Egyptians packed Tahrir Square in Cairo through the night on Saturday, waving flags and chanting for the end of military rule as they waited to know the name of the first president they have been free to choose.
After a week of drama, in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s hopes of victory in the presidential election were soured by the army dissolving the Islamist-led parliament and decreeing tight limits on the new head of state’s powers, there was anxiety on the streets, but also some hope a compromise could be found.
With the electoral commission still not promising to give a result of last weekend’s presidential runoff before Sunday, senior figures on the ruling military council and among their old enemies in the Brotherhood told Reuters they had already held talks about future constitutional arrangements this week.
In Tahrir Square, where demonstrators faced down Hosni Mubarak’s rule during last year’s protest, thousands of mainly Islamist protesters have gathered in growing numbers for several days. They were determined to see the army that pushed Mubarak aside make good on its promise to hand over to civilian government by July.
“Say it without fear, the army must leave,” they chanted among hundreds of fluttering flags carrying Egypt’s red, white and black colors. “Down, down with military rule!”
The ruling military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, made clear, however, it was not about to accede to their demands, which include reversing the dissolution of parliament and canceling a decree by which it took legislative power for itself until a new constitution is in place.
But both sides recall the bloodshed that ravaged another North African state, Algeria, when military rulers thwarted an Islamist movement’s triumph at the ballot box in the 1990s, and appear willing to renew the tentative cooperation they built up after Mubarak’s overthrow and step back from an outright clash.
An Islamist insurrection in Egypt in the 1990s also cost hundreds of lives, making the Brotherhood wary of violence.
SCAF on Friday warned against any attempt to harm national interests, as mass protests continued against the dissolution of parliament and the issuance of a supplementary constitutional declaration.
“Issuing a supplementary constitutional declaration is a necessary measure for this critical period of our nation”, the SCAF said in a statement.
“The verdicts issued by the judiciary must be obeyed, and to disobey them is a crime which should be punished by law,” the statement added.