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The War Within Islam ( 23 Nov 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Near-Catastrophic Sight: Tahrir, Part 2

By Alia Allana

Nov 24, 2011

It was a near-catastrophic sight: Mohammed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square was covered in rubble, dust rose as people wearing gas masks ran from the firing riots police. People hunched over, struggling to breathe, as tears ran down their faces. This was a far cry from the protests at Tahrir Square. On Tuesday, the day of the million-man march, people chanted in the square. Some waved flags. But most of them had no intention of entering Mohammed Mahmoud Street. An elderly lady, Mona, described it as “the battlefront”.

Young boys, some just about 10, in hoodies and gas masks threw stones at the riots police. Others stood with their hands raised, gesturing that they were peaceful. Yet the police, under orders from the army, continued to fire. Rubber bullets struck down a couple of protesters in each round of shooting. It is estimated that about 700 were injured and at least 29 dead.

People on the street knew whom to blame. They roared, “Irhal (leave).” They asked the army to leave and they asked Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and his generals to resign. The gathered yelled, “The people want to topple the marshal.” That was about Tantawi, who has been the de facto ruler of the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and on the receiving end of the people’s anger.

When Tantawi assumed power and generals drove into Cairo, after having refused to open fire on pro-democracy protesters in January and early February, they were given a hero’s welcome. Flowers were showered upon the army, recalled Haifa, a student in the square. Today she called them “villains.” As the crowd swelled and night fell on the square, rumours that Tantawi would give a speech began to circulate. At 7.35 pm, Tantawi in green army fatigues appeared on TV. When he spoke, he resembled Mubarak in his final days, beleaguered and out of touch with the youth in the square. His message was simple: the people would have their wish, a presidential election would be held in June 2012.

He still got booed. Protesters groaned, some spat on the floor. He promised to speed up the transfer of power from the military to a civilian government; he said that the army was ready to head to the “barracks immediately” — after a referendum.

Many protesters and activists I spoke to feared that their revolution had been stalled derailed. Some wondered whether it was a revolution at all: today’s Egypt, where martial law is imposed and protesters are battered brutally, bears a scary resemblance to Mubarak’s Egypt. “We thought things would be different,” said activist Maher.

But from February 26, generals had lived up to their name on the street, “Mubarak’s military”. They employed the same hard-handed approach as peaceful demonstrators got tortured and killed. Sit-ins were crushed with force. Activists say the army’s role as the villain was confirmed with the Maspero Massacre on October 9. On that day people marched to the Maspero state TV building to protest the burning of a church. The army crushed the uprising by driving tanks over protesters. Twenty-eight people were killed. The army then arrested peaceful protesters who had gathered on the streets and subjected them to military trials. Currently it is believed that about 12,000 people face military trials; among them are bloggers and activists.

Now protesters are demanding that the Security Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) start delegating domestic duties to a civilian government. But the SCAF has worked towards dividing the country rather than creating a united government: it has played Islamists against secularists, and incited sectarian tensions.

Despite the body count and chaos, the SCAF is committed to holding the parliamentary election on November 28. It is just a few days away, but those in Tahrir were apathetic — hardly anyone spoke about the election. Political banners were absent; there was no sign of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party that is slotted to win the election. The logic, it seems, is participating in demonstrations would jeopardise the Brotherhood’s chances of victory in the poll. If all goes according to plan, the Brotherhood is set to win a majority of votes that will allow it to write the future constitution.

In the square, as midnight approached, talk of the election finally filtered through. Many viewed dubiously the Brotherhood’s absence from the protests. Hatem Ahmed, a lawyer, said the army and the Brotherhood might have entered an alliance. People are still in the square, distrustful of the government, protective of Part Two of their revolution.

Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi