REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday demanding an end to military rule and protesting what they called the Egyptian army’s excessive use of violence, which has left at least 15 protesters dead and more than 800 injured over the past week.
Protesters chanted slogans such as “Egypt’s girls shouldn’t be stripped” and “They [the army] killed the sheik and killed the doctor. The whole council should leave,” referring to video footage last week of a female protester's clothing being removed during a struggle with soldiers and to the deaths of two other demonstrators.
The march, by mostly secular political parties and groups, underscored growing anger against Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has led the country since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak.
“The army is a ruler that kills and beats its own people, so what else can we expect from them?” asked Ahmed Ali Mohamed, a tourist guide who joined Friday’s march.
“We’ve cheered for [the Supreme Council] and trusted them for over six months, but nothing changed for the better, and now they turn a peaceful sit-in to a blood bath.”
Said Amira Abdel Hamid, a 34-year-old protester in Tahrir Square: “They are trying to scare off activists and especially females to prevent any further protests. This won’t work with me or any real female demonstrator, and that’s why I’m here today.”
Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the Salafi Al Nour party boycotted Friday's protest.
The Islamist groups are currently dominating parliamentary elections, having won with more than 60% of the vote after the first round.
Both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the government denied claims that their forces have used violence against demonstrators, claiming that a number of infiltrators were paid by a “third party” to destabilize the country.
On Wednesday, a SCAF statement warned of a foreign plot to “escalate sit-ins and protests and target vital installations,” calling on the population to “be prepared and show caution” without clarifying who was behind the alleged plot.
Friday's march in Tahrir Square coincided with a rival protest in the Cairo neighborhood of Abbasiya, where a few thousand people marched to show their support for the government and called for an end to the unrest.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: Female protesters in Cairo carry posters Friday calling on Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, to cede power. Credit: Associated Press