In unlikely partnership, revolutionaries and Abu Ismail supporters move sit-in

After receiving little attention throughout their week-long sit-in in Tahrir, the various factions in the square coordinated a set of demands and moved the sit-in to the Ministry of Defense in a surprise march Friday night.

The seemingly impromptu march and subsequent sit-in was organized by the two main forces camping in Tahrir, the independent Suwar Bila Tayar (Revolutionaries without direction) and supporters of Salafi sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail Tulab Al-Sharia (Callers for Sharia Law).

After the dissonance of the square on Friday, it seemed surprising that the secular and religious forces were able to cooperate under one banner. But the two groups mutual feelings that their Tahrir sit-ins were being ignored and their movements marginalized helped to rally them around the same set of demands.

The demands of the protesters are the end of military rule and its cabinet under PM Kamal El-Ganzouri, the cancellation of Article 28 of the constitutional declaration (which grants the presidential election commission total immunity) and the fast-tracking of the new judicial authority law, which sets out how the judges in the commission are chosen.

The sit-in has been mainly peaceful with the exception of some stone throwing Saturday morning after the protest was visited by two prominent SCAF members, central district commander Hassan Al-Ruweiny and head of the Military Police, Hamdy Badeen. The military commanders urged the protesters to leave.

According to eyewitnesses, the protesters refused and as military troops escorted the two commanders out, some troops hit protesters with sticks, which prompted some stone-throwing that quickly subsided.

Mahmoud Mostafa, a member of Revolutionaries without Direction, and the only bearded member who supports Abu Ismail, said, "We have demands and have been in the square for a week and have been ignored. This is where the escalation came from, and we coordinated with Tulab Al-Sharia over the march. We were surprised by the huge turnout and decided to call for a sit-in."
Mostafa did not set any store by the rumors that the Abu Ismail supporters are pushing others into a confrontation with SCAF and may pull out at any moment.

"Abu Ismail is no longer the issue, it is not about him, and we have coordinated with them over the demands so they will stay,” he said. “Our dignity has been assaulted."

Another independent protester at the Ministry of Defense, Ahmed Sayed Mohamed , echoed these sentiments, saying the Abu Ismail supporters "are with us and told us that even if Abu Ismail is restored to the race they will remain with us. We are here to put pressure on SCAF for our demands. So if the Abu Ismail supporters go back on their word then they will be like the Muslim Brotherhood."

An independent Islamist present at the sit-in, Mahmoud Selim, iterated that it wasn't about a particular personality.

“We are against article 28 and the commission,” he said. “And we want people to join us under the banner of 'down with military rule'. Five massacres have been committed during their reign after Mubarak was removed, they simply cannot continue."

The Brotherhood have long been criticized by revolutionary forces for their willingness to strike deals with SCAF and renege on street protests at pivotal moments. So far, Salafi protesters have not been placed in that category.

And that is something that won't happen according to Mahmoud Al-Shaer from Tulab Al-Sharia.

"We won't repeat the mistakes of the past, like the Battle of the Camel (February 2011) and the clashes of Mohamed Mahmoud (November 2011), where we left our brothers,” he said. “We won't do that again."

According to Al-Shaer, the head of Tulab Al-Sharia in the square, Waleed Haggag, agreed an escalation was needed after they had been ignored by the media for the past week, despite remaining in the square and staging a march to the Maspero building.

"We just want the media to hear us and for us to not be marginalized like we are now," he said.

The groups have not decided what further steps will be taken if the decision to escalate further is made.

However if a decision is made, it will likely be a surprise like Friday's march. For the moment, those at the sit-in are hoping that more political and revolutionary movements will coalesce around the sit-in.

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