CAIRO: Only a few hundred protesters rallied in front of the Qena governorate’s headquarters following Friday prayers to reiterate their demand to sack governor Emad Shehata Mikhael, in what was slated to be a million man march.
“A lot of coalitions and protesters withdrew from the mass protests,” lawyer and political activist Walid El-Qadi told Daily News Egypt.
“Many people believe that we should wait until Prime Minister Essam Sharaf arrives to Qena to discuss the people’s demands,” El-Qadi said.
But Mostafa Al-Gaales, member of the Coalition of the January 25 Youth in Qena, disagreed.
“We have to be here to voice our demands to sack the governor, not merely freeze his executive authorities.”
Sharaf is expected to visit Qena on Tuesday to discuss the people’s refusal of Mikhael, a Copt and retired police officer, and propose solutions to the crisis.
However, protesters claimed that the head of the Security Directorate of Qena instructed residents from the now dissolved former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to handpick people to meet with Sharaf, while disregarding the actual protesters.
“The same thing happened when Interior Minister Mansour El-Essawy visited Qena,” El-Qadi told DNE. “We don’t want people from the NDP representing us, they don’t voice our demands and they haven’t participated in the sit-in.”
“Sharaf should hold a popular conference for all the people of Qena,” Al-Gaales said.
Al-Gaales explained that security forces fear that a popular conference could lead to attacks on Sharaf and interruptions that would lead to the failure of the conference.
“This is a good point, but there are many protesters who won’t be able to get invitations to this closed meeting with Sharaf because they don’t have access to the organizers,” Al-Gaales said.
Sharaf had frozen the executive powers of Mikhael for three months on Monday, to diffuse tensions in Qena and end a sit-in that lasted 10 days.
Protesters opened all railway lines and ended the sit-in that was held in front of the governorate headquarters, following Sharaf’s decision.
The executive secretary of Qena governorate, Maged Abdel Kerim, assigned to handle the governor’s duties for three months, prayed with the people in Sidi Abdel Rahim El-Qenawy Mosque.
The people demanded that Mikhael be sacked from his post and replaced with a Muslim civilian Governor, following Friday prayers.
The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb was expected to join the people of Qena in Friday prayers at the mosque as well.
El-Tayeb had announced in a press conference Wednesday that he would join the people of Qena in Friday prayers, according to state-run daily, Al-Ahram.
However, residents said that El-Tayyeb did not show up.
“There were reports that El-Tayyeb visited Luxor and some Qena residents met him, but he didn’t show up in Qena,” El-Qadi said.
El-Tayeb reportedly guaranteed that the Qena protesters wouldn’t be detained or harassed by security and threatened to resign in objection if this happened.
“The state wouldn’t dare accept the resignation of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar,” El-Tayeb said.
El-Tayeb said he had hoped the people of Qena would give the new governor a chance to prove himself before continuing protests. He added that cutting off the railway lines was a breach of Islamic teachings and that respecting the rule of law was a national duty.
Protesters said that their previous experience with General Magdy Ayoub — the former governor who was also Christian and a career police officer — proved his failure in running the governorate and dealing with sectarian issues.
Arab League Secretary General and Presidential hopeful Amr Moussa visited Qena late Thursday and held a press conference to discus his political program.
Residents said that free t-shirts supporting Moussa and beverages were distributed among those attending the conference.
Moussa addressed the recent tensions in Qena and expressed his support for the protesters and their right to voice their demands.
However he didn’t present any solution to the ongoing problem, according to residents.
“Moussa was very diplomatic in his statements that offered nothing new,” Abdel Baaset Karim, a member of the Coalition for Freedom in Qena, told DNE.
“As always, he was on the fence,” Karim added.
“Moussa is part of the former corrupt regime and he supported ousted President Mubarak while he was ruling,” Al-Qadi said. “I don’t trust anything he says.”
However, Karim and Al-Qadi said that Moussa received a warm welcome from the crowds in Qena, who cheered him and addressed him as “President”, although he isn’t officially a presidential candidate.
“The people in Moussa’s conference were mostly the upper classes of Qena who don’t represent the majority of the people who suffer serious problems,” Karim said.
Moussa was recently campaigning in Qena, where his supporters and people who claimed to be members of the Coalition of the January 25 Youth in Luxor engaged in a fist fight and threw chairs at each other, according to media reports.
The Coalition of the January 25 Youth in Luxor later denied the accusations in a statement.