Cairo, Egypt – Demonstrators demanding an immediate end to military rule in Egypt are gearing up for another mass rally in the shadow of a fragile truce between protesters and security forces in the capital.
Large crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, after activists called for a “million-man march” in the capital and other cities to begin after Muslim noon prayers. The protesters are demanding the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces transfer power to a civilian government.
After nearly a week of deadly clashes between protesters and government security forces in the capital and elsewhere, the country’s military council tasked former prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri on Thursday with forming a new cabinet, according to Egyptian media reports.
Ganzouri, who headed the government from 1996 to 1999 under the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, agreed in principle to lead a national government, the state newspaper Al-Ahram reported, citing sources close to Ganzouri.
After the mass uprising earlier this year, Ganzouri distanced himself from Mubarak in a television interview, prompting several activists to recommend him as a future presidential candidate.
His reported nomination followed a meeting with SCAF head Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Thursday.
However, the news did little to change the attitudes of anti-SCAF protesters who have been camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for days. Upon hearing the news of Ganzouri’s reported appointment, demonstrators erupted in raucous jeers, chanting “we don’t want him”.
In a further sign that the reported appointment could fail to put an end to seven days of mass rallies, thousands of protesters were already camped out in Tahrir Square before dawn on Friday morning, despite chilly temperatures and a blanket of dense fog.
Their presence came amid a tense calm in the square and its surrounding streets – streets that had been the scene of intense fighting between police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters throwing rocks and petrol bombs since Saturday.
The violence, mostly halted under the terms of a tenuous truce on Thursday, left 41 people dead and more than 3,200 injured across the country.
SCAF apologised for the deaths of demonstrators on Thursday and pledged to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28 on time, despite a push from activists and some political parties to postpone them.
The SCAF “presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square”, it said on Thursday in a statement on its Facebook page.
It also called on “honourable citizens” to protect the square, separate the protesters from interior ministry riot police and arrest those who are found suspicious, raising concerns among some that the announcement had given license for street violence.
The military also began asserting a firmer street presence, promising to help police secure the country during the voting and erecting a two-metre-tall concrete barricade on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
The street leads towards the interior ministry and has been the focal point of violence between riot police and crowds of young men.
However, some protesters said they feared the cessation in fighting would not last long – evidenced in part by the numbers of young men who remained eager on Thursday to break through a human cordon preventing them from heading to the front line of fighting and violating the truce.
But protesters said they had another reason to fear, as well.
Eslam Yousry, a Cairo doctor who was volunteering in a makeshift medical tent behind the frontline, said he had seen military vehicles parked on a street leading to the interior ministry.
Where the tanks were absent, however, police and protesters were separated only by hastily constructed barricades.
He said this meant in essence, that security forces were serious about protecting the interior ministry, but not about ensuring peace was maintained between protesters and riot police.
“People are afraid of military tanks. If they see the tanks, they won’t do anything,” Yousry told Al Jazeera.
“But with no tanks, all it will take is for one person to throw a rock, and the truce is over.”