Egyptian protesters press their demand for end to military rule
This report has been updated. See the note below.
REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of protesters flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday demanding a swift transfer of power from the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to a civilian government in order to complete the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and led to the seating this month of a new parliament.
The air was filled with an array of banners and anti-military slogans: "Down down with military rule," "Free revolutionaries will continue the path" and "Speak out, don’t be afraid, the army needs to leave." Major liberal forces, including the April 6th Youth, Kefaya and the Revolution Youth Coalition, also announced they would begin a sit-in, a move likely to set up a confrontation with police.
[Updated 1:38 p.m. Jan. 27: The rally also sharpened tensions between liberals and Islamists. The two sides threw stones and bottles at one another, underscoring the dismay secularists have over the control of the new parliament by the Muslim Brotherhood and the more conservative Salafis. Many activists have accused the Brotherhood, once the nation's leading opposition force, of cooperating with the army and betraying the revolution. Egyptian media reported three people were injured.]
The march was dubbed "Friday of Rage" to commemorate exactly one year ago when demonstrators were killed as protests overwhelmed security forces and the momentum shifted away from the state to the people. The anger of activists has since focused on the ruling military council, which has refused to relinquish power until after a president is elected in June.
"Now that we have an elected parliament with legislative powers, there is no reason for the army to stay in power," said Hanan Magdi, an activist protesting in Tahrir Square. "We want presidential elections to be held under civilian rule and a new constitution also to be formed under the rule of a civilian president, not the army."
Many activists remain skeptical that the military will ever cede authority. Bassel Adel, a 37-year-old engineer, said the army has more than once attempted to control the parameters for a new constitution. "They will continue to do so in order to gain more powers to enhance their political role even after a civilian president is elected."
The protesters also called for gaining criminal convictions against Mubarak and members of his ousted regime, purging state media of "corrupt figures" and bringing military officials to justice for the deaths of at least 70 protesters killed in clashes since October.
Friday's demonstration showed that young, liberal activists can still summon large crowds, even as the army and the Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, have tightened their grips on the nation. Many protesters criticized the Brotherhood for selling out the goal of a civilian-run government after Islamists won more than 70% of the seats in parliament.
"Shame shame shame on the parliament of shame," protesters chanted in an uncharacteristic public display against Islamists. "This is a revolution not a party."
"The Brotherhood is happy with their parliamentary majority, and want the calling of demands to be exclusive to their members," said Nour Ahmadein, a university student. "They are doing exactly what the army has been doing since toppling Mubarak."
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir on Friday call on Egypt's military leaders to cede power. Credit: Mohamed Muheisen / Associated Press