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Friday Protests Continue Before Egypt's Contested Election

People attend Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Tens of thousands of Egyptians demanded on Friday that their military rulers stick to a pledge to hand over power by mid-year after a row over who can run in the presidential election raised doubts a

Rival crowds of pro-democracy activists and Islamic fundamentalists protested in different corners of Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday for the second straight week.

Hundreds of mostly young men turned out for Friday's protest, chanting slogans against the country's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The turnout fell far short of what had been billed as a “million man march,” and highlighted growing divisions among secular and Islamic activists.

Bearded Islamic fundamentalists, or Salafists, erected a separate podium across from their secular rivals, as both sides protested.

Loudspeakers for the Salafists played verses of the Koran as the young activists repeated slogans from last year's revolution which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.

The election commission announced the final list of 13 candidates for president on Thursday. Ten candidates were disqualified. The roster included the two top Islamists, but reinstated Ahmed Shafiq, who served under Mubarak during last year's uprising. Missing from the list are liberal reformers who spurred last year's protests.

Veteran Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem argues that revolutionary fervor is waning as the country's economy continues to deteriorate. He also argues that support for Islamic fundamentalists has diminished:

"On the whole, the Islamists have lost points. People's expectations are too high, and I don't think that even if the liberals or any other current had [won last year's election], that they would have done better. They would have lost a lot of points. People now are result-oriented. They don't want to just keep hearing political jargon and not feel this is reflecting on their life,” said Kassem.

Kassem says that parliament has been trying to remove the government and to prosecute people who have allegedly insulted Islam, issues which do not resonate with most Egyptians.

The first round of voting is set for May 23-24. If none of the candidates wins more than 50 per cent of votes, a run-off will be held in June. A winner will be declared on June 21. The military has pledged to turn over power to a civilian government by the end of June.