Egypt bleeds as potests swell

Dozens dead as demonstrations against military rule enters fourth day

Protests in Cairo and other major cities carried on for a fourth day. Security forces stayed out of Tahrir itself to lower the temperature. But there were clashes on side streets leading to the square — the epicentre of the uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

The new wave of protests and violence around the country that began on Saturday has left 29 dead and has thrown Egypt’s politics into chaos less than a week before landmark parliamentary elections were to begin.

Staggered parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak’s ouster, are to begin on Monday and conclude in March.

“If the elections don’t happen, there could be a clash between the army and the people. That’s what we’re afraid of," said protester Mustafa Abdel-Hamid. He said he wanted a clear timetable for the transfer of power. “The army is making the same mistake as Mubarak. They hear the demands but respond when it’s too late," said Abdel-Hamid, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood who came to Tahrir even though his movement has not endorsed the protests over the past four days.

The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are expected to dominate the next parliament, while the liberal groups behind Mubarak’s ouster appear poised to lag behind, lacking unity and a cohesive vision. The Brotherhood is staying out of the latest protests, arguing that it did not want the nation to be dragged into a “bloody confrontation”. But secular activists say the Muslim fundamentalist group is more keen on grabbing power than ensure the future of the nation.

Seething anger

Tens of thousands of people were in Tahrir by nightfall and the crowd was growing steadily — the numbers typically peak at night after everyone gets off work. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, with jubilation over the large turnout mixed with the seething anger directed at the military.

The crowds carried an open wooden coffin with a body of a slain protester wrapped in white and held a funeral in the middle of the square. A stuffed military uniform was hung from a central light pole with a cardboard sign on its neck saying “Execute the field marshal,” a reference to Tantawi, Mubarak’s defence minister of 20 years.

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