Egypt’s revolutionary forces have called for a “million man” protest in Cairo on Friday to demand “the end” of the ruling military council following deadly violence outside the ministry of defense this week.
At least 11 people were killed in clashes that broke out Wednesday when apparent supporters of the military rulers attacked a mostly Islamist crowd staging a sit-in outside the Ministry of Defense in Cairo to call for an end to the generals’ rule. The protesters were predominantly supporters of an ultraconservative presidential candidate who was barred from running in the May 23-24 presidential election.
Army troops were accused of standing idly by near the clashes and not intervening until after the deaths. Some suspect the military wants to create turmoil so it can justify holding onto power by claiming it is needed to maintain law and order.
While some liberal and religious groups called for Friday’s protests to be staged in Cairo’s Abbassiya neighborhood, near the defense ministry, others, especially the Muslim Brotherhood group, called for the protest to be held in the Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Jan.12, 2011 revolution.
Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mullah sternly warned protesters that if they try to approach the Defense Ministry.
“Self-defense is applicable against anyone who approaches a military facility. Whoever does that must endure the consequences,” Mullah told a news conference. “The Defense Ministry, all military units and facilities are symbols of military honor and the dignity of the state, those who approach them will have themselves to blame.”
Another senior member of the ruling military council tried to counter accusations from some rival politicians that the military might use the violence as a pretext to ignore its own deadline to relinquish control of the country.
“We say it frankly and clearly. The armed forces and their supreme council are committed to the handover of power on June 30,” Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Assar said. “We don’t desire power. The Supreme Council (of the Armed Forces) is not a substitute for legitimacy in Egypt.”
“Have mercy on the Supreme Council,” he pleaded. “Our hands are clean of Egyptian blood.”
Al-Assar also said that it was “dangerous” for the protesters to stage their sit-in near the Defense Ministry and denied charges that the military was behind Wednesday’s attack on the protesters. He told reporters that the military, which took power after Mubarak’s ouster, will ensure the integrity and fairness of the presidential election
The military has been accused of badly bungling the transition to democratic rule over the past year, when more than 100 people have died in political violence. It cracked down on pro-democracy protests and hauled more than 10,000 civilians to trial before military tribunals. The generals have failed restore security which deteriorated sharply after the uprising, when police vanished from the streets. And they have failed to prop up the battered economy.
Rights advocates and various political groups allege the military is scheming to ensure a political role for itself after handing over power to protect its vast business holdings and other privileges from coming under scrutiny by a civilian authority.
Protesters have long called for the military to immediately step down, but the generals have responded by saying they would stick to the timetable they announced for the transfer of power.