Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square before a planned march toward the plaza from all parts of Cairo on the third day of protests marking the anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Protesters chanted “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice,” “Leave” and “Down with Tantawi” -- referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt’s military council -- after Friday prayers as the national anthem played in the background.
“We want a civilian state, and want the army to cede power immediately to a civilian authority,” said Math-har Shaheen, who led today’s prayers in the square. “We want just punishment of those who killed martyrs” during and after the revolution.
Some protesters had camped overnight in the square, the focus of mass rallies that ended the former president’s three- decade rule. Tens of thousands filled the plaza on Jan. 25, some calling on the ruling generals to accelerate the transfer of power to civilians and others celebrating the anniversary of the start of unrest that ousted Mubarak.
“Such protests are important to show the army that ceding power to civilians is paramount to all Egyptians and that it can’t breach promises it had made, as it did before,” Gamal Eid, a human-rights lawyer, said by phone late yesterday. “It’s also a clear message to the parliament that people will turn against it if it doesn’t meet their demands.”
Seven weeks of elections, in which Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party took almost three-quarters of the seats in parliament, have failed to quiet activists organizing the anti-military rallies. Demonstrators accuse the army of mismanaging the country’s transition and using tactics similar to those used by Mubarak’s government to stifle dissent.
The ruling military council has said it will cede power when a president is elected by the end of June. Before the anniversary, the council also promised to release prisoners and partially lift the country’s state of emergency, which extends the powers of the police, with the exception of “crimes of thuggery.”
The Brotherhood hasn’t lent its support to demands that the generals leave immediately.
Egypt’s elected assembly held its inaugural session on Jan. 23. One of its first tasks is to select a committee that will write the new constitution.
The unrest has deterred tourists and foreign investors and curbed Egypt’s economic growth to 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest pace in at least a decade. Tourist arrivals fell 33 percent last year, while international reservations are at the lowest level since March 2005.
--With assistance from Ahmed A Namatalla in Cairo and Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Karl Maier
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