Egypt's revolutionaries seek to “correct the path” on Friday

Sherif Tarek , Thursday 8 Sep 2011

SCAF is clearly unable to appease political forces, many of whom are aiming to put an end to military rule and turn a new page

Tahrir square
Tahrir square (Photo by: Mai Shaheen)

Under the slogan of “Correcting the Path,” many political forces will take part in the planned mass demonstrations that will be held in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the epicentre of the January 25 Revolution – and other governorates as well. Seeing as the weeks leading up to 9 September have seen quite a few disappointments for the revolutionaries, the protesters have a lot of issues to complain about and demands to call for.

A definitive timetable made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for handing over power to a civilian administration is deemed the primary demand for most of the demonstrators. This particular demand was prioritised by many after SCAF let down people from across the political landscape on several occasions.

Trying 12,000 civilians before military courts over the past months was one of the main reasons why many protesters want to see SCAF step down in the immediate future. Apart from increasing complaints about unfair verdicts and draconian legal procedures against defendants, a multitude of claims were made about the extreme torture practised by military police and army personnel at military prisons. These claims add insult to injury and intensify attacks against the military rulers.

The laws permitting former regime figures and NDP members to control future parliaments were another motive for politicians to take to the streets, with almost all of them wanting deposed figures of Mubarak’s regime completely ruled out of political life. Newly amended electoral legislation might be introduced by SCAF soon but nothing in this regard is been concrete thus far.

Furthermore, SCAF and Essam Sharaf’s cabinet incurred more public wrath for their reaction to the killing of Egyptian soldiers on the Israeli border. While a firm and decisive response was expected, neither the Egyptian ambassador to Israel was withdrawn, nor the Israeli one in Cairo. Instead, a huge wall was built in front of the Israeli embassy’s headquarters to prevent the protests that were frequently staged last month. A new Israeli flag was also hung high above the building after an Egyptian young man removed the old one

What has also enraged many people is the mistreatment the revolutionary martyrs’ relatives received from the police outside the Police Academy during Mubarak’s trial. Moreover, the families of those who were killed by the police’s live ammunition during the revolution have been treated badly by the former commander-in-chief’s acolytes, who are believed to be hired by some toppled regime oligarchs.

Other old and unmet demands and complaints will also feature in the protest. Many will complain about the chronic security vacuum caused by the “deliberate” easing up of the police, whose relationship with citizens has been badly damaged since the uprising. Calls for cancellation of the law that penalises strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins are on the list along with the setting of the minimum wage. The supra constitutional principles, which have stirred up a lot of controversy, are likely to be highlighted too in order to stress that Egypt must be a modern state.

Last but not least, 12 political sides – including the Six of April Youth Movement (Democratic Front) and the Revolution Youth Coalition – will be calling for the fulfilment of the farmers’ demands. The most pressing of which is sacking the old regime figures who are still holding positions in the Ministry of Agriculture. The protesting peasants and their supporters should start marching from the ministry’s premises to Tahrir Square.

No Islamists, Ultras merger and many political forces

The major Islamic entities – the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamyaa and the Salafists – have decided not to participate in Friday’s demonstrations. Their decision was not regarded as a surprise, given that they have been absent from many national protests of late.

Al-Jamaa said there were no common demands shared by all participants, which is the same reason that the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party gave for its boycott of the protests. Al-Jamaa also said they fear that the demonstrations could turn into a rowdy spectacle, amid calls spurring violence.

Likewise, a number of Salafist leaders state that the eventful past few months have not changed the Islamic refusal to take part in million-man marches, saying Friday’s protest has no identity and will only burden the already-struggling national economy. However, a host of Salafist youth are reportedly eager to participate in the demonstrations.

While the majority of Islamists will be absent, other key revolutionary players will be heavily present; the vociferous football Ultras groups.

Even though they are considered to be fierce foes of one another in football stadiums, Egyptian Ultras groups have made an unprecedented decision to join forces in Friday’s planned protests, seeking to avenge the assaults some cohorts in their ranks suffered at the hands of the police after a football game on Tuesday.

The Central Security Forces (CSF), renowned for their brutal crackdown on protesters during the January 25 Revolution, chased Ultras Ahlawy members immediately after the final whistle of Ahly’s 4-0 drubbing of second division side Kima Aswan in the Egypt Cup, using batons to beat them and clear the stadium. Several members of the fanatic fan group were arrested and transferred to the military prosecution. They are yet to hear their fate.

According to widespread media reports, the clash erupted after fans hurled insults at the Ministry of Interior, former interior minister Habib El-Adly and ousted president Mubarak, an allegation that evidently stirred anger at the police, whom many are convinced are still loyal to the overthrown administration.

Many showed support for Ultras Ahlawy, including the Six of April Youth Movement who said the incident had evoked memories of pre-revolution police brutality.

The three major Ultras groups — Ultras Ahlawy, the White Knights and the Yellow Dragons — took part in the January 25 revolution and were at the forefronts during the bloody clashes between protesters and police forces.

Among the other forces taking part in the protest are Al-Wafd Party, El-Tagamoo, the Nasserist Party, Misr El-Horeeya, the Free Front for Peaceful Change, the Democratic Labour Party, El-Karama Party, the popular movement for Azhar independence, the Campaign for Supporting Hamdeen Sabahi and the Popular Commission for Change – headed by another presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei.

Violence seems probable

Calls to attack the Ministry of Interior and military buildings as well as the notorious CSF-Ultras Ahlawy clashes set the alarm bells ringing ahead of Friday’s demos. Commenting on possible violence, SCAF issued a strong-worded statement.

The 74th communiqué reads: “The calls that incite people to attack military facilities and the Ministry of Interior, which have been linked to a number of [political] forces, brings into question the patriotism of these forces, and it makes them bear a historic responsibility in front of the Egyptian people. Any excesses against the armed forces, its facilities or other governmental facilities that would be a national security threat will be firmly dealt with and the culprits punished.”

The renowned We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page denounced what it has described as an “attempt to take advantage of the invitation to 9 September to exhort violence,” underlining the importance of keeping the protests peaceful and civilised.

SCAF also said the political forces that have called for Friday’s mass protests will be responsible for organising the anticipated demonstrations and maintaining order.

Having stated that security will be the responsibility of protesters, the police and military forces that have been deployed in Tahrir Square for weeks are expected to evacuate before the protest, which mitigates the possibility that the infuriated Ultras groups will lock horns with police forces.

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