Egyptians gather in Tahrir for Friday protests

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, December 23, 2011

Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday for a mass rally against Egypt's military rulers following a brutal army crackdown on recent protests that left 17 people killed.

Protesters want the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to handover power to a civilian government sooner than mid-2012, with some wanting a presidential vote as early as January 25 to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

Hundreds of demonstrators had already gathered in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square on Friday morning, chanting, "Down with the field marshal" and "down with military rule." Protests tend to gather momentum after midday prayers.

"The current predicament we have reached is a result of the army council's reluctance to play its role, its intentional foot-dragging, breaking its obligations, and failing over the economy and security, putting the whole country on the edge of a huge crisis," said a statement signed by two dozen parties, youth movements, and others that called for Friday's protest.

The April 6 movement, which played a leading role in galvanizing Egyptians to rise up against Mubarak, said the army's handling of the latest demonstrations showed it was seeking to "protect the previous regime."

Students also appealed to Egyptians to join Friday's protest with a march from Cairo's Ain Shams University, two of whose students were among the 17 killed.

In the wake of the recent violence, the authorities erected walls of large concrete barriers where clashes were the fiercest to prevent protesters from Tahrir accessing parliament, the cabinet, and interior ministry.

The Muslim Brotherhood's party, leading in a staggered parliamentary election that runs to January, said it would not join Friday's rally, but added that it is “the right of the Egyptian people to protest and demonstrate peacefully.”

The party also said members of the military council should be held to account out of respect for those killed and the women who were mistreated.

"The party emphasizes the need for the handover of power to civilians according to the will of the Egyptian people through free and fair elections ... in a stable environment," said Mohamed al-Katatni, a senior member of the the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The Brotherhood said it was sticking to the army's timetable to hold a presidential vote in June, and added that bringing the vote forward could "create chaos."

However, the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour Party, a surprise runner-up in the election so far, said on its Facebook page that it would participate in the protests.

Many activists accuse the Brotherhood and other Islamists of betraying the protest movement in order to secure their own positions in the emerging new power structure.

Secular and liberal activists continue to lead protests for a full democracy, despite a poor showing in the first round of parliamentary elections.

Protesters are suspicious of the military council's commitment to democracy, with recent moves by the military rulers indicating that it is tightening its grip on power.

The SCAF continues to hold military trials for civilians, and detains activists, bloggers, and journalists. The military regime has also reimposed Egypt's dreaded emergency laws in September.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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