Egyptian Protesters: Who Are They and What do they Want?

It has been a dramatic — and bloody — past three days in Egypt. The locus of the protests is as it always was in Tahrir square, though there are reports of large demonstrations in several Egyptian cities.   So far, reports indicate that at least 30 people have been killed.

So who are these protesters?

What makes this protest different is the broad coalition of interests that are represented. You have the Islamist parties, liberals, student activists and pretty much any group that feels wronged by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that has been ruling by fiat since the fall of Mubarak.   Says Marc Lynch:

The numbers appear comparable to the rallies on July 8 and July 29.  Activists have been unable to produce such a turnout in nearly five months, despite calling for “millions” to protest on almost a weekly basis.The Islamists put their organizational weight and numbers into this demonstration, as they did on July 29, while a wide range of other activist groups and political trends threw their support behind the demonstration. The images from Tahrir today reveal a turnout comparable to those other massive protest days.  The SCAF will have to conclude that the street can still challenge them.

And what do they want? The one unifying thing is that each group feels that the SCAF has overstepped their mandate as trustees or guardian’s of Egypt’s transition to democracy. Parliamentary elections begin later this week, but the SCAF has said that it will not relinquish power to a civilian government until presidential elections take place. The problem, though, is that there is no date certain for when those elections will take place. Also, the SCAF has intimated that even after civilians take control, there will be some sort of supra-constitutional role for the military.

This quote from a 47 year old protester sums up the frustrations quite nicely:  “Our main demand is a date. When are you leaving power?” he said. “And don’t say, ‘Whenever God wills.'”

As I see it, the big test will be whether or not the military stays unified in the face of mounting protests. Recall that the military was the key arbitrator between the protesters and Mubarak; “The people and the army are one,” went the chant. Now that the military itself is the target of protesters angst, let’s see if loyalty to one’s country and the aspirations of compatriots trump officers’ loyalty to their superiors.