Egyptians protest against presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik
CAIRO -- Sayed Hassan marched in Tahrir Square on Tuesday evening, carrying symbols of his patriotism and his disgust: An old Egyptian flag draped over his right shoulder and a beat-up shoe adorned with photos of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik slung over his left.
About 6,000 demonstrators gathered to revive the spirit of protest and to pressure the military-backed government to disqualify Shafik from this month’s runoff election against Muslim Brotherhood contender Mohamed Morsi. Shafik, the last prime minister to serve deposed President Hosni Mubarak, is reviled by activists and liberals as a dangerous remnant of the old regime.
“I’m here in solidarity with our martyrs and to demand the rights of the Egyptian people, which we were deprived of for the last 30 years,” said Hassan, joining demonstrators who also vented their anger over a court decision Saturday that sentenced Mubarak to life in prison but acquitted six top police officials in the deaths of hundreds of protesters last year.
“Where is the retribution for our martyrs?” they yelled, calling for Mubarak, his former security commanders and his two sons to be brought before “revolutionary trials.”
Prostesters chanted that it would be over their “dead bodies” if Shafik, a retired air force general, won in the the June 16-17 voting. Many also derided the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, for mismanaging the nation’s political transition after three decades of repressive rule. Several protesters said the military intends to bring one of its own to power to protect its vast economic interests.
“Through Shafik, the military council will remain in power. Whether we vote for Shafik or Morsi, we will be taken down a dark path,” said Mona Ammar, a woman in her early 40s from the upscale neighborhood of Maadi. “If either one wins, we will do what it takes to remove him, especially Shafik. He must be joking, thinking he could become president when he has blood on his hands.”
Members of parliament, including revolutionary lawyer and activist Essam Sultan and Mohamed Beltagy of the Muslim Brotherhood, also marched through the square, waving at supporters as they chanted “One Hand” against the military.
Despite common goals, however, Egypt remains a nation divided. Protesters lack a unifying vision, and many activists say the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls nearly half of parliament, is maneuvering to capitalize on the anger over the verdict to propel Morsi to power.
Many liberals criticize the Brotherhood for not espousing the democratic ideals of the uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Several revolutionary coalitions have called for an election boycott and the establishment of a civilian presidential council that would include Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Hamdeen Sabahi, a nationalist socialist who finished third in the first round of presidential voting; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a progressive Islamist; and Morsi.
But in a Monday meeting with Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh, Morsi and the Brotherhood rejected such a council. The Brotherhood, however, agreed to continue supporting calls for protests to pressure SCAF to force Shafik from the race.
Parliament passed and SCAF signed into law recent legislation forbidding Mubarak’s top officials from running for president. The federal election commission set aside the law, and the matter is before the constitutional court.
“We are here to support the disenfranchisement law, to call for unity among Egyptians once again, and to demand the fair retrial of Mubarak and his regime,” said Abdelrahman Taleb, an adamant Muslim Brotherhood supporter. “The presidential council idea would have worked at the very beginning of the revolution last year, but now there is no chance for this to work out. We support Morsi because Shafik betrayed us and the people.”
On the other side of the square, a more "revolutionary" political ideology emerged. Several youth activists and election boycotters hung banners that read “Civilian Presidential Council,” hoping to convince more people of the idea.
Despite their chants for unity, most protesters however, are set in their beliefs that only their factions can retrieve what they call Egypt’s “stolen” revolution. SCAF has promised to turn power over to a civilian government by July.
Photo: An Egyptian vendor sells bread during demonstrations in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on June 5, 2012 . Credit: Mohammd Abed / AFP/GettyImages