Avoiding Abbasiya, Brotherhood quietly occupies Tahrir on a tense day

Ekram Ibrahim, Friday 4 May 2012

With most eyes on marches to defence ministry which turned bloody, Egypt's main political power - the Muslim Brotherhood - turns out in force for a non-eventful Tahrir Square rally to demand the military relinquish authority

Tahrir 4-5-2011
Protesters perform Friday noon prayers in Tahrir, 4 May, 2012 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

As violence continued to rage in Cairo's Abbasiya district in the past few days, the Muslim Brotherhood called for Friday protests in Tahrir Square to demand that the country's military rulers hand over power to a civilian authority.

The Brotherhood chose the historic birthplace of the January 25 revolution to send its message to the ruling generals, thus avoiding any possible confrontations with the SCAF at planned marches to the ministry of defense on the same Friday just a few miles away from Tahrir.

The majority of demonstrators arrayed in Tahrir on Friday appeared to be Brotherhood members, mostly men, many of whom had been bussed into Cairo from outlying governorates.

Only three stages were set up in the square: one by the supporters of disqualified Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail; one by the self-proclaimed "Non-affiliated Revolutionaries"; and one by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which controls almost half of the seats in parliament.

During Friday noon prayers, an imam called on Egyptians to unite to ensure the application of Islamic Law in Egypt and to prevent remnants of the former regime from returning to power.

"We won't leave Tahrir; the square is a priority," FJP member El-Saeed Sweedan from the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahliya told Ahram Online. "Other Brotherhood members, meanwhile, are staging demonstrations in other governorates."

A limited number of Brotherhood members also reportedly joined ongoing demonstrations against military rule outside the defence ministry in Cairo's Abbasiya district. Group members, however, stress that Brotherhood cadres had only gone to Abbasiya to help mediate an end of the violence.

Following noon prayers in Tahrir, Abu-Ismail supporters called for a march from the square to Abbasiya to join beleaguered protesters there. Around the same time, marches set out for Abbasiya from different starting-points throughout the capital.  

"We're marching to Abbasiya to stop our revolutionary comrades from being killed there," said Abu-Ismail supporter Ahmed El-Said.

According to official sources, 11 people have been killed and 138 injured in the latest round of violence outside the defence ministry. 

Those who spoke from the stages in Tahrir Square accused Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of failing to administer Egypt's post-revolution transitional phase. They also blamed the military council for  the death, in some cases, of peaceful protesters.

"It seems the SCAF itself is what people are calling the 'third hand'," 21-year-old Brotherhood member Gehad Khaled, who attended today's Tahrir Square rally, said. "They're behind all the violence against protesters since the fall of Mubarak."

Other protesters, too, blamed the ruling military council for the latest round of bloodletting in Abbasiya. "The SCAF is lighting fires everywhere with the aim of postponing upcoming presidential elections," said 34-year-old protester and Brotherhood member Mamdouh Abdullah.

According to a health ministry statement, four Tahrir Square protesters suffered injuries on Friday due to hot weather and overcrowding.

Brotherhood members at Friday's rally say they will continue to occupy the iconic square every Friday until the SCAF abdicates power, amends Article 28 of the constitutional declaration (issued by the ruling military council in the wake of last year's revolution and approved via popular referendum) and launches investigations into the recent Abbasiya clashes.

As the Brotherhood displayed force in Tahrir, a few miles away the military clashed with protesters in the late afternoon hours of Friday, and the reports began to come in of injuries and arrests.

The Muslim Brotherhood quickly confirmed on their official twitter account "Ikhwanweb" that none of its members were in the Abbasiya area near the Ministry of Defence.

The Brortherhood also denied any involvement in the clashes which broke out between protestors and the military police, which left 296 injured by the early hours of Friday evening, and called for all involved parties to apply self restraint.

By 7:45pm on Friday, as Brotherhood supporters were filing out of Tahrir Square on their way home, the ruling military council announced a partial curfew in Cairo in Abbasiya and the areas immediately surrounding the ministry of defense.

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