Egypt's Islamists dominate Tahrir Square's dense Friday protest

Sherif Tarek , Friday 18 Nov 2011

A large showing of Egypt's political forces took to Egypt's revolutionary square for the 'Friday of One Demand,'seeking a swift transfer of power and refusing the government's supra-constitutional principles

Tantwai picture in Tahrir
Demonstrators hold Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's picture written on it "stop this is the revolution" in Tahrir Square on Friday of One Demand

Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on Tahrir Square Friday to call for one principal demand: an end to military rule and a swift transfer of power to an elected president by April 2012.

Although labelled the 'Friday of One Demand', repudiation of the supra-constitutional principles, dubbed “El-Selmi’s Document,” equally resounded across the square.

The supra-constitutional principles, proposed by Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Ali El-Selmi, have been the source of much ire by the vast majority of political parties and groups, especially Islamists, who believe they will win a majority in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, and thus would have an upper hand in drafting the constitution.

The so-called Selmi document, critics say, will grant the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) unfettered powers and place undue conditions on the formation of a constituent assembly charged with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.

For months now, the ruling SCAF has increasingly found itself in sticky situations for a multitude of reasons including: the chronic security vacuum, the continuing military trials of civilians, a deteriorating national economy and for “ignoring” the demands of the January 25 Revolution.

Upon assuming power following the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, the SCAF vowed to end its interim rule after a six-month transitional period.

This has not been the case, as the ruling military council has maintained its hold on power for over 10 months. Egyptians from across the political and ideological spectrum have in turn run out of patience, taking to the streets to call for a fixed timeline bookended by the speedy departure of the military rulers.

Islamists dominated Tahrir’s Friday rally in what was a show of force by groups and parties from Egypt’s broad political and ideological landscape. The result was the largest gathering in Cairo’s revolutionary square since the last time Islamists coalesced in Tahrir for what was mockingly dubbed “Kandahar Friday” on 29 July.

Of the participating Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), were the most visible, outnumbering their counterparts. The group has notably boycotted most of the million-man marches that took place following the popular 18-day uprising.

Apart from flags, shirts and green caps emblazoned with the groups logo, two criss-crossed swords, the Islamist group came readied with their banners bearing emblems of the FJP and the Brotherhood’s student groups. Several banners indicated the various members’ governorate of origin in a show of their mobilisation power.

Salafists were also heavily represented in Tahrir, particularly by Al-Nour (Light) and Al-Asala (Authenticity) parties, believed to be the two largest Salafist parties in Egypt.

The Islamist and Salafist currents have been strongly opposed to Selmi’s proposed principles from the get go.

“This document has absolutely no legitimacy, it wasn’t voted on and those who drafted it were not chosen by the people,” a Salafist sheikh said from one of the podiums. “The military council came up with it as a buffer for the other [non-Islamic] political currents, but they have also rejected it.”

Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya also participated in the demonstration, stating that the proposed principles “do not reflect the will of the people”. Al-Jamaa spokesperson Assem Abdel Maged said stressed that “the will of the people is the most important thing, and the ‘El-Selmi document’ goes against this will.”

Al-Jamaa also called for the release of blind cleric Omar Abdel Rahman who has been detained for nearly two decades. A leading figure of Al-Jamaa, Abdel Rahman was given a life sentence for his "involvement" in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.

His family along with members of Al-Jamaa have for months been calling on the SCAF to lobby for his release.
Other unaffiliated Islamists lifted images of the late Al-Qaeda mastermind, Osama bin Laden, praising him as a martyr.

April 6 Youth Movement was the largest non-Islamic political force in Tahrir though a wide range of other political forces took part in the event, such as the Revolutionary Socialists, the Bedaya (Beginning) Movement, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Revolution Youth Coalition and the No to Military Trials campaign.

Syrian protesters made their way into the mix, protesting against much reviled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. They branded him a killer and called for his immediate removal from power.

Hundreds of Egyptian and Syrian protesters carried a huge flag of the former Syrian Republic - before the 1963 Baathist coup - while others waved normal-sized Egyptian and Syrian flags, as they all demanded Assad’s departure.

There were, however, a handful of political parties who boycotted Friday’s protest. The liberal Wafd Party, for one, announced its rejection of today’s demonstration. In statements to the media, the Wafd’s Secretary-General Fouad Badrawy stressed that the country was desperately in need of stability during the current, critical interim phase.

The liberal Free Egyptians Party also boycotted Friday's protest, along with the Nasserist Karama Party. The latter gave further reasoning to its boycott, stating that the protest had been "hijacked by other powers," in reference to Egypt's powerful Islamist forces.

The leftist Tagammu Party and the Egyptian Communist Party had also announced plans steer clear of Friday's protest.

As Friday’s big protest winds down, the day has been marked by peaceful protest with no clashes or confrontations as some anxiously speculated.

It remains unclear whether demonstrators will stage a sit-in, as they continue to debate this option among themselves. Many Islamists, however, opted to leave by dusk.

Popular preacher Safwat Hegazi took to the podium, urging the Brotherhood, Salafists and Al-Jamaa to unite. Furthermore, in a dig at the SCAF, he assured his listeners that parliamentary elections will be held under no matter what happens.

“Securing the elections should be our responsibility,” he said. “We need to make sure the ballots will be safe and also blow the whistle on the candidates from the [now-dismantled] National Democratic Party,” said Hegazi, whose speech was followed by the departure of many Islamist leaders.

Islamist presidential hopeful Selim El-Awa also gave a speech but promised to remain in Tahrir until all demands are met. Awa used his speech to condemn the ‘Selmi document’ and demand that the military council hold to the three-stage election schedule.

Other Islamist forces threatened to “peacefully escalate the revolution” should the SCAF show no response.

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