Hundreds of Egyptian protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to push for reforms, as Islamists held a separate demonstration calling for stability.
Pro-democracy activists had called for a rally in Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak — after a cabinet reshuffle failed to satisfy their demands.
Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen, conducting the sermon, said the new cabinet line-up had fallen short of the expectations of protesters who want members of Mubarak’s regime forced out of politics.
“The last time we met, we had hoped there would be a government that would express and implement our demands,” said Shaheen, who has been giving the weekly sermon in Tahrir.
“But for a reason we don’t know, they insist on subjecting us to members of the old regime,” he told worshippers, who turned out in significantly smaller numbers than in previous weeks.
He reiterated the protesters’ demands for fair trials for officials suspected of abuse, as well as social justice and an end to military trials for civilians.
“We are not demanding the impossible,” he said.
But hundreds of hardline Islamists gathered several kilometres (miles) away outside Al-Fath mosque to denounce the protesters they say are prolonging the country’s instability, following the uprising that ousted Mubarak in February.
“An Islamist state! Not secular, not civilian,” the protesters chanted.
The gathering was organised by fundamentalist Salafi groups, who advocate a return to early Muslim practices.
“We let them stay in Tahrir so that people can see them for who they are,” a protest leader told the crowd.
Islamists, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood who have stayed away this week, have said they will head to the iconic square next Friday.
The Al-Fath protesters also called on the ruling military council “not to lose the people in order to get the acceptance of this minority,” referring to those in Tahrir.
The Islamists accused the Tahrir protesters of going against what they say is the country’s “Islamic identity.”
“We are Muslims, we are part of this country. But who are you? Secularists? Communists? Americans?” the speaker asked.
“If you don’t like it, go to the countries you wish to emulate,” he said.
Thursday’s swearing-in of the new cabinet failed to persuade the Tahrir protesters to go home.
A smaller protest also took place in the upmarket neighbourhood of Heliopolis where Mubarak loyalists came out in a show of support for the former president and the ruling military council.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had hoped the changes in his cabinet would mollify the protesters camped out in the square since July 8.
Roughly half of the cabinet is made up of new faces, but several ministers hired by Mubarak have remained, including Interior Minister Mansur Essawy.
In an address after the reshuffle, Sharaf said he asked his ministers to prepare action plans with the “first objective of achieving the revolution’s goals and preserving its gains.”
But activists were unimpressed.
“This government does not in any shape express our aspirations for the revolution,” said Tareq al-Khouli, a leader of the April 6 movement and organiser of the sit-in.
“We don’t understand why they are being so obstinate about keeping former Mubarak party members, rather than replacing them with respectable people,” Khouli said, adding that the sit-in would continue.
It was the second cabinet to take office in the face of protests since Mubarak stepped down on February 11.
The former president is under arrest on murder and corruption charges in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is undergoing treatment for a heart condition.