Political faultlines abound as Egypt returns to Tahrir Square
Protests in Cairo today were ostensibly focused on Egypt's military rulers. But the division between protesters, as the country heads towards presidential elections, was the real tale.
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“There are a lot of competing centers of authority,” Mr. Hanna says, adding that it's difficult to judge whether the court or election commission acted on their own or if the military politicized thee decisions.Skip to next paragraph
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Calls for Friday’s protest came after Suleiman entered the election. But following his disqualification, the reason for the rally depended on who you asked.
Many protesters Friday called for the cancellation of Article 28 of last year's Constitutional Declaration, which makes the presidential election committee immune to challenge.
Despite at least one unified demand, rhetoric in the square revealed the divisions between Egypt's "opposition" groups.
Some Muslim Brotherhood members called for complete removal of the felool, or “remnants” of Mubarak’s regime, while April 6 demanded a constituent assembly with less Brotherhood influence and more representative, in their opinion, of Egyptian society as a whole. The Salafis, more theocratic in outlook than the Brotherhood, were deeply concerned with the fate of Abu Ismail.
More politics, more problems
“Last year, things were much simpler,” laments writer and blogger Bassem Sabry about the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. “There was one enemy and the goal was very clear, to topple the enemy, and the square was 100 percent unified. Today you have Islamists, liberals, [soccer fans known as] Ultras, non-aligned protesters. All these different political forces are fighting to influence political decisions toward one direction or another, with these directions often contradictory.”
After long avoiding demonstrations, the Brotherhood rejoined the protest movement last week with a march on Tahrir – a move that upset some secular groups who believe the Brotherhood is only protesting to achieve their organizational ambitions.
“The Islamists are coming to hijack the protest movement,” says Amal Sharaf, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, who protested in Tahrir. “When we needed them to come, they didn’t. They only came when they needed us.”
The rifts are probably damaging the effectiveness of protest politics. “The protesters are divided over so many ideas and demands that I feel it will end up doing nothing at the end,” Mr. Sabry said.
While Friday's protest drew thousands, analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood is not seeking to ignite a slew of massive demonstrations like those that swept the nation beginning January 25 last year. Instead, it is a show of force for the 84-year old organization.
Egypt at large has grown weary of protests. The 2011 uprising wreaked havoc on the economy and sent tourism rates to a stifling low. “I don’t like the protest today,” says a trinket shop owner named Hassan whose business in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek declined 80 percent over the last year. “Why? Because these kind of protests are the reason we don’t have any business now.”
And not all Egyptians view SCAF as the enemy. Many are sympathetic to the notion that order and stability are what the country needs going forward, and appeal for patience.
But some groups insist that they will keep up their calls for change. Abu Ismail’s supporters have called for a sit-in, and the April 6 Youth Movement will persist with their various demands. “This is the beginning of a series of protests,” Sharaf said, “and the revolutionary spirit will come again.”