22 killed in push to reoccupy the iconic square

Egypt's meandering revolution, which at one stage appeared to be stagnating, has roared back into life, with protesters, battling tear gas and worse, managing to deepen their hold over Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, which they had re-claimed on Sunday.

On Monday, thousands of agitators wanting an end to the stifling hold of the ruling military council — Egypt's de facto rulers who assumed power after the unceremonious exit of former strongman Hosni Mubarak — entrenched themselves in the square.

However, they triumphed after paying a heavy price. The Health Ministry announced that 22 people had been killed in the push to occupy Tahrir Square.

On Saturday, pro-democracy activists who were injured during the January-February uprising had begun a protest at Tahrir Square. Security forces raided the square and evicted the occupiers. That set the stage for fresh rounds of confrontation on Sunday. Braving heavy clouds of teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot, the protesters managed to dig themselves in firmly. Sections of the media observed that the 18-day rebellion that had ousted Mr. Mubarak had been revived. Al Ahram Online wrote on its website: “Many activists…could be heard referring to Saturday as the uprising's nineteenth day — and today [Sunday] as the twentieth.”

The protesters, furious about the violent state-response, brought sharply into focus their demand that it should be civilians, and not the military, who need to occupy Egypt's political space. On Monday, 37 parties demanded the resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, and its replacement by an “interim national salvation government”, the news portal Al Masry Al Youm reported. They also set May 2012 as the deadline for the transfer of power from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to an elected civilian government.

Jolted by the fresh wave of protests, Egypt's military authorities have begun a seemingly feeble damage control exercise. A senior official from the ruling military council visited Tahrir Square on Monday. At a press conference, he said the security forces had acted in self-defence. Ahead of the phased parliamentary elections that commences next week, the military also announced that the protesters' longstanding demand of barring members of the former pro-Mubarak National Democratic Party (NDP), from contesting elections, had been met.

Unlike Saturday, when they were present in full strength, Islamist activists surprisingly maintained a low-profile the next day.

But fearing that their lack of visibility at Tahrir Square just ahead of elections could be politically damaging, the ultra-conservative Salafist leadership on Monday called upon its activists to turn out in large numbers at the Square.

Salafist preacher and presidential aspirant Hazem Abu Ismail urged his supporters to head for Tahrir Square in order to “achieve the goals of the January revolution”. He also warned the military not to postpone elections, where the well organised Islamist parties could do well. “Elections are a red line; it is either us or the military council if they are cancelled or postponed,” Mr. Abu Ismail asserted.

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