Cairo Rises Against Military Rule

Had the following published on New Matilda on tuesday.


The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was hailed as the saviour of the Egyptian revolution but the people are now calling for an immediate transition to civilian rule. Austin Mackell reports on the protests from Cairo

The protests started on Friday 18 November. A mass rally was called by Islamic groups and initially, it was dominated by them. Secular groups in Egypt — who do not generally have the discipline or organisational reach of their religious counterparts — did participate but were by far in the minority. It seemed they had dissipated their capacity to stage mass protests by calling for too many protests, too often.

The protest was dubbed the Friday of One Demand. That one demand was for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who had assumed power in February, to complete a speedy and complete transfer to civilian rule. Tens of thousands of Islamists chanted for the military to release secular blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been held in a military court for months. It was an important show of unity at a time when the pluralist protest movement that had driven the dictator from power looked divided. (See video footage of the event here.)

This unity came largely from the fear that the increasingly assertive army was intending to maintain a leading role after the upcoming parliamentary elections. Indeed, the army had just released a set of “supra-constitutional principles” which propose putting army affairs beyond the control of the parliament and president. Civilians including activists and critics of military rule continue to be hauled in front of military courts.

At the end of the day, when the rally was over, the stages taken down, and the busses organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups started taking people back to their suburbs and villages, a hard core of protesters remained. They were determined to set up camp in the square, and stay there until their demands were met. In this group of a few thousand, the proportions of protesters were reversed, with liberals and leftists making up the majority.

The first clashes occured that night, with men in civilian dress, some armed, attempting to push through the checkpoints set up by the protesters.

The battle began in earnest however, on Saturday morning at around 10am. Police poured into the square and began tearing down tents, beating and arresting protesters. They would soon be joined by armed civilians, who reportedly menaced the protesters in full view of the police without recrimination, further adding to suspicion they were an organised group of Baltagiya (thugs). Then the soldiers turned up.

By the time I arrived a little after midday, there was not a tent in sight, and the central roundabout of Tahrir Square was lined by a ring of riot police with shields visors and batons. Only a few dozen protesters were still visible, gathering in clusters and chanting.

A few hours later, as first dozens then hundreds of protesters poured into the square, the tide began to turn….

Read the rest here


About Austin G. Mackell

I am a freelance journalist who has worked for a variety of corporate and community outlets from my hometown of Sydney and from the Middle East, including from Lebanon during Israels 2006 invasion and from Iran during the tumultuous presidential elections there in 2009. I have recently moved to Cairo to watch the revolutions in Arab world unfold.
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