they needed us.”
The rifts are probably damaging the effectiveness of protest
politics. “The protesters are divided over so many ideas and demands
that I feel it will end up doing nothing at the end,” Mr. Sabry said.
While Friday´s protest drew thousands, analysts say the Muslim
Brotherhood is not seeking to ignite a slew of massive demonstrations
like those that swept the nation beginning January 25 last year.
Instead, it is a show of force for the 84-year old organization.
Egypt at large has grown weary of protests. The 2011 uprising wreaked
havoc on the economy and sent tourism rates to a stifling low. “I
don’t like the protest today,” says a trinket shop owner named Hassan
whose business in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek declined 80
percent over the last year. “Why? Because these kind of protests are
the reason we don’t have any business now.”
And not all Egyptians view SCAF as the enemy. Many are sympathetic to
the notion that order and stability are what the country needs going
forward, and appeal for patience.
But some groups insist that they will keep up their calls for change.
Abu Ismail’s supporters have called for a sit-in, and the April 6
Youth Movement will persist with their various demands. “This is the
beginning of a series of protests,” Sharaf said, “and the
revolutionary spirit will come again.” (© The Christian Science
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