CAIRO – Banners waved and angry slogans echoed as tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Friday against the ruling military council, which they blame for hijacking a revolution that once bore the hope of leading the restive Arab world toward democracy.
Dominated by Islamists and including a smattering of secularists and liberals, crowds swelled into Tahrir Square in one of the largest demonstrations since longtime President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February. These factions have competing political agendas but were united to condemn the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ refusal to cede power to a civilian government.
The protest came nearly one week ahead of parliamentary elections and was another troubling sign that Egypt has yet to find a path away from decades of a repressive police state toward a viable democracy. The military has stifled civil liberties and appears intent on consolidating its power by manipulating the drafting of a new constitution to counter the rising influence of Islam.
What began as an uprising of promise has turned into bitterness and frustration as Egyptians remain mired in a stunted revolt. The military hasn’t budged; rather, it has expanded martial law and locked up dissidents and political bloggers.
The generals want to “abort the revolution,” said Ibrahim Yehia, a 23-year-old university engineering graduate and Muslim Brotherhood member.
The vitriol directed at the military and its chief commander, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, was drawn in caricatures pasted on walls and spray-painted on banners that fluttered through a chilly afternoon: “The field marshal is hallucinating, he wants to become president” and “God is great, down with military rule.”
The demonstration was led by the Brotherhood, the nation’s best-organized political movement, which is expected to win as much as 30 percent of parliament seats.
The Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis say proposals by the generals to enshrine the military as the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy” would create a dictatorship that could thwart the new parliament.