Rival protests planned for Friday in Cairo

Zeinab El Gundy , Thursday 11 Oct 2012

Secular forces to gather in Tahrir Square to demand representative Constituent Assembly, while Islamists to focus on acquittal of former regime figures in 'Camel Battle' trial

Egyptian anti-government demonstrators gather in Tahrir Square, the center of anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011. (Photo: AP)

Egyptian political parties and movements announced a couple of weeks ago that they would organise what they hoped would be the first truly million-man protest after the presidential election, uniting non-Islamist groups in Tahrir Square. Still, with the latest court verdict in the “Battle of the Camel” trial and calls by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other Islamist parties for a protest at the same location, there will be two protests with two sets of different demands. 

The call to protest on 12 October 2012  was initially launched by liberal, leftist and nationalist parties after the end of President Morsi's first 100 days in office for what they dubbed “Accountability Friday”. The protest will include several marches from different starting points in Cairo and Giza that will meet by the afternoon in Tahrir Square. Its principal demand, according to a joint statement published on Tuesday, is a Constituent Assembly representing all Egyptians. It also stresses setting minimum and maximum wages and a reduction in the price of basic commodities.

The groups which initially announced they would be participating in the protest are: National Association for Change, Popular Egyptian Current, Constitution Party, Egyptian Social Democratic Party, April 6 Youth Movement, Democratic Movement, Democratic Revolutionary Alliance, Egyptian Socialist Party, Egyptian Communist Party, Socialist Popular Alliance Party, Tagammu Party, Workers and Peasants Party, Socialist Youth Union, Popular Democratic Movement, Mina Daniel Movement, Popular Revolutionary Movement, Justice and Freedom Movement and Peaceful Front for Change.

The Egyptian Democratic Workers Conference, an umbrella of number of independent trade unions established after the ouster of Mubarak in February 2011, also issued a statement of other demands related more specifically to workers rights, calling for a march to Tahrir Square at noon.

Independent activists also announced their support and participation. Prominant activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah told Ahram Online that he would participate in the protest "because I want to protest the continuing brutality of police forces against civilians in police stations, which goes on just as before the revolution." In the past few weeks there were reports accusing police of torturing civilians, sometimes to death, in police stations across the country. 

These original protests were not welcomed or supported by the MB, members of which mocked and attacked their instigators, describing their intentions as an attempt to subvert the progress President Mohamed Morsi had been making against the will of the people who had elected him. But after the court ruling acquitting all 24 defendants in the “Battle of the Camel” trial, the MB called on its members across the country to rally against the verdict starting on Thursday – in order to furnish President Morsi with public support for as yet unknown decisions regarding the judiciary in Egypt. The acting president of the Freedom and Justice Party and leading member of the MB, Essam El-Erian, also called on members of the party to join the protests. "I call on all the young members of the Freedom and Justice Party to participate in the marches planned on Thursday with the people and the million man protest to achieve justice and retribution," he said on Twitter.

The swift decision of the MB to hit the streets at the same time and in the same place as non-Islamist forces have been thought of as an attempt to sabotage an essentially ant-Morsi and anti-Freedom and Justice Party demonstration. Worth mentioning in this regard is that the Constitution Party officially instructed its members on Thursday not to use anti-Morsi or anti-MB slogans and chants, on the premise that the protest is not about groups or persons but rather demands. Few have been hiding their criticism, however. Ahmed Khairy, for example, spokesperson for the liberal Free Egyptians Party, wondered on Twitter why the MB was calling for protests when they are no longer in the opposition. “The call of the MB to protest tomorrow is laughable; the MB should realise that they are now ruling the country, we are the ones who should make demands and they are the ones who should implement them if they want to.”

Nor is the MB only Islamist power heading to Tahrir on Friday. Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya announced, in a statement issued on Thursday, that its members would join the protests in Tahrir Square and other public squares in Egypt. The group  demanded re-trials for the murderers of the revolutionaries based on the evidence found by the fact-finding committee formed by the president. The group also demanded that the officials responsible for hiding evidence in the case resign from their posts. The moderate Islamist Wasat Party also called on its members and supporters to protest on Friday in order to put an end to what the party said is the "complicity with the revolutionaries' murderers." The party demanded that President Morsi issue a new judicial authority law in the hope that it would pave the road towards an independent judicial system.                                          

For its part the April 6 Youth Movement (Ahmed Maher Front) announced that it would be participating in the Thursday and Friday protests, contrary to its initial decision not to participate. In media statements earlier this week, Mahmoud Afify, spokesperson for the group, said the movement would not participate in the protests of 12 October but fully respects the decision of those groups protesting. 

"We held an in-house poll to find out if the members are ready to participate in the protest and the results came against the participation," he said, adding that the current time is not ideal for holding protests against the government and the regime. This position had enraged activists who already suspected April 6 was in the employ of the MB and the president. In its defence Mohamed Adel, former spokesperson for April 6, said on Twitter, "We want to make it clear that the MB began to mobilise their members only after of April 6 called on its members to join the Friday protests and demand the purging of both the judiciary and the Ministry of Interior." 

Expecting a high turnout of protesters and preparing for a big day and the possible return of huge protests to Tahrir Square, the Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that it would put 40 ambulances on standby.

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