Tantawi defies Tahrir's crowds on eve of election

Military Council head says he will not allow 'troublemakers' to meddle in the process

Cairo

As the first heavy rainfall in months bucketed down on Tahrir Square last night, at least one figure remained unmoved. The statue of Umar Makram, an Egyptian folk hero who helped vanquish a British attempt to seize Alexandria more than 200 years ago, stood stoically under the lamplight in the Square's western corner as hundreds of activists scurried for shelter. "Rain in our country is traditionally a good thing," said Ashraf Aglan, an activist whose tent sits 20 yards behind the statue. "We had rain during the revolution and we kept on going."

It would be churlish to doubt his determination, particularly given the number of other demonstrators who are still camped out alongside him.

With voting today in the first round of landmark parliamentary elections, protesters in Cairo are calling for the ruling Military Council to step aside immediately in favour of an interim civilian government, setting up a political standoff which could yet derail the country's emergence from decades of dictatorship.

Over the weekend, Mohamed el-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a presidential candidate, offered to relinquish his bid for Egypt's top job in order to assume leadership of the interim council – a proposal backed by numerous political coalitions.

But Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the chief of the Military Council which took power in February after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, yesterday rejected calls to step down. Instead he warned of "extremely grave" consequences if the unrest in Cairo was allowed to continue, blaming "foreign hands" for being behind the clashes.

"Hosni Mubarak used to say the same things," said Maha Maamoun, a member of the No to Military Trials activist group. "It's a very confusing situation."

Mr Tantawi's warning came as tens of thousands of protesters again packed Tahrir Square yesterday in a final effort to topple Egypt's generals. It was the ninth day of protests including nearly a week of violent nationwide unrest in which 41 civilians have died.

But Mr Tantawi appeared intent on isolating the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, saying the government would "not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections".

Previous statements have sought to portray the rallies as unrepresentative, with the generals perhaps hoping that the so-called Party of the Couch – the name given to those Egyptians sitting at home watching the protests on television – will come down on their side.

Professor Paul Sullivan, an expert on the Egyptian military, said: "As much as the Tahrir protesters would like to see the Military Council leave, until they and others can come up with an alternative that makes sense it is important that there be some backbone to the country."

Islamists have also taken umbrage at the "El-Baradei option". The Muslim Brotherhood, widely expected to be the big winner of the elections, has eschewed the recent demonstrations and is unwilling to rock the boat so close to achieving power.

Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, said the Military Council had now "got the message" that the protesters in Cairo would not be leaving until their demand for a civilian council was met.

But if that is true, Mr Tantawi and his acolytes appear happy to ignore the message.

If both sides read their history they would know that almost 60 years ago to the month, Egypt's capital was decimated in the so-called "Cairo fire". Rioters torched hundreds of buildings in a rampage through the centre of the city, paving the way for the revolutionary regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Six decades on, many are wondering how the political dust will settle after this latest chain of violence.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas