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Tahrir Square fills again as protesters contest Egypt’s military rule

Thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square Tuesday to protest a move by Egypt’s military rulers to limit the authority of the incoming president and extend their own power past the end of this month.

Thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square Tuesday to protest a move by Egypt’s military rulers to limit the authority of the incoming president and extend their own power past the end of this month, when they had promised a full handover to a civilian government.   

Many of those who turned out were members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate, Mohamed Morsi, has claimed victory in the first presidential race since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Some secular groups joined the protests as well. 

Protesters decried the military’s power grab. “This is a military coup against the people,” said protester Galal Osman. “We want the president that we elected to have all the powers of his office. We want to write a constitution without the military interfering. You can’t have 19 unelected men subverting the will of the people.”

Tareq Mohamed Eid, who carried a large picture of Mr. Morsi around the square, said the military rulers should give up their power for the sake of the country. “It’s not their right to dissolve an elected parliament and an elected constitutional assembly.”

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Last week, the military ordered Egypt’s parliament dissolved after a court found error in the law governing the elections, and the Justice Ministry gave military police the right to arrest citizens for a wide range of crimes. On Sunday evening, as votes were being counted from the presidential election, the military council currently ruling Egypt announced it was granting itself legislative powers until a new parliament is elected, along with power over all military affairs and extensive control over the process of drafting a new constitution.

Both candidates claimed victory in the race today, increasing tension and expectations of unrest when official results are announced Thursday. Some protesters today said they were afraid election officials would ignore the results and announce Morsi’s rival Ahmed Shafiq the winner. 

The largely Islamist turnout at today’s demonstration reflects both a weariness of protests on the part of many Egyptians after nearly a year and a half of unrest and uncertainty, as well as an acquiescence to the military’s move by others, borne out of fear or anger at the Brotherhood.

Some Egyptians say they support the decision to dissolve the parliament because the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party held nearly half the seats and they were displeased with the FJP’s performance. Others say the military’s retention of power is positive because it provides a counterweight to the new president, who is likely to be Morsi. Because he will take office without a constitution or a parliament to rein in his power, the military is needed as a a check on his power, they say.

Their sentiments reveal the challenge faced by the Brotherhood if it intends to rally other political forces to its side to confront the military. A string of broken promises by the Brotherhood, as well as its focus on improving its own election outcomes instead of joining with others to confront the military last year, has contributed to a bitter Islamist-secular divide that the Brotherhood will have a hard time bridging. “The SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] & MB battle over presidential powers is irrelevant to us & I won’t support any of those authoritative powers. Viva the Revolution,” tweeted revolutionary protest leader-turned-member of parliament Basem Kamel yesterday.

“The Brotherhood abandoned us when we were fighting the military in November,” said Ahmed Ibrahim, referring to protests against military rule in November, during which 45 people were killed and the Brotherhood declined to join. “So why would I join them now when it’s their turn to fight the military?”