EGYPTIANS were out Friday for nationwide rallies to protest against the ruling military council’s attempt to halt the revolution, in a call that has exposed political rifts.
In Cairo, several thousand protesters packed into Tahrir Square – the symbolic heart of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February – for the Muslim Friday prayers.
A large banner hung over the flag-waving crowd, demanding a new constitution ‘now and not later’.
Youth groups that had helped to launch the uprising, dubbed Friday ‘the second day of anger,’ urging protesters to rally for ‘an end to political corruption’.
The uprising’s first ‘day of anger’ on January 28 drew hundreds of thousands of protesters who were furious at government attempts to quash demonstrations by shutting down communications and using violence.
But three months after the revolt, activists are frustrated by the slow pace of democratic change, and are this time directing their anger at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
While the revolt achieved its aim of ousting Mubarak, the unelected military retains absolute power in Egypt.
Protesters want a civilian government, a new constitution, the acceleration of trials of former regime figures and their removal from top jobs in the police, universities and other public institutions.
They are also calling for proper policing of the streets, amid weeks of insecurity and sectarian clashes blamed on remnants of the old regime.
‘The prevalence of the law is the most important thing, and we need a new constitution before elections,’ said Randa Gohar, 33, in Tahrir Square.
‘I want a presidential council. The military council is not doing anything,’ said fellow protester Muhannad Galal, 27.
He cast doubt on the ability of military council chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s long-time defence minister, and military chief of staff Sami Enan to pave the way for reforms.
‘Tantawi and Enan were with Mubarak for two decades, we are the ones who removed him, not them,’ Galal said.
But some have said that Friday’s protests could drive a dangerous wedge between the people and the army.
Chief among them is the Muslim Brotherhood which said it was ‘very concerned’ by the protest.
In a statement, the Brotherhood attacked the people by asking ‘who are the people angry with now?’
The group said the revolution had achieved many of its goals, including not only the ouster of Mubarak but also his referral to trial along with his sons and associates.
The call to protest can therefore ‘only mean that the anger is directed at the people themselves or at the army,’ said the Islamist group, urging protesters not to divide the people and the military.
The military said in a statement on Thursday that it will steer clear of protests in an effort to avert any unrest.
It warned in a statement on its Facebook page of ‘suspicious elements who will try to pit the military against the people’, and said it ‘decided to have completely no presence in areas of protests to avert these dangers’.
Activists say the military council only agreed to put Mubarak and his sons on trial after intense street pressure, arguing that the momentum must be kept up for a transition to full democracy.
Egyptian ex-president Hosni Mubarak, charged with murder, ‘had complete knowledge of every bullet fired’ at protesters, according to damning testimony by his former spy chief published in a state newspaper on Thursday.
The Al-Akhbar daily reported that prosecutors partly relied on testimony provided by Omar Suleiman, the former head of intelligence and briefly vice president, to charge Mubarak with premeditated murder.
‘Mubarak had complete knowledge of every bullet fired at protesters, and the number of those killed or wounded,’ Suleiman is reported to have told prosecutors.
Suleiman said he relayed to the president hourly updates on the police’s deadly response to the mass protests that began on January 25 to overthrow Mubarak, who ruled the country for three decades.
‘The reports included all instances of firing live ammunition and rubber bullets at protesters in an attempt to abort the revolution,’ Al-Akbar reported.
An official inquiry found that at least 846 people were killed during the revolt that ousted Mubarak on February 11, many of them from gunshot wounds. The justice minister has said Mubarak may be put to death if convicted.
l The 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement on Friday demanded that Israel release a ‘substantial number’ of Palestinian political prisoners as a ‘positive step’ toward peace.
At the end of a ministerial meeting in Indonesia, the movement reiterated its support for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, a position it shares with the United States but which is rejected by Israel.
In a joint statement, the ministers ‘reaffirmed the long-standing international consensus recognising the Palestinian people as a nation and recognising their inalienable right to self-determination and independence in their state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.’
They called on Israel to release Palestinian ‘political prisoners’ including 300 under the age of 18 and 10 members of the Palestinian legislative council.
‘The issue is a central one and a practical and effective benchmark in the construction of a just peace in the region,’ the statement said.
‘The ministers stressed that the release of a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners . . . could constitute a positive step towards fostering the climate of mutual trust necessary for the resumption of permanent status negotiations.’
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opened the meeting on Wednesday and warned of new strategic rivalries between states as the world deals with complex challenges including terrorism and climate change.
But in their declaration the foreign ministers referred only to the Palestinian issue and a long-standing call for nuclear disarmament.
‘The ministers declare their firm commitment to work for convening a high-level international conference to identify ways and means of eliminating nuclear weapons at the earliest possible date,’ they said.
The declaration made no mention of specific events in member states such as Yemen or Bahrain, countries which are in the grip of violent turmoil as unpopular regimes try to cling to power in the face of unrest.
On the sidelines of the meeting on the resort island of Bali, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said that he had met his Iranian counterpart to discuss re-opening diplomatic ties.
He said Egypt’s next parliament, which will be elected in September, would review the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran.
Iran severed diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1980 in protest at Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel signed a year earlier, and the two states maintain only interests sections in each other’s capitals.
But they have signalled they plan to mend ties in the wake of the February 11 fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.