Egyptian protesters, mainly Islamists, hold a giant Egyptian flag during a rally in Tahrir Square to denounce the presidential candidacies of Hosni Mubarak-era officials, including that of his former spy chief in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, April 13, 2012. (Photo: AP/Amr Nabil)
Islamist activists, especially from the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Saturday that they are stepping up contacts with counterparts from the liberal political camp to agree on a unified plan of action expressing outrage at the candidacy of Omar Suleiman, vice president and right-hand man under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, in the upcoming presidential elections.
Several meetings, they say, have been held over the past few days in several governorates to make sure that the coming Friday expresses a clear and firm message to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that it should ratify a draft bill adopted by parliament that disqualifies Suleiman and other top and ruling party officials during Mubarak's 30 years in office from running for high office.
Activists assess that if SCAF has turned a blind eye demonstrations against Suleiman yesterday in Tahrir Square, where thousands of Islamists chanted anti-Suleiman slogans, it will have to listen to the unified voices of a broad coalition of political forces.
"Next Friday is going to be a huge and might develop into a sit-in to underline our position," said Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, an independent Islamist activist who has been mediating between the FJP and supporters of Salafist presidential hopeful Hazem Abu-Ismail on the one hand and liberal political activists on the other hand.
According to Abdel-Rahman, there is a strong front of support and coordination being built between Islamists and liberals, not just among activists but also in parliament, "where MPs — whether Islamists or liberals — have come to agree that there has to be legislative action to block Suleiman."
The 77-year-old Suleiman decided to join the presidential race at the 11th hour after he had repeatedly affirmed he would not run. On 9 April, the deadline for the registration of presidential candidates, Suliman arrived to the Heliopolis headquarters of the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission escorted by the heavy presence of military police and its controversial chief, Hamdi Badine. This treatment raised by eyebrows compared to that offered to the other 20 candidates, including Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and Amr Moussa, former Arab League secretary general.
"Suleiman is clearly the candidate of SCAF and we are here to tell SCAF that with the help of the Almighty we are stronger than them and that we would beat them in this battle," said Ibrahim, a protestor who joined the masses as they prayed on sunset yesterday in Tahrir Square.
Throughout the day, Ibrahim, in a white t-shirt displaying a drawing of Abu-Ismail, chanted and shouted "Down, down with Suleiman."
"This man was for 20 years the head of intelligence of Mubarak. He is responsible, among others, for the horrifying torture to which good Islamists were subjected in Mubarak's jails and today he dares to run for president! He would only get (to the presidential seat) over our dead bodies," Ibrahim insisted.
"At any price, we would prevent him not just from winning but from even running. We don’t mind to give in as many martyrs as it would take," said Ahmed from Behira.
A supporter of Khairat El-Shater, the last minute runner of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed insisted that "next Friday we will be here and we will not leave unless we are told that Suleiman is out. We did it with Mubarak when nobody would have thought that Mubarak would be forced to step down, and today we are much stronger than we were ever before," he argued.
It is an open question whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamists, are stronger today compared to the days of the January 25 Revolution. During the past few months the taste Islamists have shown for power has turned a section of public opinion against them and has raised fears over the Islamisation of Egypt.
"I will tell you one thing I know; I don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to rule because if they did they would prevent women from working and I would be locked up at home doing nothing," said Nessrine, a sales assistant at a ready-to-wear women's clothes shop in Heliopolis. For Nessrine, "if Omar Suleiman would prevent this from happening then I would elect him."
The fear of Islamists and Islamisation is exactly what Suleiman has been playing on for the past week since he announced his intention to join the presidential race.
Suleiman, the man who is known to have applied every tactic in the book to defy Islamists in Egypt and discredit militant Islamist liberation movements in Palestine and Lebanon, Hamas and Hizbullah, kicked off his electoral bid with an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood and the firm promise to defeat what he said were deliberate attempts to force Islam into every aspect of life in the country.
Suleiman even accused the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating an attempt against his life during the early days of the January 25 Revoluion.
"He is a stupid liar. Everybody knows that at the time we were very cautious. And he knows, as we know, that the attempt on his life was conducted by foreign fighters that were brought into the country by [leading members of the then ruling party] who hated the fact that he was assigned vice president and feared that this would block the road to the ascent of Gamal Mubarak (the younger son of the ousted president) to rule Egypt following his father," said a Muslim Brotherhood source.
Today, the same source added, the Muslim Brotherhood, "along with all patriotic Egyptians," will leave no stone unturned to deny Suleiman leave to run for Egypt's top post.
"Here is the test for the many claims SCAF has been making about protecting the revolution. Will it or not ratify the draft bill that bans Suleiman from running?" said Abdullah, an Abu-Ismail supporter.
Abdullah added that he is infuriated at the possibility of Abu-Ismail being disqualified over "allegations that his mother carried American citizenship," but that this anger "is nothing" compared to his anger over the candidacy of Suleiman.
For Abdullah and many others demonstrators who spoke to Ahram Online in Tahrir Square on Friday evening, they don’t care about the candidacy of Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, because he not very influential in the Mubarak regime. "He was a prime minister only for a few days during the revolution, and before he was minister of civil aviation. This is irrelevant. But Omar Suleiman was Mubarak's right arm. It was the arm that made us bleed and it cannot be ruling again — but over our dead bodies," said Omar from Dakhliyah.