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'Down with military rule': Egypt activists gather for mass rally against army

Egyptian protesters gathered in Cairo for a mass rally on Friday against the military's handling of protests that killed 17 people and drew criticism of the ruling generals.
A view shows traffic at Tahrir Square in Cairo
A view shows traffic at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Thursday.Stringer/egypt / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Egyptian protesters gathered in Cairo for a mass rally on Friday against the military's handling of protests that killed 17 people and drew international criticism of the ruling generals.

Protesters who fought soldiers and police in the capital for five days until calm was restored this week want the ruling military council to cede power more swiftly than planned.

Some Egyptians, skeptical of the military's avowed commitment to democratic change, want a presidential vote as early as January 25, the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, or at least much earlier than the mid-2012 handover now scheduled.

Anger has been fuelled by scenes of men being clubbed by soldiers even when lying on the ground and women being dragged and stamped on. But many also fret at the fact that 10 months after Mubarak's fall Egypt remains in disarray and want protests to stop so order can be restored and the economy revitalized.

The Muslim Brotherhood's party, leading in a staggered parliamentary election that runs to January, said it would not join Friday's rally. It backs the army's transition timetable and says the process must be decided by balloting not pressure.

Hundreds of demonstrators were already in Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of the revolt against Mubarak, on Friday morning, chanting, "Down with the field marshal" and "down with military rule." A huge Egyptian flag was wrapped around lampposts in the central circle. Vendors were selling food or flags.

Protests tend to gather momentum after midday prayers. In the wake of the recent violence, walls of big concrete blocks have been erected where clashes were fiercest to bar access from Tahrir to parliament, the cabinet and Interior Ministry.

'Huge crisis'
"The current predicament we have reached is a result of the army council's reluctance to play its role, its intentional foot-dragging, breaking its obligations and failing over the economy and security, putting the whole country on the edge of a huge crisis," said a statement signed by two dozen parties, youth movements and others that called for Friday's protest.

It said members of the military council, which is led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, should be held to account out of respect for those killed and women who were mistreated.

The army has said it regrets the violence and offered an apology for an incident where a woman was dragged by soldiers, had her bra and torso exposed and then beaten. It said that case was isolated and was being investigated.

One banner in the square called for handing power to a civilian council that would include Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, who was ejected from the Brotherhood after he defied their decision not to field a presidential candidate.

The April 6 movement, which played a lead role in galvanizing Egyptians to rise up against Mubarak, said the army's handling of the latest street protests showed it was seeking to "protect the previous regime."

Students appealed to Egyptians to join Friday's protest with a march from Cairo's Ain Shams university, two of whose students were among the 17 killed.

Those deaths prompted sit-ins on Ain Shams campus, in front of the Defense Ministry and at other universities.

While the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it would stay out of Friday's rally, the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour Party, a surprise runner-up in the election so far, said on its Facebook page that it would take part.

Many activists accuse the Brotherhood and other Islamists of betraying the protest movement in order to secure their own positions in the emerging new power structure.

The military has survived Egypt's political upheaval intact and has vast economic and other interests, so any new president would likely need its support to maintain order.

The United States, which provides the military with $1.3 billion a year in aid under a deal in place since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has rebuked the ruling generals for their rough handling of protests.

Washington, which like other Western powers long looked to Mubarak to keep a lid on Islamists, has been cultivating contact with newly elected Islamist politicians.