500 Egyptians hurt after mass rally against army’s power

Islamists dominate Friday’s demonstration; Ideological battle rages after female blogger posts nude images online.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
November 20, 2011 02:03
3 minute read.
Protesters and police clash in Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square Clashes 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Protesters and riot police clashed in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Saturday, wounding around 500 people, after police dispersed a sit-in by demonstrators demanding the military swiftly transfer power to a civilian government.

A day earlier, some 50,000 mainly Islamist protesters flocked to Tahrir to press Egypt’s military rulers to hand over power more quickly. The police pulled down tents of about 100 protesters who had camped in the square overnight. That move prompted some 5,000 people to return to the square, sparking the clashes with police.

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A day earlier, some 50,000 mainly Islamist protesters flocked to Tahrir to press Egypt’s military rulers to hand over power more quickly. The police pulled down tents of about 100 protesters who had camped in the square overnight. That move prompted some 5,000 people to return to the square, sparking the clashes with police.

On Friday, protesters demanded presidential elections be held no later than April 2012, instead of at year’s end or in 2013.

“Does the government want to humiliate the people? The people revolted against Mubarak and they will revolt against the constitution they want to impose on us!” a member of a Salafi Islamist group cried out over loudspeakers.

Protesters chanted “Down with military rule” and “No to making the army a state above the state.”



A military source on Friday said the army would hand power to a civilian government in 2012, without giving an exact date.

Except for the preponderance of bearded men and veiled women typical of strict Islamists, Friday’s mass rally recalled the 18-day, largely secular uprising centered in Tahrir that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak on February 11.

This weekend’s violence could cast a shadow over parliamentary elections, which are set to begin on November 28, the first since Mubarak’s removal and meant to be a major step toward a civilian democratic system.

Parliamentary elections could be disrupted if political parties and the government fail to resolve the row over parliamentary oversight of the army.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Silmi showed a constitutional draft to political groups earlier this month that would give the army exclusive authority over its internal affairs and budget.

Ahead of Friday’s demonstration, more than 39 political parties and groups said in a joint statement they would rally “to protect democracy and the transfer of power” after negotiations broke down between Islamist groups and the cabinet.

Salafi parties and movements that follow strict Islamic teachings were the earliest to galvanize support for Friday’s protest, with the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of liberal parties following suit.

Thousands of Salafi protesters arrived in Cairo from different parts of the country, many waving flags and singing the national anthem while youth groups guarded entrances to the square to prevent thugs from slipping through.

In the port city of Alexandria, thousands of Islamists and youth group members held a rally and planned to head to a military base in a show of protest against the army.

Thousands also gathered in North Sinai and Upper Egypt to protest, but they called for an Islamic state, not a civilian state, the demand of protesters in the capital and Alexandria.

Despite the unified call against the ruling generals, Tahrir Square was split between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and its harder-line Salafi rivals, represented by several political parties.

The two set up separate sound stages and organized their own speeches and chants, only joining forces for Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, the ideological battle over Egypt’s future took an unexpected turn this weekend after a 20-year-old female blogger posted nude images of herself online in an attempt to spark a discussion on the country’s conservative sexual mores.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy wrote that the provocative photos – she poses in nothing but stockings and shoes – are “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy.” Some 2.5 million people have visited the blog in the few days since the images were posted.

The images have brought Elmahdy under criticism from almost all sides, including liberal and leftist groups that accuse her of tarnishing their cause ahead of crucial elections.

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