Egyptian protesters return to Tahrir Square to fight military rule


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CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood sought to increase pressure on Egypt’s military rulers Tuesday by rallying protesters in Tahrir Square to rekindle a revolution that has lost much of its focus and edge since massive protests brought down longtime leader Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago.

The Brotherhood’s return to the street — its most potent weapon — comes as the organization is filing lawsuits to overturn the army’s decisions to dissolve the Islamic-dominated parliament and weaken presidential powers. The country’s new leader is projected to be Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, who Egyptian media reported defeated Ahmed Shafik, an ally of Mubarak, by an estimated 1-million votes in a runoff election over the weekend.


Official presidential runoff results are expected Wednesday. The government’s legal barrage against the Brotherhood took another turn this week when an administrative court postponed a case seeking to disband the 84-year-old organization over allegations that it broke the law against religiously based political parties.

The Brotherhood has joined activists groups, such as the April 6th movement, to draw on public resentment over the military’s actions and infuse fresh momentum into a revolution that has stumbled over egos, competing political visions and crackdowns by security forces.

‘The Egyptian people will not stop making sacrifices, and will continue the revolution in order to ensure their sovereignty and prevent the domination of the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and their coup against democracy,’ said a statement issued by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

Abdelhaleem Mohamed, holding a bright-pink sign demanding an end to military rule, marched into the square as crowds began growing before dusk: “If we remain silent, the [military] will pass more laws without our approval. We have lost trust in the military.... They must go now.”

The Brotherhood’s reemergence in Tahrir is driven by political necessity and shrinking options. A little more than a week ago, the Islamists dominated parliament and were closing in on the presidency, which would have given them control of two branches of government. But with parliament shuttered by a court edict and Morsi — if his reported election stands — facing limited presidential authority, the Brotherhood was forced into bolder tactics.

Provoking the army with demonstrations raises the danger of bloodshed. The generals expanded martial law last week and it is unclear if either they or the Brotherhood want to risk tipping the nation into fresh unrest. Outrage against the military is widening, but the army enjoys support from millions of rich and poor Egyptians who demand an end to more than a year of turmoil that has shaken financial markets and eroded foreign investment.


‘Why do we rush to the word ‘confrontation’?’ Yasser Ali, a Brotherhood spokesman, said at a news conference. ‘We do not seek any confrontation with anyone. No one in Egypt wants confrontation.... There has to be dialogue between national forces, and the people alone must decide their fate.’

The rally also sought to redeem the Brotherhood’s revolutionary credibility. Critics have accused the organization of abandoning the uprising to further its political aims by cooperating with the army ahead of parliamentary elections. That was the scenario for months, but the Brotherhood — even as it negotiates with the military on presidential powers — has been outmaneuvered by generals opposed to the prospect of a state based on political Islam.

Many activists and revolutionary groups remain suspicious of the Brotherhood. They fear they have been trapped in a larger game of political brinkmanship between the Brotherhood and the army. The Brotherhood is often regarded as too rooted in a religious agenda to embrace civil rights and other democratic principles that propelled the uprising.

The Islamists, so far, have been stalled by judges and generals. The constitutional decree by the SCAF gives the military legislative and executive powers, including drafting the national budget. The new president would have no authority over the military leadership and would need the permission of the generals to declare war.


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— Jeffrey Fleishman and Reem Abdellatif

Photo: Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday. Credit: Patrick Baz / AFP / Getty Images