CAIRO – Egypt appeared Friday on the cusp of a protracted battle for control of the country’s once-promising revolution, with military council supporters and anti-government protesters staging rival demonstrations, and neither side willing to concede ground to the other.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to Tahrir Square, the iconic center of Egyptian calls for change, where they denounced as an insult the ruling military council’s selection of a 77-year-old politician who once served under deposed President Hosni Mubarak to be the country’s new interim prime minister.
For many, it was evidence that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was incapable of meaningful reform, more than nine months after it assumed power when Mubarak resigned.
“Today we’re much more lucid about what’s wrong with this country: It’s military rule,” said the acclaimed Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah, who’s currently shooting a feature film about the uprising and was part of the Tahrir throng.
About six miles away, several thousand people rallied to voice their support for the powerful generals after their appointment of Kamal el-Ganzouri to lead the caretaker government.
The Obama administration issued a statement that called for the military council to transfer power to civilian authority “as soon as possible.”
Activists and analysts warned that the country seemed headed toward more internecine bloodshed, with no solution in sight. Any civilian-dominated government would still be beholden to the country’s military.
The military council acknowledged that the country is on edge three days before parliamentary elections are set to begin. To provide better security for those elections, the council announced that each stage of the staggered voting now would be allotted two days instead of one.
Egypt’s best-organized political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, found itself in a bind. The influential Islamist group quietly dispatched its young members to join the Tahrir protesters but officially backed the military council’s plan to hold elections as scheduled and to hand over power after presidential elections in mid-2012.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is poised to win big if the polls go on, but the group’s revolutionary credentials have taken a severe hit amid criticism that by siding with the generals it had sold out long-term reform goals for its own immediate electoral interests.