Hundreds of activists gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to demonstrate against presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq ahead of a run-off vote, saying they did not want to be ruled by another former military man.
Some of those in the square supported Shafiq’s rival Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which already controls parliament, but others were frustrated that they face a choice between two of Egypt’s most polarizing politicians.
Young pro-democracy activists had called for a “Friday of determination” to demand application of a law passed before the first round of voting that excluded top Mubarak officials from running, and to protest the verdicts.
Shafiq was initially disqualified from standing but, in late April, the electoral commission accepted an appeal from him against his disqualification and the case was referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court is to sit on Thursday, just two days ahead of the run-off, to review the law, according to AFP.
The crowd also protested against what they consider lenient verdicts in the trial of Mubarak, his ex-interior minister and six police chiefs charged over the murder of demonstrators in the 2011 uprising that forced the president to resign.
“No to left-overs from the old regime,” said one placard, in allusion to Shafiq.
Shouting to the crowd, one Muslim cleric said: “The revolution is in danger. I am here so that the regime of Hosni Mubarak does not return. Protect your revolution!”
Shafiq launches attack against Islamists
In a press conference in Cairo, Shafiq, whose strong showing in the election’s first round last month sent shockwaves throughout the fragmented groups which helped overthrow Mubarak, pledged he would uphold freedoms.
“Public squares will be free and secure for expression,” he said. “I promise you, no youth will be arrested for political activities.”
Shafiq launched a vehement attack against his Islamist opponents, accusing the Brotherhood of wanting “obedient youth that kiss hands.”
The Brotherhood has accused Shafiq of wanting to restore Mubarak’s rule, which ended in February 2011 after a 18-day uprising that killed roughly 850 people.
The latest round of daily protests in Tahrir was triggered by the verdict in a trial of Mubarak on June 2, which added to suspicions that former president’s old guard were still in charge.
The court jailed Mubarak for life but acquitted six of his top security officials.
Mubarak’s health has reportedly deteriorated since his incarceration in Cairo’s Tora prison after the sentencing, and the official MENA news agency reported that he might be moved back to a military hospital.
The verdict has impacted the presidential election, with the Brotherhood seizing on the popular outrage to portray its candidate Mursi as a revolutionary who would retry Mubarak.
Protesters have been angered by Shafiq’s links to Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. Both men are former air force commanders and Mubarak made Shafiq prime minister shortly before being overthrown in a popular uprising 16 months ago.
Final step before army hands in power
The June 16-17 presidential run-off vote is the final step before the army, which took charge when Mubarak was driven out, formally hands over to a new president by July 1. That marks the end of a transition marred by protests, political bickering and sometimes bloodshed.
Mursi’s campaign ratcheted up its efforts on Friday, distributing flyers outside mosques after Friday prayers. The Brotherhood called on activists to join the demonstration in Tahrir.
Many distrust the Brotherhood for reneging on an earlier pledge not to run for the presidency and say it has sought to hog power since it won the biggest bloc of seats in parliament, winning many more seats that it originally said it would seek.
Protesters demanded both a retrial and enforcement of a law passed by parliament but not implemented that Mubarak-era officials be banned from participating in politics. The constitutional court will rule on the law’s validity on June 14.
Scores of demonstrators chanting and carrying banners marched from Tahrir toward the nearby cabinet office, where dozens of activists were in the third day of a hunger strike.
The hunger strikers were demanding that Shafiq not be allowed to run for president, that thousands of prisoners held by the military be released and a retrial, activist Nawara Negm said, according to Reuters.
“We won’t stop until parliament responds,” said Nawara. She said 41 other activists had joined her in the strike.
Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al-Adly, were sentenced to life in prison on Saturday, but six security chiefs were acquitted of the killings of demonstrators during the uprising, which left some 850 people dead.
The ruling immediately sparked nationwide outrage, with thousands taking to the streets to vent their anger that no one had been found directly guilty of killing the protesters.