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A Brotherhood show of force, as Egypt turns to presidential election

The Muslim Brotherhood led tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square today, sending a message to Egypt's military rulers.

By Sarah LynchCorrespondent / April 13, 2012

A supporter holds up a placard during a campaign rally by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater at Shubra in El-Kalubia, on the outskirts of Cairo, Thursday. The placard reads: 'Shatroon (referring to al-Shater's supporters), Egypt needs al-Shater.'

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

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Cairo

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood sent tens of thousands of members pouring into Tahrir Square today in an Islamist show of force as the country turns toward a presidential election scheduled for May 23.

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Smaller Islamist groups joined the Brothers on Tahrir, all venting their anger at the felool, or remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, who many say are a threat to Egypt's revolution. The Brotherhood had kept its supporters off the streets since winning parliamentary elections at the end of last year. But the entrance of Omar Suleiman, a long-time confidant and spy-chief of the deposed Mubarak, into the race and legal maneuvers to have some of the Islamists' own candidates disqualified brought them out today.

Events of the past few weeks have turned Egyptian conventional wisdom on its head. A month ago, many Egyptians thought the Muslim Brotherhood would cut a private deal with the ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) by promising it wouldn't seek the presidency or eliminate the military's privileged position in exchange for latitude in parliament.

But since, the body parliament formed to write Egypt's new constitution was dissolved by court order and the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which has almost 50 percent of the seats in parliament, has chafed at the fact that the government is still controlled by SCAF. Worried that its chances of writing a new constitution that would weaken the presidency (as things stand now, the president reigns supreme) are slipping away, the group put forward its senior strategist Khairat al-Shater as a possible candidate.

Mr. Shater has faced a legal challenge to his candidacy, however, since he served jail time for his political activities under Mubarak. Another Islamist presidential hopeful, salafi Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, is also facing a legal challenge to his candidacy.  Meanwhile Mr. Suleiman, to many Egyptians the ne plus ultra of felool, has stepped into the fray.

'We are trying to protect the revolution'

That's the background that led to the sea of green (the Brotherhood's color) on Tahrir today, where people are playing drums and marching through the square. “We don’t want the regime, and we don’t want Omar Suleiman,” says Mohammad Abayt, as he directs protesters into the square amid chants of “Down, down with military rule!”]

“We are trying to protect the revolution because it’s been stolen from us,” says Islam Salah with a picture of Abu Ismail hung with a white ribbon around his neck.

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