EGYPT: Protests continue but activists divided over goals

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Thousands of demonstrators continued their weeklong sit-in across Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday as more than 28 protest movements called for a “final warning” against the nation’s ruling military council to make sweeping reforms and bring members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to justice.

The square, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians camped for 18 days in January and February as part of a push to topple Mubarak, has again become the epicenter of the struggle over the country’s future. In recent days, however, the protests have revealed divisions among activists over what exactly would mark a success in rallies against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its appointed interim government.


“We are here until a new cabinet with revolutionary ministers is appointed,” said Khaled Sayed, a member of the Jan. 25 revolution youth coalition, standing amid tents and banners near the square’s central garden.

But Ragi Eskandar had another goal in mind: “I’m not going to leave the square before I see the head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, cede power to a civilian presidential council that would rule Egypt during the current transitional period.”

After Prime Minister Essam Sharaf issued a statement last Saturday that didn’t meet demonstrators’ expectations, some called for him to step down, claiming that he wasn’t given enough powers by SCAF to implement the reforms. Both Sharaf and SCAF responded this week by offering a number of concessions. The prime minister announced a reshuffle in both his Cabinet and the Interior Ministry, and nearly 700 highly ranked police officers were dismissed.

On Wednesday, SCAF reiterated its full backing and support to Sharaf and said parliamentary elections will be held in October or November instead of September, another demand that was called for by activists. Nonetheless, protesters in Tahrir on Friday remained suspicious of the military’s intentions.

“This could be a farcical move by SCAF to intrigue us, but we will not be fooled.” said Eskandar.

Unlike previous demonstrations, police and security forces have not intervened in the latest round of rallies. The split among activists and political parties was further highlighted by the refusal of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and best organized political force, to take part in Friday’s protests. The Brotherhood, like many Egyptians, believe the protesters are demanding too much, too quickly, while not compromising with the interim government.

The protests were much smaller than one week ago. But activists say Sharaf and the military council only respond to pressure from the street. Demonstrations and marches have also taken place in Suez, Alexandria and other cities, indicating the revolution that overthrew Mubarak is both unfinished and divided.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo