Tens of thousands protest in Egypt

Rally called by both Islamist and secular groups aimed at pressing military rulers to hand power to civilian government.

The rally in Tahrir Square was called over a controversial document floated by the government [Malika Bilal/Al Jazeera]

Tens of thousands of Islamist and secular protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in Alexandria on Friday for a mass rally to pressure the ruling military council to hand over power to a civilian government.

The demonstration, dubbed as the “Friday of One Demand,” was called in response to a document of “supraconstitutional” principles floated by the government which declares the military the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy”, suggesting the armed forces could have the final word on major policies even after a civilian parliament and president are elected.

The Muslim Brotherhood says the document reinforces “dictatorship” and has promised an escalation if it is not shelved.

Brotherhood member Yasir Hamida, 40, told Al Jazeera’s Malka Bilal that he had lived through the days of the former regime and now wanted to “do something for our kids”.

“My demand is that the … document be cancelled. Enough. We are tired now. We thank the army, but it’s time to transfer power and let the parliament start organising a constitution and get ready for a civilian state,” he said. “I’m happy that all the coalitions are here today.”

Friday’s protest drew political parties and religious movements of different stripes, though the strongest voice in the square was from Islamists, both the hardline Salafis and the comparatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood.

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Liberal, leftist and Islamist parties and groups such as the April 6 Movement, founded in solidarity with labour protests, participated in the rally.

Anan Zuhairi, a 26-year-old doctor, said she was not with any party or political movement but that she joined the protest because “nothing has been resolved since the revolution”.

“Nothing we revolted for has happened. Emergency law is still not canceled. People are being taken out of their homes. Our demands have remained the same except they’ve become more,” she said. “We just want democracy and freedom. The people with opinions are all in prisons.”

Several secular groups marched from the western Mohandesseen neighbourhood to Tahrir Square under the banner “We want a president”, calling on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hand power to a civilian president by April 2012 at the latest.

The two main demands of the protesters were to prevent the imposition of the government’s document and to set a date for the presidential elections, Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros said.

“People are saying there has been no referendum on this document, and are asking why it is being imposed before the upcoming elections,” she said. “They see this as the military trying to impose their rule.”

“They are telling the military to stop trying to unilaterally control this transition period,” she said.

Though some parties had called for an extended sit-in, most of the crowd had begun to left after the sun set and the weather began to turn cold, and the Muslim Brotherhood instructed its supporters to go home by 8pm.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, in the northern coastal city of Alexandria, reported that thousands of people gathered “mainly heeding the call from the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

After prayers, the crowd marched from mosques to a major military headquarters to protest the SCAF’s rule.

Protesters chanted “we do not want military rule” and “we must protect our revolution”.

Contested document

The contested government document, presented by Ali Silmi, the deputy prime minister in the interim government, includes clauses that remove the military’s budget from parliamentary oversight and allowed the SCAF a final say on military-related matters.

The government revised the draft but Islamists, who organised a mass protest in July against such a charter, have rejected the very idea of a document that would limit parliament’s authority to draft the constitution, branding the articles as undemocratic.

The Muslim Brotherhood, through its Freedom and Justice Party, may emerge as the largest bloc in the election.

The SCAF, which took charge after Mubarak’s removal and suspended the constitution and parliament, says it will hand over power once a new president is elected.

Parliamentary elections will start on November 28 and are expected to end in March.

The Tahrir Square demonstration comes a day after 25 people were injured when a Coptic Christian march came under attack by assailants throwing stones and bottles.

The Copts were marching on Thursday to demand justice for the victims of a clash with soliders in October that left at least 25 people dead, most of them Christian.

A security official told the AFP news agency that supporters of an Islamist election candidate in the northern neighbourhood of Shoubra joined in the attack on the Copts.

Copts, who make up roughly 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million people, complain of discrimination in Egypt.

(www.aljazeera.com / 18.11.2011)