REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Banners waved and angry slogans echoed as tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Friday against the ruling military council, which they fear has hijacked a revolution that once bore the hope of leading the restive Arab world toward democracy.
Dominated by Islamists and including a smattering of secularists and liberals, crowds swelled into Tahrir Square in one of the largest demonstrations since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February. These factions have competing political agendas but were united in condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' refusal to cede power to a civilian government.
The protest came nearly one week ahead of parliamentary elections and was another troubling sign that Egypt has yet to find a path toward a viable democracy. The military has expanded martial law and locked up bloggers and dissidents.
The generals want to "abort the revolution," said Ibrahim Yehia, a 23-year-old university engineering graduate and Muslim Brotherhood member. "They're causing strife among Egyptians, and they want to marginalize everyone ... so they can say we're not ready for democracy and justify staying in power."
The scene -- painted faces, fathers with children, bands of roving young men -- was reminiscent of the energy that swept Tahrir during the 18 days that led to Mubarak's fall. Even the loudspeakers crackled with protest cadences in which only the names had changed.
The demonstration was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's best-organized political movement, which is expected to win as much as 30% of the seats in parliament in the upcoming elections. The Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis say proposals by the ruling generals to enshrine the military as the guardian of "constitutional legitimacy" would create a dictatorship that could thwart the new parliament.
The military, which may delay presidential elections until 2013, is also demanding guidelines that would allow it to select 80% of the members on a constitutional committee and ensure that the military budget is kept secret.
Photo: Thousands of Egyptians rally in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, with Islamists in the forefront, in a protest against what they say are attempts by the country's military rulers to reinforce their powers. Credit: Khalil Hamra / Associated Press
-- Jeffrey Fleishman