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Tahrir sees large turnout for Self-Determination Friday protest

Hundreds of thousands of liberal and Islamist protesters poured into the Egypt's iconic square on Friday, demanding the end of the military regime and a ban on Mubarak-era presidential candidates

Zeinab El Gundy, Friday 20 Apr 2012
Protesters march on Tahrir
Protesters march on Tahrir, bearing a banner that calls for the end of military rule, Friday 20 April 2012 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
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Thousands of protesters flocked to Tahrir Square to participate in "Self Determination Friday" million-man protest, that was pitted to be the biggest demonstration representing the widest spectrum of political powers in Egypt since the January 25 Revolution anniversary celebrations.

Like last Friday's Tahrir Square protest, the Muslim Brotherhood bussed in its members and their families from all over the country, in a clear demonstration of power. 

The Salafist presence in the square also increased since last Friday's Islamist demonstration, as two stages were erected in solidarity with banned presidential hopeful Hazem Saleh Abu-Ismail. 

Supporters of the ultra-conservative contender chanted against the ruling military council and the Supreme Presidential Elections Committee who were responsible for preventing Abu-Ismail from running. 

Despite calls for unity in the square, there were nine stages representing Egypt's main political forces, ranging from the Islamists to revolutionary groups like April 6 Youth Movement and the National Association of Change. The Taxation Authority Youth even set up a platform.

Among the different stages with different, and sometimes conflicting, slogans two resounding demands unified the crowds: the end of the military regime and a ban on "remnants" of the Mubarak regime running for presidency.

There were banners against the presidential candidacy of former foreign minister Amr Moussa and Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, as well signs against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

The Muslim Brotherhood stage attacked the junta for being part of the ousted regime whilst simultaneously promoting its presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi.

Despite the Brotherhood reigning in the religious element of its chants and keeping the slogans along "revolutionary" and anti-SCAF lines, the Salafist stages repeated pro-Islamist chants whilst playing the Quran loudly.

The ultra-conservative group also chanted "The people demand Islamic Sharia" and "The people want Hazem Abu-Ismail as a president".

Abu-Ismail posters, T-shirts and pins were on sale all over Tahrir Square.

Banners calling for Islamist rule were also noticeable in the square, as well the black and green flags emblazoned with the Islamic creed "There is no god but God, and Mohamed is the messenger of God".

The street vendors made the most of the money-making opportunity selling food, cold beverages as well flags, T-shirts and caps to the crowds.

The revolutionary Mostameroon (We continue) stage hosted a group of prominent speakers like the Imam of Tahrir-based Omar Makram mosque and CBC television host Mazhar Shaheen who headed the Friday prayers.

Kefaya protest movement member Dr Karima Hefy, ex-footballer Nader El-Siyad, former independent MP Gamal Zahran and former Brotherhood leading member Kamal El-Helbawy also gave short speeches. 

MP Mahmoud El-Khodeiry, the head of the People's Assembly's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told the crowds that he believed the true legislative power was in Tahrir Square not the parliament.

Following criticisms of the large number of stages, the April 6 Youth Movement decided to relocate from their platform to the Mostameroon stage to demonstrate the unification of the different political forces.

Aside from the main theme of rejecting military rule, groups broadcast their own specific demands. The "bearded officers" group campaigned for the right to grow facial hair whilst serving in the police, while the Taxation Authority Youth informed protesters of the corruption within the government body from their stage.

At midday the number of the protesters had increased as the marches from the Mohandiseen-based Mustafa Mahmoud mosque, the Nour Mosque in Abbassiya, Sayeda Zeinab district, Al-Ahzar University and Giza, among others, poured into the square.

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