Egypt’s secular groups have said they no longer support the protest movement and have withdrawn their support after the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists hijacked Friday’s protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The secularists’ boycott came as tens of thousands of people gathered on Friday to demonstrate in what had been dubbed “The Friday of Unity and the People’s Will” march.
The protesters’ demands include ending military trials for civilians, seeking justice for families of those killed during the revolution, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring quick trials for former government officials.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin in Cairo said secular and liberal political parties, including the revolution youth coalition, had addressed a news conference on Friday, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis of taking over the protests.
“They [secular groups] said the Islamists went against the deal … In the early hours of the morning [they] started taking down banners and putting up [banners] with Islamic messages,” he said.
“They also say the Salafists prevented the other parties from taking their positions on the stage and essentially pushed them out.”
The assistant head of the Wafd Party, the oldest and largest secular party, urged the Muslim Brotherhood to come out and declare that its official position was not to form an Islamic state.
Several banners reading “Islamic law above the constitution” were displayed in Tahrir Square and protesters who fear Islamists will seek to dominate plans to rewrite the constitution demanded the banners be taken down.
Similar tensions emerged in Suez.
Religious chants such as “There is no God but God” and “Islamiya, Islamiya” also dominated Tahrir, which had filled up even before the start of Muslim prayers at noon.
“There are so many [Islamic] beards. We certainly feel imposed upon,” said Samy Ali, 23, student in Tahrir, adding Salafists had tried to separate women and men camping there.
Islamists and more liberal groups have diverged on how hard to press the ruling generals for change.
But the debate over the constitution, due to be re-written after parliament is elected this year, has also been divisive.
More liberal groups fear the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organised grouping, and other Islamists will dominate the vote and so be able to push for a more Islamic-leaning constitution.
“[There are] troubling signs that the ‘Friday of Unity’ may soon turn into a ‘Friday of Division’. Let’s hope that’s not the case,” wrote Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center on Twitter.
Friday’s rally comes a day after the country’s justice ministry announced that the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak and others accused of involvement in the killing of protesters during the country’s uprising would be held in Cairo.
“It has been decided that the trial of ex-president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal … will be held in the building of the General Authority for Investment and the free trade areas in the Cairo Expo grounds,” the official news agency MENA quoted a justice ministry official as saying on Thursday.
Mubarak has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April when he was first questioned by the authorities.
He has been charged with involvement in the killing of protesters and abuse of power and is due to stand trial on August 3.
It was not immediately clear if Mubarak’s health condition would prevent him from attending in person.
Egypt’s health minister has said Mubarak is healthy enough to be moved to Cairo for his trial.
Amr Hilmy told reporters that “Mubarak’s health is in an appropriate condition to be tried in Cairo”.