Reporting from Cairo — Thousands of protesters once again gathered in the heart of Cairo on Friday to voice their exasperation with the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces, though their numbers fell far short of the hoped-for "million men."
The military, which has been running the country since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb.11, has been under heavy criticism from political movements for failing to quickly transfer power to a civilian authority.
Protesters and political groups called for an end to emergency laws, amendments to the new elections law, a date for a presidential election and a clear timeline for drafting a new constitution.
They also demanded an end to military trials for civilians. Human rights organizations say that 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts and jailed since the Jan. 25 revolution.
The demonstration, although smaller than expected, reflected growing anger at the military council and its leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Protesters chanted, "Down down with the military rule," "Wake up field marshal, today is your last day" and "This is a warning, Tantawi, today is [your] departure day."
Amid waving flags and banners, demonstrator Tarek Abbas told The Times, "Political parties have been dreaming of fair elections, but the new [election] law won't allow this to happen and we will have businessmen affiliated with Mubarak's regime" returning to the parliament."
The new elections law stipulates that one-third of the new parliament, which will be elected in November, be selected from individual candidates. Two-thirds of the chamber will come from party lists. Activists fear that allowing individual candidates will permit members of the former Mubarak regime, backed by funding from the nation's elite, to run as independents and slip back into the legislature.
Egypt's most organized group, the Muslim Brotherhood, didn't participate in Friday's protests. However, supporters of Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Salah abu Ismail were present. Salafis are ultraconservative Islamists. American actor Sean Penn, who was on a brief visit to Cairo, was also in the crowd.
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau.