Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big march in Cairo shows power of Islamists

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CAIRO, Egypt -- More than 10,000 Egyptians marched from mosques and protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday in a show of strength by Islamists, demanding the country's ruling generals bar Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief and other ousted regime officials from running in next month's presidential elections.

The rally was the first major demonstration in Egypt in months and was a turnaround for the Islamists, who had abandoned street protests, particularly after they gained domination of parliament in elections late last year, and pursued a strategy of coexistence with the military even during violent army crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

But the struggle for power has heated up with the approach of next month's presidential vote, in which Islamists see their chance to capture Egypt's highest post. In response, one of the most powerful members of Mubarak's inner circle -- former intelligence chief and vice-president Omar Suleiman -- has entered the race, proclaiming he wants to prevent Islamist rule.

Friday's rally dubbed "Protecting the Revolution," organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafi movement, further underlined the difficult situation of Egypt's liberals and leftists.

Most of them also reject Suleiman, seeing him as a return of the Mubarak regime. But they accuse the Islamists of trying to monopolize power and of opportunism, cosying up to the ruling generals and only talking of revolution when it suits their interests. Most stayed away from Friday's protest.

The crowd in Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of the 18 days of protests last year that led to Mubarak's ouster -- was overwhelmingly Islamist. A large banner of a prominent Salafi candidate for president, Hazem Abu Ismail, hung over the crowd, where many wore T-shirts with his image. Many in the crowd had the beards of Muslim conservatives, and vendors sold black banners with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 A25

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