A few thousand people from across Egypt responded to the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for a sit-in and protest in Tahrir Square today, though numbers were low compared to the major protests the epicenter of the revolution has witnessed in its history, and comprised mainly of Islamists, despite calls for a united front with Christians and liberals against the ruling military junta.
The Muslim Brotherhood, its Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafi movement and the Nour Party, are calling for an annulment of the constitutional amendments issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on 17 June, which limits the authority of the president and tips the balance of power to an unelected body of generals, contrary to the expected handover of power to an elected civilian government at the end of June.
They are also protesting the 14 June dissolution of Parliament, the only elected institution since the 25 January revolution, by a court order that deemed it unconstitutional. Other demands include ending the military's wide powers of arrest of civilians, legalized also on 14 June, and generally ending military rule.
In the square, another major demand is that the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) announces the winner of the presidential election that finished on 17 June. Both sides have claimed victory with the Muslim Brotherhood and the state-newspaper, Al-Ahram, publishing polling stations’ results that indicate the Islamist candidate Mohamed Morsy has won.
The PEC, however, has said it is looking into appeals of violations submitted by both sides and vote-counting errors. Many suspect it is a delay tactic either to adjust the numbers in favor of old regime ally Ahmed Shafiq or conduct negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood regarding the balance of power.
An emotional Alaa Eldine Saad Hussein, 52, from Cairo, sitting in the square under intense heat, said with heavy tears in his eyes: "Oh President [Morsy], we don’t want either you or [Parliament Speaker Saad] Katatny to succumb to compromises with the military council. We are behind you. God is with you above, and then we are with you. Take all your rights. No negotiations or agreements," he said.
"[Hatem] Bagato, announce the result, and don't wait for fraud," he also said, in reference to PEC secretary general.
Hussein believes the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership and the SCAF are in negotiations over the constitution, various laws, and the Battle of the Camel, when regime-hired thugs rode on horseback and camels to attack protesters in the square, leaving 11 dead and 600 injured. Shafiq was prime minister at the time. He has failed to show up for questioning in the battle’s ongoing trial, and his recent campaign tactic has been to place the attack’s blame on the Brotherhood.
"Egypt is going to explode. There is blood. We won't let the country go to a corrupt man. His place is in prison. He’s the person that killed our families. How can he become our President? His place is in Tora," Hussein said.
Islamists travelled by bus and car from across Egypt's governorates, including Alexandria, Minya, Sharqiya, and elsewhere to participate in the sit-in, which has been going on for the last few days.
"From Sohag to Tahrir, down, down, down with the mushir," a group of Salafis from the Upper Egyptian town said in reference to SCAF leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
Tents have been pitched in the square in a scene reminiscent of the last Islamist dominated sit-in in July protesting demands by liberal and leftist secular forces to draft a constitution before parliamentary elections. Back then, the Brothers demanded that SCAF's transition schedule be respected. This seemingly pro-SCAF rhetoric changed a few months later, in November, when Islamists took to the square to protest the so-called Selmy document, which was another attempt by the army to impose supra-constitutional principles that would secure its power and interests.
Non-Islamists are, so far, not supporting the sit-in. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party said that it refuses to take part in an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to use the election for behind-the-scenes negotiations that serve the movement’s own interests rather than Egyptians as a whole. The party did nevertheless take part in a march to the Supreme Constitutional Court to protest the SCAF’s recent political moves.
However, some youth movements have expressed their support including the April 6 Youth Movement and the Youth Coalition Movement. April 6 were not very visible, though, in the early afternoon on Friday.
"I'm here to tell the military to stop cheating the people, and tell us the truth about who won the elections. We want Egypt to move forward, but we are backwards," said Mohamed Abdel Fattah, 27, from the youth coalition. He arrived in Cairo at nine in the morning from the governorate of Ismailia by the Suez Canal, and said he wouldn't sit-in because of his work, but would come back to Cairo regularly to support it.
Bushra Mohamed, 50, from Monufiya, who has been here since Tuesday and was wearing a Freedom and Justice Party cap, said she supports all the main demands. She added: "I'm here also because of the dissolved Parliament that cost LE2 billion from the blood of Egyptians. Will we do another round of elections that costs another LE2 billion? Where will we get this from?"
She does not believe the Brotherhood is in negotiations with the army. "Never would they negotiate on behalf of Egyptians. We are all one hand. There is no difference now between the Brotherhood or anyone else," she said, echoing a sentiment expressed by many, including Salafis, in the square.
Those participating in the sit-in said they would not leave the square if Shafiq is announced the winner, unless they believe the result is not fraudulent, and until their anti-SCAF demands are met.