Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revolutionaries confront military junta with protests on Friday

Ahram Online
Revolutionaries, ruling council to face off in Friday protests

Thursday 29 Sept. 2011

Yasmine Fathi

Millions of Egyptians are once again being urged to amass in Cairo’s Tahrir Square tomorrow - and other squares across the country - to join Friday protests. This time, however, much of the anger appears to be directed at recent measures adopted by Egypt’s ruling military council.

Several monikers have already been applied to the 30 September protests, including “the Friday of the End of Emergency Law” and “Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution.” But the one thing on which all political forces agree is their general displeasure over the way the military council has been administering the post-Mubarak transitional period.

On Wednesday, 13 political parties and movements held a press conference, entitled “No to the military, yes to freedom and social justice,” at which they announced plans to participate in Friday's scheduled protests. “We invite the Egyptian people to protest against the latest practices by the military council, which contradict the goals of the revolution: namely, freedom, social justice and human dignity,” the group stated.

The group includes the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Popular Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Democratic Front Party and the Workers Democratic Party.

The military council, the group asserted, has been taking measures that violate human rights and restrict the Egyptian people’s basic freedoms. The group went on to list five basic demands, the first of which is for the military council to announce a timetable detailing when exactly it plans to hand over power to a civilian authority.

“Even though the council’s authority expires this September, it has yet to announce a date for handing over power to a civil government in line with the will of the revolution,” the group said.

The group’s second demand is for the government to address all the grievances of public-sector workers who have been striking for months in demand of better pay and working conditions. Workers’ strikes have been ongoing since Mubarak’s ouster in February.

This month alone, public transport drivers, teachers and health workers have all gone on strike. Until now, however, they have either been ignored by the government or had their demands only partially met.

Political forces’ third demand is for the ruling council and government to abrogate an unpopular emergency law and a law banning protests. The former was reactivated earlier this month after 9 September protests near Israel’s Cairo embassy turned violent.

The law banning protests, meanwhile, went into effect in March, only weeks after Mubarak’s departure. The law criminalises protests and demonstrations, threatening violators with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and stiff monetary penalties.

The introduction of the anti-protest law was seen by many critics as an attempt by the ruling council to halt the revolution’s progress once it realised that protests would not let up following Mubarak’s ouster.

The group is also demanding a halt to the longstanding practice of trying civilians in military courts. Since the ruling council assumed control of the nation’s affairs, as many as 12,000 civilians - including political activists, bloggers, curfew violators and so-called “thugs” - have been hauled before military tribunals.

Another, more recent point of contention between the council and revolutionaries has been the recent amendment of the law governing parliamentary elections, which are currently slated for 28 November. The amended law now stipulates that two thirds of parliament must be elected through a proportional-list system and one third through single-ticket voting.

Most political forces have slammed the amended law, including the Egyptian Bloc - a coalition consisting of liberal and socialist parties - and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political forces complain that the ruling council ignored their suggestions for a more equitable electoral law at an earlier meeting between council members and representatives of 47 political parties and groups. During the meeting, parties had called for an exclusively proportional list electoral system, arguing that a single ticket voting system would allow elements of the former regime to re-enter parliament.

The 6 April protest movement has also announced its intention to participate in tomorrow’s protests. At a separate press conference yesterday, it, too, expressed support for the above-cited demands, and further called on the government to activate a decades-old treason law with the aim of trying all members of the former regime. They also demanded that Egyptians living abroad be given the right to vote in national elections.

The movement also blasted the recent reactivation of the emergency law, insisting that - constitutionally speaking - the law is no longer valid. According to the constitutional declaration announced by the ruling council on 30 March, the emergency law is valid for only six months, leading activists and legal experts to point out that the unpopular law has now expired.

“The emergency law is invalid starting from 30 September,” the group noted at its press conference. “Therefore, the arrest and interrogation of activists without prior permission from the prosecution will be considered a form of kidnapping against which we will take legal action.”

It remains unclear whether protesters plan to evacuate the square at the end of the day tomorrow or launch an open-ended sit-in reminiscent of the 18-day revolution. The army is no longer tolerant of protesters camping out in the square; the last group that attempted to do so was forcibly removed on the first day of Ramadan (1 August) following a three-week sit-in.

One Facebook group dubbed “the Second Egyptian Revolution of Anger” is calling for a weeklong sit-in in Tahrir Square until the ruling council hands power over to a civilian authority.

“We will not return until we have all our rights,” the group states, adding that it plans to hold daily marches in low-income areas of the capital before moving its sit-in to the Ministry of Defence building. The group claims that, according to an online poll on their Facebook page, the “overwhelming majority” of Egyptians want an open-ended sit-in.

Another Facebook group calling itself “The Sons of Egypt” is also calling for nationwide protests tomorrow. It is vowing to hold the “biggest march in the world” tomorrow, from the Fatah Mosque in Cairo’s Ramses district to Tahrir Square.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, despite being at odds with the military council over recent changes to the electoral law, has announced its decision to refrain from joining tomorrow’s protests. So, notably, has the Salafist Dawa group, which announced it would not participate “in any way.”

“And we reject even more vehemently calls for protests on 6 October, many of the organisers of which hint may turn violent,” the group said in a statement.

“There are forces taking the lead in this revolution that have previously lost control and participated in vandalism,” the group went on to note. “They’re also calling for the military council to be replaced by a presidential council, yet we don’t know how [the proposed presidential council’s] members would be elected and with what legitimacy they would exercise power.”

In their statement, however, the Salafists went on to voice support for several of the demands of the 30 September protesters, including those for speedy elections and the annulment of the emergency law.

The Islamist Wasat (‘Center’) Party, however, has, for its part, announced its intention to take part in tomorrow’s demonstrations.

“We believe it’s important to participate for two main reasons: to reject the emergency law and to demand a timetable for the [military council's] transferral of power,” party spokesperson Tarek El-Malt said. The party agrees that the council must hold elections - presidential, parliamentary and for the Shura Council - by February of next year.

With all these groups expressing divergent views, it remained unclear as of press time whether tomorrow’s demonstration would be successful or not. The absence of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, Egypt’s most organised political grouping, is expected to adversely affect the hoped-for turnout.

But one lesson learned since the revolution began is that Friday protests are impossible to predict - both in terms of numbers and outcome - with some being peaceful while others turn violent. But even if tomorrow turns out to be a bust, revolutionaries promise yet more Friday protests to come.

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

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