By Heba Hesham
Cairo: Thousands marched to Tahrir Square Friday, where disagreeing political groups set up several stages. The common anti-military chants did little to bring real and lasting resolutions to political disputes between Islamists and the civil movements that have kept street momentum.
About 100,000 protesters flocked to the epicenter of Jan. 25 revolution raising a number of agreed-on demands; top of which are to topple the ruling military council.
At least six stages were set up in the square for the Islamist and civil political powers; the main stages were for the Muslim Brotherhood, supporters of the excluded presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the April 6 Youth Movement and Constitution for All Egyptians Front.
Islamists said they came to Tahrir to call for the demands of the revolution. On top of the list, they said they want to ban remnants of the former regime from contesting the presidential elections.
Civil powers said they agree on the demands of the Islamists and they too want to cancel Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration that gives immunity to the decisions of the Presidential Elections Committee.
The PEC had excluded Abu Ismail along with the MB’s candidate Khairat Al-Shater for different legal reasons.
Islamists called for and dominated demonstrations last Friday where they protested the nominations of figures of the old regime in the presidential election. On Tuesday, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief and last vice president for Hosni Mubarak who entered the race right before the registration deadline, was disqualified.
The decision by the election committee, which also included Al-Shater and Abu Ismail, did little to quell Islamists’ fears.
Supporters of the two former frontrunners believe that Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and other foreign powers do not want an Islamist to be in charge of the state.
“The United States doesn’t want an Islamist president and the SCAF is implementing its agenda in the country,” said Basem Gharib, a member of the MB.
However, Mohamed El-Araby, one MB protester, said they came to the square to pressure the SCAF to meet the demands of the revolutionaries. “We as Muslim Brothers are keen on preserving the stability and freedom of the entire nation,” he said.
Youssef Othman, a protester who chanted with the stage of the Constitution for All Egyptians, said that despite the number of stages in the square, all protesters agreed on similar demands.
“You can see Islamists talking on the stages of liberals and vice versa,” he said.
Kamal El-Helbawy, a prominent MB member who quit recently over the group’s decision to nominate Al-Shater, addressed protesters from on top of the liberal stage.
“I am very happy to see that we are reunited in the square once more. We should excuse those [Islamists] who left it before and work together until achieving all the demands of the revolution,” he said.
Zakaria Abdel Aziz, former head of the judges club, and political analyst Ammar Aly Hassan echoed El-Helbawy’s opinion.
El-Helbawy called for a sit-in in all Egyptian squares if the demands were not met by next Friday.
‘The square is not united’
“The worst thing I’ve seen today is that there are six different stages in the square. Everyone is thinking of his own interests,” said Youssef El-Hossieny, an anchor on ONTV satellite channel.
Although, civil powers said they agree on the demands of the Islamists, they said the long term objectives of these demands are different.
“Islamists came back to the square because their candidates were excluded by the PEC,” said Haitham Mohamadeen, a senior leader of the Revolutionary Socialists.
“Civil powers believe they can work to meet their demands by being in the street and convincing people to support them. While Islamists believe they can only meet the demands of the revolution while in power,” he added.
Protesters who have been subject to deadly crackdowns over the past six months, including during the parliamentary elections, say they were abandoned by the Islamists, specifically the Brotherhood. They claim the group only went back to the streets when its political interests were in jeopardy.
That was preceded by the walkout of liberals and representatives of judicial and religious institutions from an assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution. They were protesting the Islamists’ domination of the panel, which was later dissolved by a court order, opening the door for new negotiations on criteria for choosing the members of the assembly.
Al-Araby said that the MB tolerates this criticism so as to move forward, in a bid to achieve the goals of the revolution for the sake of all Egyptians.
Mohamadeen added that although there might be differences in the objectives and even in the banners each faction is holding, the chants were similar.
A common chant that was repetitively heard from the six stages was, “Down with military rule.”
“This is because we don’t want remnants of the former regime … to make use of our differences to incite clashes in the square,” Mohamadeen said.
All protesters, he continued, agree on some main demands like banning the remnants of the toppled regime from running for presidency, cancelling Article 28, refusing to draft the constitution under the rule of the military council and stressing that the presidential elections should be held on schedule.
Posters of presidential candidate Amr Moussa were held in the square labeling the former foreign minister and Arab League chief as a remnant of the old regime.
“It is a negative phenomenon that some people are making use of the square to achieve narrow electoral goals and to attack other candidates,” Moussa said.
MB supporters filled the square in the early hours of the morning along with a noticeably increasing number of street vendors. Non-Islamists protesters flocked to the square in the afternoon as several marches culminated there.
Supporters of disqualified presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail protested in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Hassan Ibrahim)
The banner reads “no to remenants of the former regime” with pictures of candidates Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Hassan Ibrahim)