Tens of thousands in Tahrir Square for second revolt


TENS OF thousands of people rallied yesterday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and on the streets of major cities across Egypt, calling on the ruling military to hand over power to a civilian council, draw up a new constitution, and postpone September’s parliamentary election until new political parties can organise.

The mass action, dubbed the “second day of rage”, was the largest since the ralllies held for the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak on February 11th. The rallies went ahead despite opposition from the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood, which accused activists of creating a split between the people and the armed forces.

Some protesters called for the resignation of military chief Muhammad Hussein Tantawi while others taunted the brotherhood, which had proclaimed a boycott: “Revolutionaries are here, where is the brotherhood?”

The overwhelming response to the call by secular organisers of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak amounted to a double defeat for the brotherhood. Its youth wing defied the boycott and the secular camp proved it could muster mass support without brotherhood backing.

After Mr Mubarak fell from power, liberal and leftist activists accused the brotherhood of forming a partnership with the military in order to obstruct the rise of secular democratic forces. “The brotherhood and the army are [now] hand in hand,” asserted Bassem Kamel, a member of the newly founded Socialist Democratic Party. Secular activists fear that if the parliamentary poll is held as planned, the deeply rooted brotherhood will emerge as the largest party. Although banned in 1954, the brotherhood has played an influential role in Egyptian politics since the 1970s when president Anwar Sadat enlisted the movement’s support against secular nationalists opposed to close ties to the US and the peace treaty with Israel. During the 30-year reign of his successor, Mr Mubarak, the fortunes of the brotherhood waxed and waned.

Since Mr Mubarak’s removal, the brotherhood has formed a political party, announced plans to field candidates for half the assembly seats, and can be expected to back a leading brotherhood figure standing for the presidency as an independent.

The brotherhood has also made common cause with more radical organisations determined to impose Muslim canon law and ultimately transform the country into an Islamic state, alarming liberals and Christians.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the transition to democratic rule, activists are also demanding speedy trials for Mr Mubarak, accused of profiteering and ordering fatal shootings of protesters during the uprising. The case for Mr Mubarak’s prosecution has been strengthened by testimony of former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who said he knew of “every bullet fired” against demonstrators.

In an attempt to deflect popular criticism from the unelected military and the caretaker government, Egypt is set to open the Gaza crossing on its border this weekend. This should ease Israel’s blockade and siege of the Strip.

In Syria, security forces reportedly killed three demonstrators in a Damascus suburb and fired on protesters in the Deir al-Zor district near the Iraqi border and the central city of Homs. Five protesters were wounded in the town of Zabadani close to the Lebanese frontier while three were said to have been slain overnight in a village near the protest hub of Deraa in the south.

Activists seeking to evade arrest and violence have been mounting night time vigils and rallies while tribesmen have shot dead soldiers in revenge for deaths of relatives.

Yesterday’s death toll as compared with 44 from the previous Friday appeared to indicate that the army and security forces had been ordered not to shoot protesters. However, Amnesty International announced it had received from human rights groups video film of Syrian forces applying “what appears to be a shoot-to-kill policy”. Opposition organisations claim that more than 1,000 have died since unrest erupted in mid-March.

Eight world leaders attending the Deauville summit in France called on Damascus to grant the Syrian people’s “legitimate demands for freedom” and said they were “appalled” over deaths and violations of human rights.

“Only the path of dialogue and fundamental reforms will lead to democracy and . . . to long-term security and prosperity,” French president and Summit host Nicosla Sarkozy said.

“President [Bashar] al-Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.”

The US Security Council has failed to adopt a resolution on Syria due to the reluctance of Russia and China although 220 global civil society groups have called on the council to demand an end to the use of force against protesters.