Conflict & Justice

Egypt Before The Crucial Vote

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Ali Khafagy is a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. He's been in Tahrir Square every day this week.

Egyptian Christians gathered today for Friday prayers at the Kasr el-Dobara Evangelical Church, on the edge of Tahrir Square, the site this week of deadly clashes between protestors and Egyptian security forces.

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The church's courtyard has been converted into a field hospital, with volunteers treating people injured in the nearby street battles. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been flooding into Cairo's Tahrir Square to voice their protest against Egypt's military rulers.

Sam Hamouris, a physician and a pastor at the church, said he's elated that all 12 of the makeshift hospital beds here are now empty.

"Yesterday, we had only 40, or maybe 50 cases," Hamouris said. "The day before we had 500. We are so thankful to God that at least now, we have ceasefire inside the main square."

Hamouris said it's been a rough few days here for everyone.

"We had a kid killed by a shot in his back, 10-years-old. We had another one with a bullet in his skull."

Another physician, Dr. Mohamed Manisi, a Muslim, has been volunteering at the makeshift hospital this week, treating the wounded. He said what unites the people in Tahrir Square right now is frustration with Egypt's military rulers, who have failed across the board.

"We returned to Tahrir Square," Manisi said, "because we gave them the authority to rule, but they gave us no security, no human rights and no democracy."

Walking past a line of orange and green ambulances in Tahrir Square, Ali Khafagy said the revolutionaries' mistake was leaving the square too soon; they thought they were done when they toppled President Hosni Mubarak back in February.

Khafagy said he 's gone to Tahrir Square every day this week because he wants to make a stand against the military leadership. Khafagy is also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt's most powerful political forces. By going to the square this week, he and many other Brotherhood members have defied the group's senior leaders, who've urged their followers to stay away.

Khafagy said the Brothers have played an important role here, trying to lower the tension between protestors and security forces.

That's admirable, according to Amr Darrag, a leader in the Brotherhood's political off-shoot, the Freedom and Justice Party. But Darrag worries it may backfire. He's running in parliamentary elections set to begin on Monday. Darrag said Egypt has been waiting too long for democracy to risk delaying the vote any further.

"We cannot just live in a state of revolution all the time, we cannot just stay in Tahrir Square forever. That's not the way countries are run," Darrag said. "We have to start with a democratic process; then, have a government built on an elected parliament, an elected president, a new constitution and then, take it further from there. That's why it's so important for us."

The Muslim Brotherhood — officially banned during Mubarak's era — is expected to do well in the elections. When I asked Darrag what happens if the vote is tainted by violence, or — as many fear — by disorganization, he replied, "That's why we declared that we are not seeking majority. We are not running to get majority. We are willing to be in coalitions with as many other parties as we can because the problems that Egypt is facing now are beyond the capabilities of any single party to handle. We need to have some sort of a consensus to be able to handle all these complications."

For now, it appears that one of those complications will continue to be ongoing demonstrations in the heart of the Egyptian capital.

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