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Tahrir erupts with call for civilian rule

Atul Aneja
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“Million-man” rally demands military rule to go

Clamour for change: A mass rally demanding end of military rule in Alexandria on Friday. — PHOTO: AFP
Clamour for change: A mass rally demanding end of military rule in Alexandria on Friday. — PHOTO: AFP

After sweeping aside former dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's turbulent revolution, re-energised after recent bloody clashes, is now clamouring for an end to military rule and calling for the establishment of a new civilian authority to steer the country's convoluted transition to democracy.

Joined by tens of thousands of people, calling for an end to the rule by Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), protests pulsated fearlessly in and around Tahrir Square, the icon of Egypt's roaring pro-democracy uprising.

The high-decibel noise generated by the sea of humanity, however, could not drown chants that called for an end to the military's rule. Above the din, people shouted: “The people are a red line” and “Down with military rule.” Some personalised their attack on Mohamed Tantawi, the Field Marshall who heads SCAF. They warned that Egypt's top military commander, who served as the Defence Minister for the much reviled Mr. Mubarak, had now himself acquired heady ambitions of becoming President.

People had thronged to Tahrir in response to a call by protesters for a “million-man” rally at the Square after Friday prayers. The appeal for a massive show of strength had acquired sharp emotional resonance.

More than 30 young protesters had been killed by the security forces over the previous week. Die-hard dissidents had braved unremitting barrages of tear gas, rubber bullets, buckshot, and live ammunition, but, unfazed, had re-claimed Tahrir.

By Friday, Mohamed Mahmoud alley, which had been the focal point of pitched battles over the week, had been renamed by protesters as the “Day of Freedom” street, the Egyptian news portal Al Ahram Online reported on its website.

By mid-afternoon Presidential hopeful and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei had surfaced at the Square. Ahead of his arrival, he had tweeted: “On my way to Tahrir to pay my respects to the martyrs. Their sacrifice will not be in vain. Together we shall prevail.” However, upon arrival, the presence of heavy crowds that packed the Square prevented him from visiting the adjacent Omar Makram Mosque, which served as a makeshift field hospital. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a charismatic leader and another possible presidential candidate, who had broken away from his parent Muslim Brotherhood organisation, was also present at the Square. Several prominent intellectual, media heavyweights and artists, who had converged at Tahrir later headed for the nearby state-television building, seeking an end to what they considered was biased coverage of the latest round of the uprising.

Many in opposition circles are considering proposing Mr. ElBaradei or Mr. Fotouh as possible candidates to head a “national salvation government” that in their view, should, instead of SCAF, steer Egypt's democratic transition in the coming days.

The heavy mobilisation at Tahrir, as well as other Egyptian cities such as Suez, Damietta and Alexandria, took place, despite the call by the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful and well organised Islamist organisation, to boycott Friday's protest.

Analysts say the Brothers wish to avoid the emergence of a situation, resulting from the spiralling protests that could endanger the conduct of Monday's parliamentary poll, where they are expected to do well.

Nevertheless, the assemblage at Tahrir was not without its religious overtones. In his sermon at Friday prayers at the Square, Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen, dubbed by some as the “Imam of the Revolution,” urged people to “demand the realisation of the revolution”. He called upon dissidents to distinguish between the bankrupt SCAF and the rest of the Army, which, in his view, was the people's ally.

Despite the growing nation-wide unrest, SCAF is determined to kick-start the phased polling for Parliament on November 28. In another move, which critics said resembled puerile window dressing, the military council, in response to the rolling protests, has decided to appoint Kamal El-Ganzouri as the new interim Prime Minister. In the central Arbaeen Square in Suez, agitated protesters denounced the new appointment and demanded that Field Marshal Tantawi, the new focus of the uprising after Mr. Mubarak, should step down.


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