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Egyptians eye protests against 'coup'

Egyptian liberals and Islamists ready mass protests against the dissolution of the Parliament.

Demonstrators dodge tear gas during clashes in a Cairo street on November 22, 2011. Picture: AFP

CAIRO - Denouncing a "coup" by Cairo's shadowy military rulers, Egyptian liberals and Islamists readied mass protests on Friday against the dissolution of the parliament elected after last year's overthrow of veteran general Hosni Mubarak.

On the eve of a presidential vote that could see a Mubarak protege become head of state, the most potent force opposing the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, warned of dangerous days and some drew parallels with the start of the Algerian civil war 20 years ago, when generals scrapped an election Islamists were winning.

"This all must be seen as a military coup, an attempt by the army to stay in power longer to protect their interests, which we will not accept," said Enjy Hamdy of the April 6 movement which coordinated pro-democracy protests against Mubarak.

Reactions on the streets have so far been muted to Thursday's ruling by Mubarak-era judges that voided the election over the winter that returned a legislature dominated by the Brotherhood and their hardline Islamist allies.

But as a heatwave took hold along the Nile, keeping many indoors on the first day of the Egyptian weekend, the military authorities and their critics were preparing for a possible mass turnout after dark at central Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of a revolution which many democrats now fear was stillborn.

The Brotherhood, however, still hopes its candidate Mohamed Morsy can defeat Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister, in the presidential election on Saturday and Sunday, and it made no public call for demonstrations that might disrupt a runoff which liberals say has left them an unpalatable choice of extremes, following defeats for centrists in May's first round of voting.

Bloodied by Mubarak's security forces in the 1990s, at a time when Algeria's electorally thwarted Islamists were waging a full-scale war that killed some 150,000 people, the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood has since fought shy of overt confrontation and many doubt whether it would challenge the army with force.

"We are going to be hearing the word Algeria a lot more in the coming days. This is similar to what happened," said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center. But he added: "I don't think we are going to see an outbreak of systematic violence."

FRESH START?

Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a moderate defector from the Brotherhood who was among those knocked out in May, called the latest judicial moves a "total coup" and said Egyptians must gather to "reject the re-establishment of the old regime".

But in a mark of the chaotic uncertainty reigning 16 months after fellow generals pushed Mubarak aside to the delight of the millions who marched for democracy in the "Arab Spring", some liberals, who fear Islamist domination, welcomed the latest twist, hoping for better representation in a new parliament.

"The electoral law was flawed and brought in a flawed parliament," Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a legislator from the Social Democratic Party, said on his Facebook page. "Parliament had lost much of its stature and credibility ... because of the Islamist parties' misuse of the majority they enjoyed."

Yet with no agreement on how to write a new constitution, no legislature and possibly a head of state who is, again, a former general and product of the armed forces which retain a grip on the economy, many question the military's good faith in a promise to cede power to freely elected civilians by July 1.

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