Angry crowds — rejecting a slew of recent steps that have consolidated the Egyptian military’s grip on power and undermined democratic institutions — filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday. The Square once again resembled a tented commune, geared up for long-drawn protests.
Early in the day, protesters made hectic preparations to accommodate a million-strong crowd that was likely to assemble to oppose the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military group that holds de facto power after the political exit of former strongman Hosni Mubarak.
The protesters rejected the recent supplement to an earlier constitutional declaration that grievously weakened the presidency. The crowds also slammed the dissolution of Parliament by the highest court — a move that armed SCAF with sweeping legislative and executive powers. They also wanted another decree scrapped that gave the military draconian powers, such as making arbitrary arrests and imposing military trials on civilian detenus.
The Square was awash with pictures of Mohamed Morsy, Islamist presidential candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood. The protesters strung up banners listing demands. Tents sprouted supplementing the ones pitched on Tuesday to kick-start protests. Mr. Morsy said on Friday there would be no letup in protests. He urged the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC), that has steered the poll, to announce results without delay.
Tensions rose after reports began to circulate that SPEC was set to declare Ahmed Shafiq, Mr. Morsy’s rival, as the first elected President of Egypt. The website of the daily Al Ahram, quoting a government source, reported that SPEC would declare Mr. Shafiq as winner on Sunday evening, with a narrow victory margin of 50.7 per cent of the vote.
Such an announcement could cause serious unrest, for the Muslim Brotherhood had already declared Mr. Morsy the winner, based on the compilation of figures available with its polling agents. The Brotherhood’s supporters at Tahrir Square had warned SCAF to withdraw security guards from the Parliament building when the presidential results are declared.
Anticipating trouble, SCAF warned that “utmost firmness” would be exercised against anyone seen to be threatening the “the higher interests of the country”.
Fearing the return of the old guard that was loyal to Mr. Mubarak, the Brotherhood announced an initiative to unite all pro-revolution forces, cutting across the Liberal-Islamist ideological divide. A Brotherhood law maker, Mohamed El-Beltagi posted on his Facebook page that Mr. Morsy consulted elder statesman and Noble laureate, Mohamed ElBaradei and the soft Islamist Abdel Monien Abul Fotouh, among others, to establish a national front to defend Egypt’s fledgling democracy.