Rally cutting across the ideological spectrum at Tahrir Square
The Arab Spring again roared into life on Friday at Egypt's iconic Tahrir Square, as well as the villages of Bahrain, where strong crowds had gathered to underscore the underlying message that the region's transition to democracy was far from complete.
A recent decision by a judicial panel to disqualify three leading contenders for the Egyptian Presidency seemed to have triggered the assemblage of tens of thousands of protesters, cutting across the ideological spectrum.
Two among those who have been barred from running belong to Islamist parties. They are Khairat el-Shater from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who belongs to the radical Salafi coalition. Ayman Nour, a charismatic contender, of a liberal persuasion, belonging to the Kifaya party, has also been barred.
That leaves Amr Mousa, a former Egyptian Foreign Minister and an Arab League head, as the sole heavyweight in the presidential race, which, if not postponed, will be held on May 23-24.
Sensing that a conspiracy hatched by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) behind the disqualifications, the energetic sloganeering at Tahrir Square pointedly targeted the military.
“The People's demands must be answered,” chanted the crowds, their high-decibel exhortation interspersed with other slogans: “Down with the SCAF!” and “Revolution until victory!”
While the show of strength in Tahrir Square was inclusive, it coalesced around the Islamists, who seemed to form the nucleus of the Friday's protestations. The Egyptian daily Al Ahram is reporting on its website that protesters belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Salafists travelling long distances have poured into the Square. The presence of Salafists black and green flags was conspicuous as were the posters bearing the image of banned presidential hopeful Hazem Abu-Ismail. Over 30 political groups and parties joined the protests including representatives of the liberal April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Youth Coalition.
The protests in Cairo echoed in other Egyptian cities, especially Alexandria, where thousands gathered around the Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in the downtown area.
While the Egyptians sought to expand their democratic space, protesters in Bahrain, a tiny island state in the Gulf, were confronting the Kingdom's rulers for more basic human rights.
There has been a surge in protests in Bahrain, as the countdown to the Formula 1 race scheduled for Sunday began. Analysts point out that by conducting the Grand Prix, which had to be cancelled last year, the Bahraini authorities want to demonstrate to the world that normality has now returned to the island nation. The protesters, also mindful of a global audience, want to achieve exactly the opposite result.
“Formula One in Bahrain has been taken as PR for the ruling elite, the repressive dictators who are ruling the country,” said Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist.
As the participants began to arrive for the race earlier in the week, hundreds of protesters assembled at the airport to lodge their protest, unfazed by the arrest of 80 leading pro-democracy activists before.
Two members of the Force India team are returning home after a fire bomb was hurled on Thursday as they were travelling to their hotel from the Bahrain International Circuit.
The Al Wefaq party and the February 14 Youth Movement are leading the protests, which, despite the expected crackdown, could gather momentum ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix.