x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Egyptian demonstrators united in election protest

Rivalries between Islamists and liberals in Egypt have risen over the past 14 months as each side fought for its vision of the country.

CAIRO // Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square yesterday in an unusually unified demonstration against what many described as attempts by the military leaders and remnants of the regime of Hosni Mubarak to manipulate next month's presidential elections.

While Islamists were by far the dominant force in the square, they joined with liberals in their criticisms of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), the group of generals who have been in control of the country since Mubarak stepped down in February last year amid a national uprising.

Rivalries between Islamists and liberals have risen over the past 14 months as each side fought for its vision of the country in parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist Al Nour party won that contest, sweeping close to 70 per cent of the seats.

But yesterday, demonstrators said their political affiliations did not matter; their main concern was saving "the revolution".

"If we don't stand by the revolution now, this military rule will go on," said Amal Seddik Afify, a novelist, as she arrived in Tahrir Square.

Like many others yesterday, she called on Scaf to remove article 28 from a constitutional declaration instated by Scaf after it suspended the country's 1971 constitution following Mubarak's resignation. The article protects decisions by the Supreme Presidential Election Commission, headed by five judges, from appeals in the judiciary.

"If their decisions can't be appealed, then how can we be sure that there is no interfering with the presidential elections," Ms Afify said.

Spec's decision this week to bar 10 of the 23 presidential candidates from running due to technical violations upended the election landscape a little more than a month before Egyptians are scheduled to go to the polls on May 23 and 24.

The commission denied appeals from three front-runners, including Khairat Al Shater, the former deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's former head of intelligence and vice president; and Hazen Abu Ismail, a Salafist lawyer.

After the decision, Mr Al Shater announced his support for Mohamed Morsy - the chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, who had applied as a candidate as the Muslim Brotherhood's backup candidate.

But Mr Al Shater also criticised Scaf for continuing with Mubarak's style of autocratic governance.

"Mubarak's regime is still ruling even if the names have changed," Mr Al Shater said on Wednesday, calling on his group's members to join protests in Tahrir. "We have to wake up because there is an attempt to hijack the revolution."

Egyptians in Tahrir Square yesterday were for the most part still coming to terms with the new contours of the presidential elections. The disqualifications boosted the campaigns of Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister who has styled himself as the liberal candidate who can unify the country, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood member with moderate Islamist views.

Compared to the three front-runners disqualified, they are considered less polarising candidates.

Hassan Omar, 28, whose beard with no moustache is characteristic of the conservative Islamists known as Salafists, said he still supported Mr Ismail and hoped there was a chance for him to re-enter the race. If not, he would support Mr Aboul Fotouh because he has the skills Egypt needs to emerge from instability.

"He makes his own decisions," Mr Omar said. "He entered the race despite the Muslim Brotherhood kicking him out of the group for not following orders. I think he is strong enough to go head-to-head with Scaf and restore the country."

His views suggested a pragmatism among many voters that makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the elections. Gallup polls over the past year have showed that many voters in the parliamentary elections were not certain of their choice until it was time to cast their votes.

Mohammed Hassan, 42, a technician in the Ministry of Electricity and Energy in Damietta, said he would follow the guidance of the Freedom and Justice Party to vote for Mr Morsy, but he was not worried about the possibility of another candidate getting elected.

"What we need is any candidate who is committed to restoring the country," Mr Hassan said. "We came today to protect the revolution, so that it is not allowed to fall down. The old regime and Scaf are working together to create problems in the country, so that we will come begging them to fix them. We won't be deceived."