On 'Self-Determination Friday' Egyptian political forces unite...somewhat

Nada El-Kouny , Saturday 21 Apr 2012

In a show of force, liberal and Islamist forces converge in Tahrir Square to voice demands; Islamists echo anger at electoral commission and ex-regime members, while liberals focus on the constitution

Hundreds of thousands packed in Tahrir square on Friday. (photo Mai Shaheen)

Towards the second half of the day that saw hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding Tahrir Square for "Self-Determination Friday,” protesters stuck to their guns and stuck to their demands.

In contrast to last week’s million man-march called for by Islamist forces, this Friday’s protest witnessed a diversity of political forces, ranging from Islamists to liberals.

Various demands were made from the approximately nine stages set up in the square from every spectra, including the liberal April 6 movement, the National Association for Change, Salafist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail supporters and a joint Mostameroon movement.

Most banners on the different podiums addressed getting rid of former regime figures, primarily, presidential candidates military man, Ahmed Shafiq and ex-Arab League chief, Amr Moussa.

One of the demands was the retreat of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) from the political scene and the importance of drafting a representative constitution.

Abu Ismail posters and banners flooded the square as if he was yet a presidential contender, despite having been eliminated from the race by the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) a week ago.

Another popular banner that was for the first time seen in Tahrir read: “Rigging will take place; Mubarak’s council continues to rule,” next to pictures of different SPEC judges.  

Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy addressed the protesters, demanding that the remnants of the former regime truly be purged from Egypt’s politics within the upcoming period.

He further lambasted the Muslim Brotherhood for its “un-revolutionary” stances in the recent period and called on the group to withdraw its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

In response a number of Brotherhood supporters in the square expressed their disagreement by claiming that the majority of the protesters are actually from Islamist forces.

Leftist presidential candidate Khaled Ali also addressed the crowd, stressing the need to continue protesting in Tahrir in order to pressure the ruling powers to heed the demands of the people, most importantly, social justice.

Pro-reform Kefaya movement activist Karima Hefnawi stressed on the current constitutional crisis and the need for all forces within society to work towards ensuring that a truly representative constituent assembly is created, in order to allow for a truly legitimate constitution to be formed.

Despite several calls for an open-ended sit-in at the square, only Abu Ismail’s Salafist supporters seemed to be sticking through with their call towards the end of the day.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who had flooded the square on buses from around different governorates late Thursday and early Friday, started exiting the square after 4:00pm.

After a lack of consensus among the April 6 movement itself they backed out of their initial call for a march and sit-in at the state television building in Maspero, stated Masry, a 26-year-old April 6 member from the Ahmed Maher front.

Despite the calls for national unity, Masry believes that great divisions have occurred, mainly between the Brotherhood and the liberal forces. He blames the chasm on the alleged deals being made between the Brotherhood and the SCAF until very recently.

“We cannot trust the Brotherhood anymore and the only reason they joined our call for a protest today is because they realised they didn’t get what they wanted after cooperating with the SCAF, so they turned to the revolutionaries again,” Masry stated.

A 46-year-old Brotherhood supporter, Mostafa Abdel-Hamid, stated that he would have attended the protests regardless if the Brotherhood had officially joined.

“I am here for three main reasons: the illegitimacy of the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission, which is all made up of remnants of the old regime; for the removal of Article 28 from the constitution declaration, which grants the SPEC immunity from appeal, and lastly; for unity between the different political forces,” stated Abdel-Hamid.

Ahmed Ezz, a 30-year-old sheikh from Al-Azhar (the Sunni authority), clarified that a main demand that most of the forces have united for is the need to truly rid the current transitional period of all remnants of the former regime.

“As Azharites, we are mainly calling for the true independence of our leading Islamic institution and for the removal of all felool [ex-regime supporters], especially the head: the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa,” asserted Ezz.

The Azhar sheikh asserted that it is very clear that the policies of the old regime were still in place, since despite large-scale public opinion against the normalisation of relations with Israel, the Grand Mufti decided to visit the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday.

Iman, a 17-year-old student questioned: “How are we to call this a ‘revolution’ when the same people that were supposedly removed through a revolution can very possibly return and rule us again,” referring to ex prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and ex-intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.

“We want to send a message to the SCAF that we cannot - and will not - be deceived by the parliament that is in place and in believing that this is a democracy. We are far from that,” Iman stated.

A staunch supporter of Abu Ismail, Mohamed Suleiman, 30, expressed his outrage towards the SPEC and what he considers clear fraud taking place regarding the ongoing process of the presidential elections.

Suleiman added, “I, however, believe that we have very clearly been able to show what we can achieve.” He says they have proven that when they really want to political forces can unite.

Mostafa, a couscous seller standing by his cart as singer Rami Essam entertained the protesters looked in dismay at the crowds.

“I am not very happy about today because fragmentation is strong amongst the different forces in the square; while many have come claiming to be joining forces, the truth is that everyone is here for their own agenda.”

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