Egyptian activists prepared for a major protest in Cairo on Friday to “reclaim the revolution,” hoping it will attract millions of people unhappy with the generals who took over from veteran president Hosni Mubarak when he was forced out by popular protests in February.
But some Islamists, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, said they would not protest. The army urged protesters to keep order.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) warned against any threat to democracy and national security on the eve of the planned protests, in a statement on their Facebook page on Thursday.
The military rulers warned protesters against “those who seek to impede the democratic transformation that began with the call for parliamentary elections.”
“Those who have called for the Friday (protest) bear the responsibility to organize and secure and protect all private and public property,” SCAF said, according to AFP.
“Any encroachment on army units or camps or important establishments will be considered a threat to Egyptian national security and will be dealt with the utmost firmness,” SCAF said.
Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has repeatedly stressed the army’s commitment to democracy, but protesters have maintained pressure on the military council he presides over the slow pace of change.
Political parties from across Egypt’s political spectrum, in a joint statement late on Wednesday, threatened to boycott elections scheduled to start in November unless the country’s military rulers amend the election law.
Deadline for military council
The United States also put pressure on the interim government, saying it hoped Egypt’s emergency law -- widely seen as a tool of repression under Mubarak -- would be scrapped sooner than the military foresees next year.
About 60 political parties and groups, including the political wing of the Brotherhood, have set a deadline of Sunday for the military council to meet their demands. These include approving a law that would effectively prevent many of those who supported Mubarak while he was in power from running for office.
Without it, the parties said they would not take part in the elections: “We will boycott if they have not responded positively to our demands by Sunday,” Sayyid al-Badawi, the head of the Wafd party, told Reuters.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is now the largest and best organized party in Egypt, since Mubarak’s National Democratic Party was dissolved by court order.
The military council said on Tuesday that parliamentary elections would start in stages from Nov. 28, and invited candidates to start registering for the poll from Oct. 12.
Under rules approved by the council, which took over after Mubarak’s overthrow, party lists may compete for two thirds of seats in parliament, to be allocated regionally by proportional representation, while the rest are constituency seats reserved for unaffiliated individual candidates.
Badawi said all the parties had agreed to the demands in the statement to allow parties to field candidates on both regional party lists and for individual constituency seats.
Egypt’s military rulers said last week that the emergency law would remain in place until June next year, in keeping with a timeline set by Mubarak while he was trying to hold on to power in the face of mass demonstrations.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a faster end to the law, which was reactivated two days after a Sept. 9 attack by protesters on the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
“We hope to see the law lifted sooner than that because we think that is an important step on the way to the rule of law and to the kind of system of checks and balances that are important in protecting the rights of the Egyptian people,” she said in Washington on Wednesday.
“We want to see this as soon as possible,” she told a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Egyptian parties want the military council to activate a “Treason Law” issued in the 1950s to fight political corruption and abuse of office. In August, the government revived an amended version of the law, state news agency MENA reported. It was sent to the military council but has yet to be approved.
Under the law, any government official, member of parliament or minister may be punished for abuse of power if they, their relatives or acquaintances benefited from public office they held. Activists said the law would effectively bar many Mubarak loyalists from running for office for 10 years.
Road map for civil state
Activists who led the protests that ousted Mubarak have been rallying Egyptians to join Friday’s demonstration, hoping to press the military council to scrap the emergency laws. They also want a clear road map for handing power to civilians.
Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, said the group or party would not participate on Friday. “We have made our demands in statements and we expect the military council to respond in the next few days,” he told Reuters.
He added the Brotherhood and its party would review their position with other parties on Sunday, depending on the army’s response.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, another group, also said it would not take part in the Friday’s demonstration.
The army said in a statement on its Facebook page that any action directed at army units or facilities “is a threat to national security and will be dealt with strictly and decisively and perpetrators will be held accountable.”
Activists have staged a series of small, spontaneous demonstrations across Cairo this week in what analysts say could mark a return to the tactics of the Jan. 25 uprising.
“We are returning to civil resistance as we see Mubarak’s regime still in place,” said Mahmoud Afify, a spokesman for the April 6 Movement, which helped to lead the uprising.
The military council has portrayed itself as the protector of the revolution but has increasingly come under pressure to hand over power to civilians more quickly.
Activists have called for a massive protest on Tahrir Square, center of the uprising that ousted Mubarak, with activists hoping it would be one of the biggest since February. Egypt's benchmark stock index ended at a 29-month low because of worries about Friday’s protests.
Parties ultimately want elections held on the basis of an entirely party list-based system of proportional representation, rather than a mixed system which they say will allow Mubarak loyalists to use wealth and tribal influence to buy their way to individual constituency seats.