CAIRO — Egypt on Friday appeared on the cusp of a protracted battle for control of the countrys once-promising revolution, with military rulers and protesters staging rival demonstrations and showing preferences for different prime ministers.
The republic of Tahrir, as some pundits call the iconic square in downtown Cairo, held an informal election in which thousands of protesters voted for Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, 69, to steer the country from an abyss just three days before scheduled parliamentary polls.
About six miles away, a thousands-strong crowd of pro-military demonstrators rallied behind the powerful generals after the appointment of Kamal el Ganzouri — a 77-year-old former premier who served under the deposed President Hosni Mubarak — as the official interim prime minister.
The rifts between the pro- and anti-military camps, along with additional fractures within each of the movements, threaten to derail Egypts path to democracy and could lead to more internecine bloodshed, analysts and activists warned. A fresh provocation came with the councils selection of the elderly former-regime luminary Ganzouri to address the revolutionaries grievances.
His surprise pick only cemented the protesters view of the council as tone deaf and incapable of meaningful reform.
Today were much more lucid about whats wrong with this country: its military rule, said the acclaimed Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah, whos currently shooting a feature film about the uprising. A taboo has been broken. Before, no one could criticize the military.
In an acknowledgment of the instability, the council announced Friday that each stage of the staggered parliamentary elections would now have two days of voting to allow for better security. But with downtown Cairo paralyzed by protests and clashes erupting anew in Alexandria, the second-largest city, it was anyones guess whether elections would take place at all, let alone polls that could be considered representative and legitimate.
To further complicate matters, Egypts best-organized political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, was in a bind. The influential Islamist group quietly dispatched its young members to join the Tahrir protesters but officially backed the military councils plan to hold elections as scheduled and to hand over power after presidential elections in mid-2012.
The Brotherhoods Freedom and Justice Party is poised for big returns if the polls go on, though the groups revolutionary credentials have taken a severe hit amid criticism that it sold out long-term reform goals by siding with the generals for its own immediate electoral interests.
If we vote, in a way youre supporting the council, but if you dont vote, you leave the Brotherhood to eat the whole cake, lamented Osama el Hatil, 38, a civil engineer among the Tahrir protesters. I havent yet decided if Im going to vote.
Ibrahim al Houdaiby, a Tahrir activist and ex-Brotherhood member whose family boasts two former senior leaders, said it was wise of the group to steer clear of the latest uprising lest Egypts secular elites not to mention Western powers see the revolt as Islamist in nature.