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'Return to the Barracks Friday' protesters say 'No' to military rule

Numbers in the square were modest for 'Return to the Barracks Friday', as protesters called for Egypt's military rulers to stop meddling in the political sphere

Ahram Online, Saturday 8 Oct 2011
return to barracks
Demonstrators in Tahrir Square on Return to Barracks Friday (photo:Mai Shaheen)
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Protesters in Egypt’s revolutionary square, Tahrir, called on the Supreme Council of the ‎Armed Forces (SCAF) Friday to hand over power to a civilian authority, and provide a clear timetable for a quicker transition than currently proposed.

Demonstrators condemned the ruling military's extension of the Emergency Law -- due to expire on 30 September -- and its use of military trials for civilians.  

Endorsed by some and rejected by others, "Return to the Barracks Friday" drew modest numbers. Following Friday prayers, the numbers grew, but as the afternoon progressed they hardly reached the thousand mark.

Those who have rejected invitations to take part include the Muslim Brotherhood and their Freedom and Justice Party, as well as the April 6 movement.

Former MP and professor of political science at Helwan University Gamal Zahran attended Friday’s protests to call for the “recovery of the people’s sovereignty.” Speaking to Ahram Online, the political activist also stressed that the military council and the Cabinet have failed and therefore must leave. The council, he argued, has prevented, through the elections law and various other constitutional declarations, the people from choosing their own path to democracy.

He attacked the Elections Law, stating: “You can’t impose elections in a matter of days when the people still don’t understand how they are to progress; in politics this is called premeditated fraud -- from the start. Why? Because you have deceived the people and left them in the shadows. You didn’t involve them; you’ve robbed them of their sovereignty.”

Throughout the afternoon, groups of no more than 50 would leave the square and march around the capital’s downtown streets. The marchers called for the removal of the field marshal, Hussein Mohammed Tantawi, Egypt’s de-facto military ruler. Calls for "bread, freedom and social justice" could also be heard.

Traffic in the square was diverted to the outer ring, as people huddled around the two stages, filling parts of the inner ring around the central island. Neither police nor military forces were to be seen anywhere near the square.

Opposite the independent stage where Friday’s sermon was delivered, a larger stage broadcast religious songs. A banner, declaring support for would-be presidential contender and Salafist leader Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, hung from the stage. The banner listed the Salafist’s main demands, among which were calls for a swift interim timetable, an end to the Emergency Law and military trials and their stated opposition to the notion of supra-constitutional principles.

Earlier, Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen of Omar Makram Mosque – adjacent to Tahrir’s Mogamma building – delivered Friday’s sermon. In his sermon, he demanded that the treason law be applied to prevent former National Democratic Party members from running in the forthcoming parliamentary elections and said that the State of Emergency should end and the Emergency Law abolished.

Shaheen added that the elections law should be amended as most political parties and groups had demanded before. The sheikh, well known for his stands with the revolution, also stressed the importance of renationalising previously privatised companies.  

In the speech, Hamdy El-Fakharany, who filed a lawsuit calling for the annulment of land sales to the urban development project in New Cairo Palm Hills Development (PHD), was praised for his role in fighting corruption. Fakharany, who owns a construction company, claimed in the lawsuit that the PHD contract, in which 960,000 square metres of land were assigned by direct order to the company, violated the law regulating tenders and auctions.  

Sheikh Shaheen, on the other hand, criticised a Salafist satellite channel, alleging it received Saudi Arabian funding and added “this revolution is purely Egyptian and we do not want any foreign meddling in it.”  

Thousands demonstrated in the square late Thursday night, chanting slogans demanding that the military hand over power to a civil government.

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