News / Africa

Egyptians Rally Demanding Military Cede Power

Protesters shout anti-military ruling council slogans in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egypt's revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011
Protesters shout anti-military ruling council slogans in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egypt's revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011
Elizabeth Arrott

With a little more than a week before Egypt's first post-revolution elections, demonstrators turned out en masse to protest what they say is the military's attempt to prolong its "temporary" powers.   

A sea of Islamists, secularists, conservatives and liberals converged on Cairo's Tahrir square Friday, demanding the military cede power in the coming months.

At issue is the so-called Selmi document, a proposal that would exempt the military from civilian oversight in the next constitution.  The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, says the document is not binding, an argument protesters say they don't believe.

Businessman Ashraf Saif says he is not sure what the rally will accomplish, but wants the army aware that popular will cannot be ignored.

He says the military council is like a snake in its dealings with the Egyptian nation.   He bemoans the lack of openness on the part of the rulers - the same disregard of the people the old government showed.

Many at the rally, one of the largest in months, were also calling for a faster transition to democratic rule.  Under the current plan, parliamentary elections will stretch from the end of this month into March.  The new legislature will then spend up to a year drafting a new constitution and only then will presidential elections be held.

The possibility of the SCAF in charge until 2013 has managed to unite, on Tahrir Square, such disparate groups as Facebook activists and ultra-conservative Salafists, and those in between.

Ayman Mohamed Hassan, a member of al Azhar, the world's oldest Islamic institution, says the principles Egyptians fought for during their uprising earlier this year must be implemented.

He argues for democratic rule, the elimination of remnants of the old regime and an end to corruption.  He also wants the election of a civilian president, and social justice so that people may regain their dignity.

Just what that social justice is based on, however, is a question that divided the crowd profoundly.   The rally was called by Islamist groups, who had largely kept a backseat during the revolution, but are showing strength in campaigns around the country.  Mahmoud el Nahat is a supporter of the Salafist al Nour party.

He argued Egypt "is a religious nation by nature" as he went through the crowd trying to draw votes for his candidate.

Nearby, an elderly woman, Behira Mohamed Abdl Fatah, said support for the fundamentalists was why she came out to Tahrir.

She says she's here to elect the al Nour party.  She wants Islam.  Asked whether al Nour or other Islamist parties might be against such revolutionary principles as equal rights, she said she's not worried.

But the secular minority in the crowd clearly are.  Liberal groups have campaigned heavily on the argument that an Islamist government would take Egypt backward, not forward.  There were small skirmishes between the two sides across the square.   But for the most part, at least for now, they remain united in opposing the military.  

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