Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faced a growing backlash from protesters in Tahrir Square after it was accused of collaborating with the country’s military leaders to prevent an immediate transition to civilian rule.
Violence and chaos engulfed Cairo’s famous landmark for a fifth day after pro-reform protesters rejected a pledge from the army to hold presidential elections by next June, months sooner than expected. Doctors in the square reported at least three more civilian deaths during an increasing bitter battle with security forces for control of the nearby interior ministry.
But anger was also directed at the Muslim Brotherhood which negotiated a series of concessions from Egypt’s generals, who have ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was toppled by his people in February.
With the measures falling well short of protester demands for the army to hand over executive powers to a civilian cabinet with immediate effect, the Brotherhood was accused of acting out of self-interest.
A three-month legislative election season is due to begin on Monday. Opinion polls suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies will win more than 40 per cent of the vote, far more than any of its secular rivals, and critics claimed it had reached an accommodation with the army to ensure that the elections went ahead.
But the tactic, protesters warned, was likely to misfire and could even cost the Brotherhood a significant share of the votes.
“They appear like they would do anything to gain power,” said Ahmed Naguib, an independent candidate and prominent liberal activist.
“They look power hungry. It’s not what’s best for Egypt, it’s what’s best for the them.”
Although the bulk of the tens of thousands who have thronged Tahrir Square are secular-minded, a number of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have joined the protests. Some said they were disgruntled by their leaders’ decision to co-operate with the army.
“They should not have started negotiations while people are dying,” one said.
A growing number of opposition activists and protesters have called for a postponement of the vote by between a fortnight and six weeks.
“The elections are going in one direction and the street in another,” said Lobna Darwish, an activist. “What kind of election can we have when there is such brutality taking place.”
Fearing they have been outflanked by the Brotherhood and the army – Egypt’s two most powerful forces – many protesters called for secular politicians to unite and give the people of Tahrir Square one voice powerful enough to challenge two rivals they see as holding undemocratic values.
Meanwhile, a truce negotiated to end the standoff outside the interior ministry collapsed as night fell. Soldiers were deployed to form a buffer between protesters and the police, but the latter was accused of opening fire over the army’s heads with rubber bullets and buckshot.
Dozens were injured and protesters immediately began once again to hurl stones as the violence escalated. Police have also been accused of using CR gas, a potent form of tear gas that has killed some protesters and caused hundreds of others to collapse with convulsions. An Egyptian neurosurgeon said the symptoms of victims he had seen suggested that the gas contained a neurotoxin.