Tensions Simmer in Anxious Egypt; Presidential Runoff Election to Proceed

Posted June 15th, 2012 at 4:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Angry protesters took to the streets in Cairo and Alexandria Friday, taking aim at a supreme court ruling seen by many as a calculated move by the remnants of the old regime.

Thousands marched to Cairo's Tahrir Square, directing their wrath at presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafiq, suspicious the former prime minister for ousted president Hosni Mubarak remains part of a larger plot. Some protesters even encouraged cars to run over a tattered campaign poster featuring Shafiq's image.

Iman Ahmed, a protester on a hunger strike in Cairo, made a dire prediction:

“I think its going to be like a big war in the country. That's what I think, right, and a lot of people think the same.”

In the streets of Alexandria, crowds chanted, “The people demand the fall of Shafiq” and “down with military rule

Demonstrator and Muslim Brotherhood supporter Hamdy Abdel Rahman says Egyptians will not be intimidated.

“We agreed that after elections we can begin to speak out, because we are confident that the people will have their say, the people will choose the Islamic institution, and they will choose what's right and stay away from remnants of the old regime that wasted their blood, raped them and stole their livelihood under full tyranny.”

Tensions have been high in Egypt since Thursday's Supreme Constitutional Court ruling cast doubt over the future of Egypt's popular revolt. The decision overturned a law passed by the Islamist-led parliament that barred senior officials from the Mubarak government – like Sahfiq – from holding office. The justices – holdovers from the Mubarak era – also cited legal problems with the last round of parliamentary elections and called for the Islamist-led parliament to be dissolved.

Some leading Islamists accuse the country's ruling military council of using the court to stage a de facto coup. But the council said the presidential runoff election scheduled for Saturday and Sunday – pitting Shafiq against the and Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi – would go ahead as planned. Soldiers Friday busied themselves delivering ballots and other voting materials to sites throughout the country.

Many Egyptians remain torn, unhappy with the choice before them and there has been some talk of boycotting the vote or of casting nullified ballots as a protest.

VOA's Elizabeth Arrott, in Cairo, reports some of the anger has also been tempered by a weariness shared by many Egyptians.

“There was an interesting tweet yesterday that one very outspoken had said that, you know, we'd be outraged if we weren't so exhausted. So it has been a very difficult 16 months for people, that they feel that every step they take forward there's one backward. There's a sizeable part of the population that's just tired of seeing protests and just wants to move on, no matter how flawed this process may be.”

Ashraf Mahmoud, in Alexandria, says he sees no alternative but to vote.

“God willing, Mohammed Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood candidate) is going to win it, even though I disagree a lot with him and I do not like the fact that he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But I am going to vote for him in an attempt to save the revolution and for it to continue, because unfortunately the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has slapped the people (by dismissing the parliament and giving Shafiq the right to continue in the presidential race)”

Despite the anger being directed at the ruling military council, Mona Makram Ebeid with the American University in Cairo says even a Shafiq win does not likely signal a return to the ways of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

“I think that Shafiq will be an excellent statesman. He will not be the man of the regime the people think of. This is behind his back. He is looking forward; he is looking to the future. He is giving hope to the young people no matter how suspicious they are of him.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Washington is monitoring the situation and expects to see a “full transfer of power to a democratically-elected civilian government.”

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Washington is troubled by the court decision and the way events may play out.

“”We are troubled by this court ruling yesterday which will effectively dissolve a democratically-elected parliament. So, now the question is the court has called for new elections – if, in fact, that's the direction that Egypt goes they have to be swift they have to be democratic, free, transparent, so that we can move on to giving the Egyptian people what they want, which is an elected president, an elected parliament and a system that is permanent and sustainable.”

Speaking to supporters in Cairo Thursday, Ahmed Shafiq called the ruling “historic” and urged all Egyptians to take part in the polls. But the Muslim Brotherhood says the court ruling indicated that Egypt was heading into “very difficult days that might be more dangerous than the last days of Mubarak's rule.”