CAIRO — Thousands of protesters once again gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday to voice their exasperation at the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces. The military, which has been running Egypt since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb.11, has been under heavy criticism from political movements for failing to quickly transfer power to a civilian authority.
Protesters and political groups called for an end to emergency laws, amendments to the new elections law and establishment of a clear timeline for drafting a new constitution and setting a date for presidential elections. They also demanded an end to military trials for civilians. Human rights organizations claim that 12,000 civilians were tried in military courts and jailed since the Jan. 25 revolution.
The demonstration, although smaller than expected, reflected growing anger against SCAF and its leader, Gen. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Protesters chanted, “Down, down with the military rule,” “Wake-up field marshal, today is your last day,” and “This is a warning, Tantawi, today is (your) departure day.”
Demonstrator Tarek Abbas told the Los Angeles Times amid waving flags and banners: “Political parties have been dreaming of fair elections, but the new (election) law won’t allow this to happen and we will have businessmen affiliated with Mubarak’s regime” returning to Parliament. He added: “All public administrations are still the same and everything is managed with the same old thoughts. Some (corrupt officials) who made fortunes under Mubarak are still holding their posts.”
The new elections law stipulates that one-third of the new Parliament, which will be elected in November, be selected from individual candidates. Two-thirds of the chamber will come from party lists. Activists fear that allowing individual candidates will permit members of the former Mubarak regime to run as independents and slip back into the legislature.
Egypt’s most organized group, the Muslim Brotherhood, didn’t participate in Friday’s protests. However, supporters of Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail were present. Also appearing in the crowd was actor Sean Penn, who was on a brief visit to Cairo.
The ruling military council said it would crack down on protests, but the police presence around the square was minimal. SCAF expanded the country’s emergency law after the storming of the Israeli Embassy following a similar march in Tahrir on Sept. 8.