The surge of anger against Egypt’s military establishment appears to be bubbling over tonight, with more mass rallies due to take place in city squares across the country and leading politicians calling for this month’s presidential election to be shelved.
Tens of thousands of civilians are expected to descend on Tahrir Square tonight, as activists vented their frustration over the verdict in Saturday’s Hosni Mubarak trial. Demonstrations are also planned in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Port Said and Upper Egypt.
Along with last week’s verdict – in which Mr Mubarak was jailed but six senior police officials accused of killing protesters were released without charge – there is mounting unease over the presence of Ahmed Shafik, Egypt’s former air force chief, in this month’s presidential run-off.
Many Egyptians believe that Mr Shafik should be disqualified from the poll. Their demands stem from a piece of legislation, the so-called Disenfranchisement Law, which was passed by parliament in April in order to ban former Mubarak officials from running for president.
In sign of growing rancour, three defeated presidential candidates have now resurrected an old proposal to form a so-called ‘presidential council’ to oversee fresh elections later this year.
The proposal – from third place leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abel Fotouh and labour lawyer Khaled Ali – demands that this month’s election should be ditched, in part due to the continued candidacy of Ahmed Shafik.
Yet the plan looks unlikely to take off. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate due to face Ahmed Shafik, this week rejected it as “unconstitutional”. Campaign workers for two of the three defeated candidates also told The Independent they believed the proposal would never come to fruition.
“I highly doubt it will happen,” said a senior member of Khaled Ali’s campaign team. “I don’t think people can tolerate another year of uncertainty.”
The idea also raises issues about the legitimacy of Egypt’s liberal and secular opposition. Hopelessly divided since last year’s uprising – and punished at the ballot box as a result – many activists are nevertheless claiming a moral mandate to challenge Egypt’s establishment.
Some have accused the ruling Military Council of deliberately fomenting unrest in order to mould the electorate to its authoritarian agenda. Because of this, they say, the elections themselves are illegitimate. “The violence has definitely had an effect on the free will of the people,” said Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights.
Yet the growing popularity of Ahmed Shafik, who this week wildly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of shooting protesters during last year’s uprising, threatens to undermine this logic.
Whatever the machinations of Egypt’s military, millions of voters have warmed to his secular, strongman message. Egyptian TV presenter Shahira Amin told The Independent his campaign had successfully tapped into the fears of voters worried about security and terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood.
She said: “It’s working in the sense that because a lot of people are yearning for stability and a return to normality, they are willing to believe whatever he says.”