Friday rally, fate of elections further divide Egypt's political forces

Lina El-Wardani , Lina El-Wardani , Friday 25 Nov 2011

On the eve of Friday's planned million-man protest, political forces are increasingly divided on whether or not to proceed with Monday's scheduled parliamentary polls

Tahrir square
An Egyptian couple looks at an anti-government banner in Cairo (Photo: AP)

Over 30 political parties and groups have called for a million-man march on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in public spaces across the country to articulate a single demand: that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forced (SCAF) – along with its head, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – immediately hand over executive power to a civilian authority.

Other, secondary demands include the formation of a civilian presidential council or a “national salvation” government with full executive powers; the release of arrested activists and an end to military trials for civilians; a speedy investigation of recent clashes in Maspero and Tahrir; the prosecution of anyone involved in killing protesters; and a radical restructuring of the interior ministry.

Among those calling for Friday’s protest are the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC), and the National Front for Justice and Democracy, as well as several full-fledged political parties such as the Socialist Popular Coalition, the Democratic Labour Party, the Egyptian Current Party, and the Free Egyptians Party, among others. Presidential hopeful and veteran Islamic activist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh has also called on Egyptians to join Friday’s protest.   

While there is general consensus among all political forces taking part in the protest on the need for the military to return to its barracks, precise mechanisms for the transfer of authority remain unclear. Some have suggested a transitional presidential council, while others have called for a government of national salvation.

A number of names have been floated to head up the proposed transitional government. These include would-be presidential contender and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei; long-time Muslim Brotherhood activist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh; Nasserist activist and presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi; and Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail.

Proposals have also been made for the inclusion of a judge in the coming government, such as Zakaria Abdul Aziz, Mahmoud El-Khodeiry or Ahmed Mekki, all of whom are highly respected for their longstanding advocacy of an independent judiciary.

The RYC’s Khaled Abdel Hamid confirmed his coalition’s participation in Friday’s protest. “The SCAF must hand over power, and those responsible for killing protesters must be held accountable,” said Abdel Hamid, who was on his way to meet with fellow revolutionary forces to discuss proposed mechanisms for the transfer of authority.

“Tonight we’ll meet with political groups and presidential candidates to discuss the proposed national salvation government, which will take over power from the ruling military and implement outstanding revolutionary demands,” he explained. “This government will also conduct elections, but not as scheduled on 28 November – polls will be postponed until the killers of protesters can be put on trial and the interior ministry restructured.”

Notably, the Muslim Brotherhood movement and the liberal Wafd Party will both be conspicuously absent from Friday’s planned protest.

The Brotherhood came under fire from protesters, including many of its own younger cadres, for its decision not to formally participate in the last million-man demonstration on Tuesday. The group’s detractors claim the Brotherhood only cares about upcoming elections, which most political observers expect it to sweep.

The SCAF, for its part, continues to stress that elections will be held on Monday as scheduled, despite five days of clashes in downtown Cairo – in which at least 35 have been killed and over 1,000 injured – and Friday’s planned mass demonstration.  

Nor is there consensus on participation in the upcoming polls – if they are, in fact, conducted on schedule.

Some political forces, including the Brotherhood, warn that not holding elections on time could lead to chaos and end up prolonging military rule. Leftist powers, however, such as the revolutionary socialists, declare that even discussing elections now is a betrayal of those recently killed.

The liberal Free Egyptians Party, for its part, announced that it would participate in the polls but would suspend its campaigning activities out of respect for the fallen. It has also announced that it would participate in Friday’s protest.

Many analysts are beginning to doubt that elections will in fact be held given the current chaotic security environment and increasing animosity between the people and military – the latter of which is supposed to secure the electoral process.  

Tuesday’s Tahrir Square demonstration was Egypt’s largest mass rally since the 18-day uprising earlier this year that toppled Mubarak, and Friday’s planned protest could be even bigger. Indeed, many are calling it the “second wave” of Egypt’s as-yet-unfinished January revolution.

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