Pro-govt protesters make their presence felt during Tahrir million man march

Hatem Maher, Saturday 26 Nov 2011

In a rare sign of Tahrir Square opposition, Egypt's so-called 'silent majority' make their presence felt in a nearby Cairo district to support the ruling military

A police officer waves an Egyptian flag along with supporters of the Egyptian Armed Forces on a road near the defence ministry, headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, at Abbasiya square in Cairo November 25, 2011.(Photo: Reuters)

Tahrir protesters have seen much support since toppling Hosni Mubarak in February, but they witnessed a rare opposition on Friday when thousands chanted pro-army slogans in Cairo’s Abbassiya district.

The epicentre of January’s revolution, Tahrir Square still attracted what is estimated at 800,000 on what was dubbed the Friday of Last Opportunity as they sought to pressure the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) into handing over power immediately.

Revolutionary forces, however, disagreed on the mechanism of SCAF’s departure. Some suggested appointing a national salvation government with complete authority, while others pressed for a presidential council to guide the country out of the current turmoil.

SCAF's decision to appoint veteran Kamal El-Ganzouri as the new prime minister did little to quell the anger of the demonstrators. In a televised  speech, El-Ganzouri vowed to stay put until SCAF, which said a new president would be elected by July 2012, fulfills the protesters' demands. Seconds before El-Ganzouri's speech finished, the Tahrir crowd burst into disapproving chants.

Conversely, some Egyptians have grown increasingly frustrated with the ongoing revolution that ended Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule. The revolutionaries have yet to win over some people, who mostly just want order.

Constant security problems and the deteriorating economy have set the alarm bells ringing for many of those who think the revolutionary and unyielding spirit should step aside - at least for the time being.

“We were in a relative period of calmness. There is no need for all that,” Mona Taher, a 22-year-old engineer who stands by Abbassiya’s army supporters, told Ahram Online.

“Firstly, the Tahrir people do not have any patience. Secondly, it is impossible that we can all agree on one thing.

“I neither like nor understand politics, but all what I know is that we were safe and everything was fine. What’s happening boils down to craziness and ignorance,” she added.

Police violence

The fresh row that gave new breath to the revolution started when police violently dispersed a sit-in at Tahrir last Saturday. The demonstrators leftover from a larger Friday protest were protesting the fact that the government had not compensated them for the injuries and deaths suffered as a result from police attacks earlier in the revolution.

Ironically, police forcibly tried to remove this small group from the square using tear gas. This sparked an outcry from activists, who called for protesters to flock to the square in a showdown over the right to protest that erupted into clashes with the notorious Central Security Forces (CSF).

One day later, police and military police stepped in again to clear the square, leading to more confrontations and fuelling the fury of demonstrators who complained of the heavy-handed tactics used against them.

The ensuing clashes in the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which lasted three more days, left around 40 dead and scores injured until the army intervened, erecting a concrete wall supposedly to keep protesters from attacking the Ministry of Interior building.

But the damage had already been done.

The protesters had previously demanded a swift transition of power, however, enraged by the death and injury toll at the hands of the police they upped their demands: SCAF must be disbanded and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s de-facto ruler, must leave office or they won't leave Tahrir.

SCAF’s decision to step down by July next year was too little, too late for Tahrir occupants.

“We can’t destroy the country because of the death of 40 people,” another SCAF supporter, who was present in Abbassiya on Friday but refused to be named, told Ahram Online.

“The thugs will be able to invade our homes, because the police and army will be absent [if SCAF is disbanded]. The army could have followed in the footsteps of its counterparts in Syria and Yemen, but these people truly love the country.

“Moreover, the protesters who died were in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, why did they go there in the first place? They should have been in the [Tahri] square.

“Look at the number of houses and shops which were looted in Mohamed Mahmoud. Those people are not the revolutionaries,” she added.

Counter-Tahrir protests also erupted in several governorates, including Alexandria and Ismailia.

Demonstrators called on Tantawi to ignore the Tahrir demands, claiming that the square does not represent the bulk of Egyptians. However, they were still outnumbered by anti-SCAF protesters in a number of governorates.

It remains to be seen whether the pro-SCAF demonstrators can build momentum amidst fears of a possible future confrontations with their opponents.

“Tahrir is not Egypt. Tahrir now wants El-Ganzouri to leave, contradicting the will of many Egyptians,” the army supporter added.

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