- - Sunday, November 27, 2011

CAIRO — Recent demonstrations and military-sponsored violence that has killed dozens of protesters have prompted many Egyptians to question whether Monday is the best time to hold the country’s first parliamentary elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.

“How can we have elections right after so many people have died?” asked farmer Hemdan El-Ready, 35.

“It’s really unpredictable how all this is going to play out,” said Amany Sadek, 28, a doctor volunteering at a field hospital set up in a mosque in Tahrir Square, the heart of the anti-government protests. “People have been fed up with the [military rulers] and they feel betrayed.”

Last week, tens of thousands of Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square to protest the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which assumed control of the country after Mr. Mubarak relinquished power in February. Demonstrators have called for the military to immediately hand over political control to a civilian, transitional government.

On Sunday, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling military council, said he would not tolerate any pressure to step down before the elections.

“We are faced with enormous challenges, and we will not allow any individual or party to pressure the armed forces,” he told reporters, adding that Egypt stands at “a crossroads.”

“Either succeed politically, economically and socially or face very dangerous consequences … and we will not let that happen,” Field Marshal Tantawi said, according to the MENA news agency.

First seen as the guardians of Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution, the military had provided security for protests in January and February in contrast to the Mubarak-controlled police forces that tried to quell the demonstrations with violent tactics.

However, the military has lost credibility among many Egyptians because of its slowness in giving up power, its arrests of critics and refusal to remove a 30-year-old emergency law, and the more than 12,000 military trials for those detained.

Last week’s heavy-handed, crowd-control tactics of the police against protesters that left 38 dead and more than 2,000 injured sparked a new round of civil disobedience in Tahrir.

“For 10 months, we’ve waited for a transition but now we’ve seen what the army is all about,” Dr. Sadek said. “So we should have another revolution, we need to have another revolution. This is not what we fought for and what people died for the first time.”

Because of the violence, protesters in Tahrir Square were unsure whether the election process should start on time. Many said that a strong, military-free transitional government is needed to provide stability before holding elections.

“I and many other Egyptians are in favor of a change from the roots up, not just a superficial change, and that means transferring power to a transitional government that can supervise a new constitution, and then we can hold proper elections,” said Mr. El-Ready, the farmer, who traveled from Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo, to Tahrir for the protests. “Our problem is not with the army as an institution but with the army’s position as head of state.”

Moneer Kilany, 29, an entrepreneur who has returned home after finishing an master’s degree in Britain, said the country could use an extra month to calm down and allow people to learn more about the different parties and candidates.

But Mohammed Sherim, 22, a recent law school graduate, said he wants to vote Monday because “elections are the only way to move us forward toward democracy.”

He added that the process likely will be rough because Egyptians are accustomed to corrupt elections. Nevertheless, he said, the people trust the judges who have been assigned to monitor voting. The Carter Center, an international elections watchdog nonprofit, also will keep an eye on the balloting.

“Even despite what has happened, I think the elections should take place on time because elections would make the situation better,” said carpenter Hishem Ahmed Selim, 30. “The army should go back to their old job and leave the politics to politicians.”

About 50 political parties are vying for votes, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party seen as the front-runner. The Islamist group, however, has disappointed its supporters for not denouncing the military.

Voting will take place over three rounds based on location and is scheduled to end in early January. Cairo and Alexandria, home to a combined 15 million of Egypt’s roughly 82 million people, will vote on Monday and Tuesday.

The military rulers last week tried to mollify Egyptians with cosmetic changes, such setting a June 2012 date for presidential elections and replacing transitional Prime Minister Essam Sharaf with Kamal Ganzouri, 78, a former prime minister for Mr. Mubarak. The announcements did little to improve the military’s reputation among those in Tahrir Square.

“Like Sharaf, Ganzouri is just a puppet,” said Ahmed Farghaly, 35, who works in customer service. “Right now, there’s a trust problem with the [military council], and so there’s also a problem with the person they recruit to be prime minister. Ever since I was born, we’ve seen the same old faces. I want to see new faces.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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