Erin Banco is a freelance reporter based in Cairo. Follower her on Twitter @ErinBanco.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Friday in front of Mostafa Mahmoud mosque, the birthplace of some of the most infamous revolutionary marches, just one day before the scheduled Egyptian runoff election for president
The scene was all too familiar. “Yasqt, yasqt hukm askr.” Down, down with military rule, the protestors chanted. It has been 16 months since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak, but the cheers and the demands remain the same.
“This is the only thing we have left at this point, to take to the streets again,” one woman protester said before joining in the cheers. Many of the revolutionaries and liberals who participated in the march from Doqqi to Tahrir Square, tired and frustrated, said they felt trapped.
They don’t support either candidate.
Electing Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister under Mubarak, would be supporting a person who represented everything they had fought against in the revolution. But electing Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, would usher in an Islamic country, isolating minorities.
The transition of power in Egypt took a monumental turn Thursday when a set of judges from Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that one third of the Islamist-dominated parliament was elected illegally, effectively dissolving the legislative body.
The court ruled that the law governing parliamentary elections was unconstitutional because it allowed party members to contest the one-third of parliamentary seats that had been reserved for independents. As a result, the entire chamber was considered to be null and void, giving legislative power to the Supreme Council on Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF disbanded the parliament formally Friday night.
The court also ruled Thursday against a law passed last month that would have barred Shafiq from running in this weekend’s presidential runoff. Under the law, senior officials from Mubarak's regime were banned from running for office.
“I had hoped that the elections would have more transparency and that the judicial system would be more pure in its decisions,” Khaled Mohamed Hassen said of Thursday’s verdict as he observed the protest Friday in Tahrir Square. “I thought the military would be more thoughtful in the needs of the people.”
But Ramy Yaccoub, chief of staff of the Free Egyptians Party, the liberal party founded following the 2011 revolution, said he was not surprised by Thursday’s verdict. “The majority of Egyptians are happy,” he said. “There was no shock here. This was expected. That’s what people need to realize.”
Tahrir Square was eerily quiet Friday. Cars passed through with ease. There were only a few dozen people who congregated, protesting Shafiq by chanting together and holding signs.
Many of those participating said they objected to Shafiq's involvement in the Battle of the Camel, which took place at the height of the revolution on February 2, 2011. The skirmish left several dead and hundreds injured. Shafiq was prime minister at the time. Earlier this month, his name was added to a list of primary suspects in a civil lawsuit.
Fatimah Ziyad said she was in Tahrir Friday to honor the memory of her grandson, who was killed in the battle. She said she blames Shafiq for his death.
“I am here to explain the difference between Shafiq and anyone else,” she said. “He used the bodies of the martyrs like my grandson to climb up the revolution ladder. How can he become the next president? It burns my heart.”
Sayed Ahmed has protested in Tahrir every Friday since the Battle of the Camel. His best friend was killed when he took a bullet to the neck. He voted for Khaled Ali in the first round, but he is boycotting the vote this weekend. “If Shafiq comes it is exactly like Hosni again,” he said.
Although the majority of Egyptians protesting in the square Friday were against Shafiq, most say they think he will end up winning. Kirolos Nagy, a revolutionary and a Copt, said he voted for Shafiq in the first round and will vote for him again this weekend.
“I saw a presidential candidate who said what I was saying. He is the only one who talked about the Nubians, about the Bedouins, and about all the minorities,” Nagy said. “He is the best choice. So I will vote for Shafiq.”
Egyptians will head to the polls Saturday morning to choose their next president. Despite the elections moving forward, several revolutionary Egyptians said they think the transfer of power to the president will be delayed because the country does not have a parliament or a constitution, which will be written in the coming weeks.
“I don’t think the constitution will look too bad under SCAF leadership. I wish the civil and the Islamic community would have gotten together. It basically fell apart,” Yaccoub said. “So now SCAF is probably going to write a decent constitution that is going to seem relatively secular that includes guidelines for all Egyptians. The application is going to be the problem.”
As Yaccoub noted, the majority of power will remain in the hands of SCAF. A law passed this week allows the military to assume responsibilities normally left to police. Yaccoub said various reports surfaced Thursday and Friday of joint military checkpoints searching and seizing vehicles randomly.
“It is all just flexing muscle,” he said. “This is the situation that we are going to be in now. To hell with the president. This is what really matters in the next few weeks.”
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