CAIRO: Tens of thousands of protesters gathered following Friday prayers in Qena’s main square in front of the governorate’s headquarters, reiterating demands to sack Governor Emad Shehata Mikhael.
Protesters called on Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his deputy Yehia El-Gamal to visit Qena personally to discuss their demands.
The Cabinet’s spokesman Ahmed Al-Saman visited Qena on Friday in a bid to end the sit-in and hear protesters’ demands.
Al-Saman vowed that Sharaf would visit Qena after his tour in the Gulf. He added that Sharaf delegated him to talk to the people of Qena and solve their problems, according to lawyer Walid El-Qadi from the area.
“He didn’t make any clear promises that the governor will be sacked,” El-Qadi told Daily News Egypt. “The people don’t sense that Al-Saman will help them, they want Sharaf to come personally to Qena.”
Some protesters also demanded that the Luxor and Qena governorates be merged into one.
Protesters vowed to form neighborhood watch groups to protect churches during their upcoming Christian holidays and chanted “Muslims and Christians are one hand,” refuting allegations that the protests were sectarian in nature.
However, some protesters claimed that other Salafi and extremist groups held banners citing Mikhael as “an enemy of God.”
El-Qadi said that a small number of Christians joined the protest. However, El-Qadi and political activist and member of Al-Karama Party (currently under formation), Ahmed Kamal said that Salafi and extremist groups dominated protests.
“People who exploit religion in their slogans and speeches usually gain people’s sympathy and support,” El-Qadi said. “But people need to see the big picture, this is not about religion, this is about the previous corrupt governor.”
Protesters demanded a civilian Muslim governor, citing their previous experience with General Magdy Ayoub — the former governor who was also Christian — who they say failed to run the governorate and deal with sectarian issues.
Protesters shouted chants that had echoed in Tahrir Square to topple the former regime and ousted president Hosni Mubarak, including “We won’t leave, he must leave,” referring to Mikhael.
Late Thursday, the Free Coalition of Railway Workers joined protesters in Qena and supported closing off the railway roads, according to protesters.
Thousands have been protesting in the Upper Egyptian governorate since last Friday against the appointment of Mikhael. On Wednesday, they opened the Cairo-Aswan highway, but continued to close off the railway roads, paralyzing the movement of trains in and out of the city, according to residents.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet rejected the protesters demands to sack Mikhael. "The governor of Qena has not and will not resign and there are no alternatives. Objections [to someone] based on religion are unacceptable," said Al-Saman.
On Tuesday, El-Gamal said that the governor will remain in his post. The people of Qena believe that El-Gamal is the main reason Mikhail’s hasn’t resigned yet, according to former independent MP in Qena, Laila Mahmoud and member of the Coalition of Freedom in Qena who took part in the protests, Abdel Baaset Karim.
The Cabinet delegated the interior ministry to handle the crisis and maintain security and the natural flow of public utilities as well as deal with any illegal actions, according to a statement issued on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
The Cabinet added that it would take all necessary measures to restore stability and security and implement the rule of law, stressing that it “respects the citizens’ rights to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression.”