Tens of thousands of protesters took to Cairo’s Tahrir Square and to streets across the country today for a “second day of anger” to demand that Egypt’s military rulers adopt a more democratic approach to the country’s transition process.
A large banner hung over Tahrir Square, demanding a new constitution “now and not later.”
Pro-democracy groups accuse the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Council of using excessive force against peaceful protesters, prosecuting thousands in military tribunals, and governing in an opaque and unaccountable fashion. The SCAF has issued decrees banning strikes and protests, and regulating elections and the establishment of political parties without consultation, liberals complain, leading to calls for the military to cede authority to a civilian council.
A joint statement by four liberal and secular groups called for postponing the parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for September, to give democratic parties more time to prepare.
Addressing the crowd, political analyst and rising star Amr Hamzawy demanded the postponement of elections and the drafting of a new constitution that guaranteed a civil state. The legitimacy deficit caused by the absence of elected institutions could be addressed through reconciliation meetings, he recently argued.
“Differences and accusations of not being representative are natural in this phase but such a conference can agree on basic principles for the upcoming constitution,” he told the National Dialogue conference.
A diverse range of groups were represented reports Al Ahram, including the 6 April Youth movement, the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, Al-Masry Al-Hurr, the ElBaradei Campaign, the Egyptian Movement for Change, the Maspero Copts movement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing and expected presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel. The young Muslim Brothers took part against the orders of their elders, confirming reports of growing generational divisions within the movement.
But the diversity also underscored the democratic forces lack of a compelling message and coherent program, notes one account:
Some liberal activists, however, worried that the impact of the demonstration itself might have been dulled by the internal divisions evident in the profusion of miscellaneous demands. Many speakers and signs called for goals ranging from economic measures like an increase in the minimum wage to long-term political reforms like ensuring the independence of the judiciary.
Today’s demonstration and the liberals’ statement “comes amid an increasingly polarized political atmosphere, with deepening divisions between Islamists and liberals, who have been jostling to shape the new order.”
“An obvious anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment prevailed in the square,” Al Ahram reports. Demonstrators chanted “Where is the Brotherhood? Here is Tahrir.”
The Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, refused to participate in today’s demonstrations, declaring that it was “very concerned” by the protest. Many democratic groups believe the military and the Islamists are in an implicit alliance to distort or delay the transition process, while the army has also been criticized for freeing and failing to contain extremist Salafi groups believed to be behind recent sectarian violence.
Participation in the electoral process may help to moderate and integrate radical Islamist groups into the political arena, said Ishaq Ibrahim, an activist with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. But Islamist parties need to convince voters that they don’t plan to establish an Islamic caliphate, he said.
“These movements still need to reassure society, and especially minority groups such as Copts, women and liberal movements, that they will respect the constitution and laws even if they become a political majority,” he said. “So far, they have failed to do so.”