Protesters on Friday gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for what was billed as a mass rally to “reclaim the revolution” amid anger over the military rulers’ handling of the transition.
Thousands flocked to Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of protests that forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down in February -- to demand an end to military trials of civilians, cleansing institutions of former regime remnants, amendment of a recently published electoral law and social justice, AFP reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political force, said on its website that it would not join the protest. But social media websites said many youths vowed to defy the orders from the group’s leadership and join the protest.
U.S. actor Sean Penn joined thousands of Egyptian activists who packed downtown Cairo, according to Reuters.
Local media said Penn, holding an Egyptian flag, walked with Egyptian actor Khaled al-Nabawi in Tahrir Square, where Egyptians demonstrated amid growing discontent over the way military rulers had managed the transitional period.
“The world is inspired by the call for freedom by the courageous revolution of Egypt for its freedom,” Penn said in remarks carried by al-Ahram newspaper’s online page.
“Clearly that is not a completion overnight, there are still struggles forward, there are constitutional issues, there is ... a transition of power from the military to the people,” he added.
Nabawi said he had invited the Oscar-winning Penn to visit Egypt as part of efforts to demonstrate that Egypt was a safe place to visit despite the uprising. “We want to show that Egypt is safe,” Nabawi said.
The military council has announced that parliamentary elections will start on Nov. 28 with a mixed system of proportional representation and individual lists. Most political groups fear the system will allow Mubarak supporters to return to office.
“This week is different because we feel that our revolution has been stolen from us,” said Yasser Fouad, an unemployed 38-year-old, his voice drowned out by loudspeakers urging people to ensure the protest remained peaceful.
“None of our demands have been achieved. We want them to hand over power immediately through elections,” Fouad said.
Mahmoud Sayyid Saif, 58, who works at the Health Ministry, said Egyptians would no longer put up with inaction. “It has been seven months, and nothing has been achieved,” he said.
The ruling military council has warned demonstrators against attacking public facilities, but soldiers and security forces stayed away from the square.
Egyptians have grown more vocal in criticizing the military council’s handling of the transitional period. Six presidential hopefuls on Thursday issued a statement demanding that the council set March as the deadline for handing over power.
They also declared that the state of emergency legally expired on Friday. The military council has said it will stay in force until next year.
“The state of emergency in place now will come to an end on Sept. 30, 2011, in accordance with article 59 of the constitutional decree, and any decision or judicial ruling issued after Sept. 30, 2011 based on the state of emergency will be null of any legal or constitutional legitimacy,” the presidential candidates' statement said.
They also demanded reactivation of a law dating back to the 1950s that criminalizes abuse of office, to make it possible to try remnants of the Mubarak regime and “render them incapable of sneaking back to the seats of the legislative authority.”
Some 60 political parties issued a joint statement earlier this week with similar demands. They also gave the military council until Sunday to amend election laws to allow political parties to also compete for seats allocated to individuals.
On Friday, the government said it will review that disputed article in the law, state TV reported.
Mustafa al-Naggar, a protest leader and founder of the new al-Adl, or Justice, party, said representatives of political parties were scheduled to meet with the military council on Saturday to discuss the law.
“We need public pressure,” al-Naggar told The Associated Press from Tahrir Square.
Thousands of Egyptians also marched in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and in the city of Suez. Witnesses said the protests were peaceful, according to Reuters.
On Thursday, six presidential hopefuls including former Arab League chief Amr Mussa issued a statement denouncing what they say is the military’s extension of the transition period.
They called on the military council to provide a clear roadmap, which would ensure that presidential elections are scheduled for no later than March 2012, according to AFP.
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 because of the slow pace of change.