Protesters throng Tahrir Square in February during the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak
Thousands of Islamist and secular protesters gathered on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, scene of a mass protest in the spring (pictured), for a mass rally to press the ruling military to hand over power to a civilian government. © Pedro Ugarte - AFP
Protesters throng Tahrir Square in February during the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak
Jailan Zayan, AFP
Last updated: November 19, 2011

Egypt protesters stage anti-military rally

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday for a mass rally aimed at pushing Egypt's military rulers to cede power 10 months after an uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak.

As general elections draw near -- the first polls since Mubarak was ousted in February -- protesters are demanding more control over the constitution the new parliament is set to draft and a shift to civilian rule.

They want the withdrawal of a government document that proposes in advance guidelines for the new constitution, including a clause which could see the military's budget shielded from public scrutiny.

Friday's protests were led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and groups of varying political stripes under different banners who all agree that the military must transfer power to a civilian government as soon as possible.

"The people want a timetable for the handover of power," read one large banner hanging over the square.

Delivering the sermon at the main weekly Muslim prayers, imam Mazhar Shahin urged protesters to keep defending the goals of the revolution.

"Perhaps those who rule us think we will forget our cause with the passage of time. They are deluded and mistaken," he warned the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak was ousted.

"We reject the imposition of dictates on the people, we reject Silmi's document. No voice can drown out the voice of the people," Shahin told the crowd.

The contested government document, presented by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Silmi, drew fire for including clauses that removed the military budget from parliamentary oversight and allowed the SCAF a final say on military-related matters.

Thousands also protested against the document in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

The government revised the draft, but Islamists, who organised a mass protest in July against a military-drafted charter, have rejected the very idea of a document that would limit parliament's authority to draft the constitution, branding the articles undemocratic.

The Brotherhood, through its Freedom and Justice Party, may emerge as the largest bloc in the election, the first since the overthrow of Mubarak.

"Those who fear Islamist movements in Egypt, I tell them don't be scared of Islam in Egypt," Shahin said.

"Egypt is Islamic, like it or not... We want a civic, democratic state with an Islamic vision that allows people to practise their rights and democracy," he said.

Adham Hani left his home in the central province of Minya to join the Tahrir protest.

"We need the cancellation of the constitutional principles, we need a date for presidential elections," the 25-year-old said.

"Parliament will have no sovereignty as long as the SCAF is in charge."

Close by, the head of the fundamentalist Gamaa Islamiya, Tarek al-Zomor, told AFP that the constitutional principles were a "circumvention of the people's will."

"We are here to stress the necessity of a timetable to civilian rule. If that doesn't happen, then it confirms the conspiracy to rob the revolution," Zomor said.

In Cairo, hundreds marched from the Mohandesseen neighbourhood to Tahrir Square, under the banner: "We want a president," and demanding the promised handover to civilian rule take place by April 2012.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to start on November 28 and end in March.

Friday's demonstration comes a day after 25 people were injured when a Coptic Christian march came under attack by assailants throwing stones and bottles.

Copts, who make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people, complain of discrimination in the Muslim-majority country.

There has been a rise in sectarian clashes since Mubarak was toppled.

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