As Egypt holds its first post-Mubarak elections, demonstrators continue to occupy Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) hand over power to a civil authority. Although their ranks are split between those who support elections and those who do not, all protesters agree that the military council must go.
The number of demonstrators in the volatile square had fallen to a little more than 1,000 as of Monday evening. But whether this could be attributed to the start of elections – or simply to cold and rainy weather – remained unclear.
“Numbers are only lower today because of heavy rain yesterday,” said 21-year-old protester Abdallah El-Khaleiy. “If you could have seen the protesters – including women and children – chanting and demonstrating last night despite the pouring rain, you would realize that nothing can stop them from realising their demands.”
Ramy El-Gendy came all the way from Saudi Arabia where he works to join the ongoing sit-in.
“The SCAF is moving in one direction, while the revolutionary movement is moving in another,” said El-Gendy, who plans to spoil his ballot to protest the new status quo. “The military council must be replaced with a presidential council or a national salvation government representative of all factions of society to lead the current transitional phase.”
He added: “Ours is the only revolution that doesn’t actually rule but is led instead by the toppled regime.”
Echoing a common sentiment in the square, El-Gendy went on to assert that parliamentary polls would not lead to real change under military rule.
Others, meanwhile, expressed concern that the sit-in might be adversely impacted by the elections. “Although many here in Tahrir are boycotting the polls, some will go vote and come back later,” demonstrator Hossam Wahdan said optimistically.
Others complain that their time must be divided between monitoring the polling and taking part in the sit-in.
Many of those now in Tahrir have come from far-away governorates to protest the SCAF’s lengthy stay in power. El-Gendy, from the northern governorate of Marsa Matrouh, says he has met fellow protesters from as far afield as the Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Ismailia, Menoufiya and Red Sea governorates.
“They say that Tahrir is full of thugs, but I’m a lawyer, that guy’s a doctor, and that guy over there’s a political science graduate,” he said, pointing out fellow demonstrators. “The problem is that we’re in a minority. Others, like the Muslim Brotherhood, only care about their own narrow electoral interests.”
Discussions about the ongoing elections – and whether or not the vote should be boycotted – have occupied the square’s protesters for days. The debate continued as polling stations opened on Monday, with protesters vacating Tahrir in two distinct two groups: those planning to cast ballots and those planning to boycott, with the latter enjoying a slight majority.