Protesters are gathering throughout Cairo for mass demonstrations ahead of Monday’s elections, which continue to polarise the country.
The largest rally is planned for Tahrir Square, to which thousands of people are heading. However, in public spaces elsewhere in the city, pro-regime gatherings are forming. Supporters of the military regime will be kept away from Tahrir Square, where opponents of the military council have gathered over the past week to demand it cedes power to civilian control.
The Nobel peace prizewinner Mohamed ElBaradei on Friday morning tweeted that he was on his way to Tahrir to “pay respect to the martyrs”, a repeat of his visit in January, which was received rapturously and another clear step in his bid for the presidency.
The interior ministry has said it cannot guarantee the safety of the election and there are fears that today’s march may also test its capabilities – and resolve.
The marches are set to begin in earnest after midday prayers, the first day of the weekend in Egypt. Friday prayers have proved to be a lightning rod for dissent throughout 11 months of upheaval in Egypt and in other restive states throughout the Arab region.
Up to 30 political parties have called for Friday’s rallies, demanding an end to the rule of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Scaf) and an immediate transition to a salvation government led by civilians. The political blocs are not, however, united on pushing ahead with a ballot that is viewed by many as a further risk to an already unstable security environment.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is poised for sweeping electoral gains on Monday, is adamant the poll should continue. However, many groups believe the situation remains too chaotic to hold an election.
The White House has released a statement praising Egypt’s commitment to change and urging the military to give way “as soon as possible” to full civilian rule.
“We will continue to stand with the Egyptian people as they build a democracy worthy of Egypt’s great history,” the statement said.
European states, including Britain, have remained coy, condemning violence this week between youths and secuity forces in Tahrir Square but stepping back from earlier strident calls for elections to help the transition from martial law to fledgling democracy.
Martin Chulov, The Guardian