Middle East
Egyptians protest against military rule
Rally in Cairo to press generals to keep their promises of political reform ends with attack on Israeli embassy.
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2011 16:45
Protesters outside the Israeli embassy tear down the wall surrounding the building [Reuters]

Protesters have held a mass rally at Cairo's Tahrir Square calling for reforms, after the ruling military council said it would respond harshly to any violence by activists.

Friday's gathering the Egyptian capital was supposed to branch out into a march to the nearby cabinet offices, to press the military rulers to keep their promises of reform after the February revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak's rule.

All through the morning, protesters gathered under a scorching sun and filled a section of the public square to listen to the weekly Muslim prayer sermon.

"It would be shame on the Egyptian people if they forget their revolution," the preacher said.

He attacked some of the prosecution witnesses in the ongoing murder trial of Mubarak and his security chiefs for testifying in court this week that they had not been ordered to use deadly force against protesters during the revolt.

"They must be charged with false testimony. How can a prosecution witness turn into a defence witness?" the cleric asked.

Military trials denounced

The preacher denounced military trials for civilians. The military, which took charge after Mubarak's toppling, has sentenced thousands of people to prison terms since February.

Protesters chanted slogans against the military ruler and current de facto head of the state Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi after the sermon ended.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Tahrir Square, said that thousands of people flocked there to "protest against the rules that the military has put into place to limit the freedom of people".

"Most people are here because they are not happy at the way the military rulers are running the country ... There are hundreds of fans of a local football club that have just joined as well, carrying the red flags of their team," she said.

"They are upset at the police for bad treatment at a football stadium on Tuesday night."

The military, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, said it respected the activists' right to protest peacefully at Tahrir Square, but warned it would respond to violence by the protesters with "the utmost severity and decisiveness".

The interior ministry said it had withdrawn riot police stationed in Tahrir Square to allow the activists to protest unhindered, the official MENA news agency reported.

Hundreds of people started filing into Tahrir Square on Friday morning, some holding anti-corruption banners, one of which read: "The people want to purify the state".

Police and military personnel were nowhere to be seen in Tahrir Square on in the streets around it.

Protests boycotted

The protest, called by mostly secular and leftist activists, is being boycotted by the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement. 

Secular activists are concerned that the military's current timetable for parliamentary elections in autumn will play into the hands of the Brotherhood by denying new political movements the time to organise into parties.

The activists are also demanding an end to the military trials of civilians.

Activists said more than 30 groups and political parties would be represented at the protest.

The Democratic Front party said it would demand that military rulers prepare a "comprehensive timetable that will spell out the steps for the interim period, starting with the presidential elections".

Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency and a presidential hopeful, said Egyptians were entitled to demonstrate peacefully, especially since many of their demands had yet to be realised.

But Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to contest parliamentary elections scheduled for November, suggested it was not yet time for more demonstrations because previous protests had already brought some results.

"In case they are not achieved, then we return to the square," he said.

Mohsen Rady, a senior Brotherhood member, told state television his movement, which is showing growing strains with the military, believed Egyptians were weary of protests.

"People have grown bored of these demonstrations," Rady said.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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