Election fatigue and controversy over funding of civil society groups result in low-key interest in upper house vote.
|Protesters fight with supporters of newly-elected Muslim Brotherhood movement outside parliament [REUTERS]|
Hundreds of Egyptian protesters, demanding the end of military rule, have been prevented from reaching parliament by backers of the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds the majority in the assembly.
There were 71 people wounded in the clashes on Tuesday between the protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters, according to the deputy health ministry.
“We are standing here as a human shield, because if the protesters go any further, they will clash with the police. They want to enter parliament, what do you expect me to do?” Muslim Brotherhood member Hamdy Adbdelsamad told the AFP news agency.
Behind him, anti-military protesters chanted against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power when Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year.
Activists had called for a march from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the Egyptian uprising, to parliament to press the newly-elected MPs to implement the goals of the revolution.
They want the ouster of the military government, an end to the military trials of civilians, the restructuring of the interior ministry and a guarantee of freedoms and social justice.
They say that as the country’s only elected authority after the uprising, that parliament could either select a temporary president until a constitution is written or press for earlier elections which lawmakers could oversee.
“That’s enough for the Field Marshal [Hussein Tantawi],” one protester said. “He should hand over power so we can have a civil state.”
Accusations of ‘collusion’
Islamist and secular protesters stood side by side in Tahrir Square during the 18 days of protests that toppled Mubarak in early 2011.
But tensions have risen between them since parliamentary elections propelled the Muslim Brotherhood to the centre stage of politics, with its Freedom and Justice Party now controlling 47 per cent of the assembly.
Secular protesters accuse the Islamists of colluding with the ruling military to maintain their new-found power.
“Badie, you are selling the revolution!” the anti-military protesters chanted, in reference to Mohammed Badie, the Islamist movement’s supreme guide.
“The Muslim Brotherhood youth are blocking all roads to the parliament, preventing the anti-military protesters… There are huge numbers of them standing in rows like militias,” one anti-military protester said.
Riot police was also deployed near the parliament building were MPs were holding a session.
After several hours, protesters decided to abandon their plans to reach parliament and headed to the state television building in the Maspero district, another focal point of the protests.
Since January 25, pro-democracy groups have organised a series of rallies and protests to mark one year since the uprising that toppled Mubarak and left the military in power.
The military council, led by Mubarak’s ex-defence minister Hussein Tantawi, has pledged to hand power to civilian rule by June when a new president is to be elected.
The military enjoyed hero status at the start of the uprising last year for refusing to shoot on demonstrators, but became the target of protester wrath over human rights abuses and the stifling of dissent.