Thousands of anti-government protesters joined today’s mass demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, dubbed the “Friday of Regaining Honour,” following Friday noon prayers. By 6pm, the flashpoint square was occupied by some 25,000 protesters, a large number of whom were women.
Demonstrators staged symbolic funerals for slain activists, carrying empty coffins draped with Egyptian flags and chanting slogans against Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and SCAF head Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Protesters also reiterated calls for the speedy transfer of power to an elected civilian authority.
"The people want the field-marshal’s ouster," protesters chanted, while others shouted, “Women are a red line!” in reference to recent attacks on female activists – many of them caught on video and posted online – by Egyptian security forces.
“The main reason for today’s demonstration is the way the ruling military is handling protests,” Ahmed Darag, a member of the National Association for Change reform movement, told Ahram Online from Tahrir Square. “The Egyptian people pay the military’s salaries; they pay for the weapons used to kill protesters and beat female activists.”
“Those responsible for killing Egyptians shouldn’t be responsible for governing them,” added Darag, who called on protesters in the square to refrain from initiating fights with security forces.
Protester numbers grew substantially after several scheduled marches converged on the square in the afternoon, including one from Cairo’s famous Al-Azhar Mosque (roughly 5,000 protesters) and another two marches from Cairo University and Ain Shams (a combined 5,000 protesters).
Two additional marches also arrived at the square in the afternoon, including one from the nearby Talaat Harb Square dedicated to street children and their plight (some 5,000 protesters), and another from the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate dedicated to doctors killed in recent violence.
Friday’s Tahrir Square protest is the first of its kind to be held following one week of violent clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in which at least 17 of the latter were killed and hundreds injured.
Several Egyptian governorates also saw popular protests on Friday held in solidarity with the demonstration in Tahrir Square.
In Egypt’s second city Alexandria, thousands of protesters joined in a march through the city following Friday prayers. In the afternoon, demonstrators converged outside the main military administrative complex in Alexandria’s central Sidi Gaber district.
“Soldiers responsible for attacking female protesters in Tahrir must be penalised,” Mahmoud Gaber, activist and spokesman for the April 6 youth movement in Alexandria, told reporters. “If they aren’t held accountable, this means they received their attack orders from the highest levels.”
In the canal city of Suez, meanwhile, hundreds of protesters – including numerous women – converged on the city’s central Arbain Square to protest military rule and to condemn the recent attacks on female activists. The demonstration in Suez was organised by the Suez Youth Bloc.
In the Upper Egyptian Assuit Governorate, hundreds of protesters similarly turned out after Friday prayers to condemn attacks on female demonstrators and demand the swift transfer of power to an elected civilian authority. Among the political powers to take part in the Assuit protest are the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Front Party.
A small group of protesters also turned out in the Nile Delta city of Tanta following Friday prayers to demand an end to military rule, while similar demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Luxor.
Notably, Friday also witnessed a counter-demonstration in Cairo’s Abassiya Square, in which hundreds of SCAF supporters shouted slogans against their counterparts in Tahrir Square, whom they accused of attempting to destabilise the country.
Pro-SCAF demonstrators directed chants against would-be presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei, newly-elected MP Amr Hamzawy and Tahrir Square protesters in general, including female activists.
"ElBaradei is the enemy of God," some shouted. "ElBaradei and Hamzawy are foreign agents."
A number of journalists were reportedly attacked by protesters in Abbasiya Square, including reporters from Tahrir TV, ONTV, Al Jazeera’s live Egypt channel and the BBC.
In Alexandria, meanwhile, a small group of demonstrators staged a pro-SCAF rally in front of Ras El-Teen Palace in the west of the city.