CAIRO - Thousands of demonstrators turned out in Cairo's Tahrir Square after Friday prayers, heeding an appeal by Islamist parties to protest against the country's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Several secular and youth groups also joined in to denounce recent moves by the council, including the dissolution of parliament.
Protesters braving searing summer heat chanted slogans against Egypt's ruling military council. Organizers were calling the protest a "million man march," although webcam images from above the square showed crowds in some areas and empty spaces in others.
A top leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said the sit-in protest at Tahrir Square would continue until the decision to dissolve parliament is reversed. Protest organizers blocked entrances to the square early Friday, preventing traffic from entering.
Anxiety is building, both in Cairo and elsewhere across Egypt, over the delay in announcing the winner of last week's presidential runoff election. Both the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and his rival, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, claim to have won.
The head of Egypt's election commission, Farouq Sultan, delayed the announcement of a winner to examine over 400 complaints of electoral violations by both sides. The commission indicated earlier this week that it would announce results of the runoff Saturday or Sunday.
The ruling military council issued a statement Friday urging all Egyptians to respect the election commission's determination of who won the election and demanding they obey the law and refrain from attacking government property:
The statement says the law and an independent judiciary are the underpinnings of society and urges people to respect their decisions. At the same time, he insists that the army respects the people's right to express their opinions.
Many young activists who participated in the original January 25 revolution that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak stayed away from Friday's demonstration. One leader of the April 6th youth movement, however, did attend. He said he does not share many of the Islamists' values but that he opposes "the army clinging to power."
Many Egyptians privately expressed fears that a win by either presidential candidate could lead to disturbances in the streets of Cairo and other cities. However, veteran editor and publisher Hisham Kassem says he is not expecting any major violence:
“I might expect a packed Tahrir, or a few more squares, but nothing destabilizing or nothing like the original [revolution], because the political players now had nothing to do with 25 January 2011. They were all taken by surprise, and they claim that they can command the masses, but that's not true,” said Kassem.
Egyptian political leader Mohammed ElBaradei suggested in a Twitter post that a mediation committee is "needed immediately ... to find a political and legal exit from the crisis." He added that Egypt "is on the verge of explosion."