Thousands of people have poured into central Cairo’s Tahrir Square for what they called a “second revolution”, calling for Egypt’s military rulers to speed up the pace of democratic reforms.
Christians and Muslims took turns praying in Tahrir Square, as they did in the protests that forced the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak in February. Sectarian clashes have turned deadly since the revolution.
The ruling military warned that “dubious” elements might try to cause chaos during the protests, and said it would stay clear of the area to avoid any friction.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner and a reform leader, said that he was “seriously concerned about the absence of security forces”.
The military’s leadership of the country’s democratic transition has left many protesters dissatisfied.
Some critics accuse the military rulers of collaborating with the former regime and being too lenient in its prosecution of Mubarak, his family and regime members. Mubarak faces trial on charges of conspiring to kill protesters.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organised political force, opposed the protest and called it an attempt to drive a wedge between the military and the people. The Brotherhood’s absence will test the ability of liberal and secular groups to launch their own sustained opposition movement.
Some liberal groups are calling for planned parliamentary elections, now set for September, to be pushed back so that they will have more time to prepare. The Brotherhood, however, stands to make major gains and wants the vote to go ahead.
The protest movement wants to oust the ruling Armed Forces Council and replace it with a civilian council. Protesters accuse the army of using excessive force in cracking down on peaceful protesters since Mubarak’s removal, sending thousands to military tribunals and detaining young protesters.
A joint statement by four liberal and secular groups called for postponing the September elections, drafting basic principles that guarantee that Egypt is a civil state and ending military tribunals.
The statement reflects worries of many political groups that the Brotherhood is poised to win a big portion of parliament.
The Brotherhood, banned in 1954, became a political force after renouncing violence in the 1970s. Eventually it became the most formidable opponent to Mubarak’s regime, though it was still banned as a political party.