Egypt to hold elections amid fierce power row

Egypt holds its first elections today since its revolution, but Egypt’s army rulers, protesters and future political leaders were locked in a fierce power struggle.

Egyptians go to the polls today to cast their first votes for a new parliament after the end of the 30-year rule of strongman Hosni Mubarak, forced from power last February in one of the seminal moments of the Arab Spring.

Thousands yesterday again occupied Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of the military rulers and to reject a 78-year-old caretaker prime minister appointed by the army. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, said the army would ensure security at the polling booths and reiterated the vote would go ahead as scheduled.

“We are at a crossroads. There are only two routes, the success of elections leading Egypt toward safety or facing dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people, will not allow,” he said, state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper’s website reported. Tantawi warned yesterday that no one would be allowed to pressure the armed forces and asked senior political leaders Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa to “support the government of Kamal al-Ganzuri.”

Ganzuri, a 78-year-old Mubarak-era premier, was appointed last week. Representatives of 24 youth groups organizing the rally have vowed in a statement posted on the Internet that they would not leave the square until military generals transfer power to a “national salvation” government led by ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and presidential hopeful.

ElBaradei said he would forego his ambitions to become president if made the head of the transitional government and he is ready to steer the country out of its current political crisis, according to a statement issued by his office Nov. 26.

Also yesterday the influential Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood, expected to be the biggest party in the new parliament, said it would form a new government if it emerged as the largest parliamentary bloc. “If the government is not representative of parliament, the assembly will block all its decisions,” spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan told AFP. There is great uncertainty over how the new parliament, to be elected in stages over the next six weeks, will function because of a lack of clarity from SCAF and the legal limbo until a new constitution is written.

Meanwhile, among the wounded protesters, a number have been shot in the eyes by rubber bullets during recent clashes in Tahrir Square, daily Radikal reported. Haysem Semi Fuda, 27, a computer engineer, has both lost his job and eyes. “On Nov. 20 police officers tried to beat a teenager in Mohammed Mahmoud street. I tried to help her, but suddenly they shot me from 2 meters and I lost my eyes. I do not belong to any group. I am here only for freedom and let my eyes be the cost of freedom. A famous singer offered to help me, but I did not accept it.”