Just as the desire for a radical regime change unified millions of Egyptians during the January 25 Revolution, so did the unattained retribution on those responsible for the killing of peaceful protesters during the 18-day revolt galvanise hundreds of thousands into mass demonstrations across the country on Friday 8 July. By the end of the “Friday of Determination” open-ended sit-ins started in many cities all over Egypt.
On July 8, Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Sharm El-Sheikh, Asyut, Luxor, Aswan, Port Said, Qena, Mahallah El Kobra, Tanta, Damietta, Sohag and Naga Hamadi witnessed a myriad of peaceful protest marches of different numbers, driven by common demands and unaffected by political and ideological divisions.
Among the consensual demands is a ministerial team reshuffle, including the sacking of the Minister of Interior, Mansour El-Essawi, implementing a fair minimum wage across the board as a step towards social equality, the “cleansing” of the media and judicial systems and reclaiming the money “stolen by Mubarak’s oligarchs”.
However, retribution against “the killers of the martyrs” undoubtedly stands out as the foremost demand raised by demonstrators from Alexandria on the country's northern coast all the way down to Aswan, in the deep south.
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution that has turned into the venue of the largest rally on the Friday of Determination, there are numerous banners and placards bearing photos of the martyrs as well as slogans calling on authorities to avenge their death by punishing the culprits, including toppled president Mubarak who appeared hung from a rope in one of the protesters’ huge posters.
Many speakers on the square’s various podiums – all of which were set up in an amazingly short time – have stressed that handing down swift justice to the murderers of the protesters was paramount. “My son was killed in Suez on the Friday of Rage [28 January] and the officer who killed him is walking in front of me every day and I can do nothing,” a martyr's mother told to a deeply moved crowd from one of the square's makeshift podiums.
Speaking to Ahram Online, Ahmed Abdel Rehim, who works for the ministry of industry, said: “It is unacceptable that the ex-regime figures have not been tried so far. The people responsible for the death of the martyrs are well known and there is unequivocal evidence against them, so why haven’t they been sentenced till now?” “Mubarak is a traitor, by all means. He must be executed along with his clique,” he added.
Mohamed Farag, who works for an insurance company, came to Tahrir because till now he does not see the gains of the revolution on the ground. He told Ahram Online: “After the first man was murdered during the revolution in Suez, it became clear that people won’t stand down. Blood kept them going, and that’s why many people are here today [Friday].”
The 28-year-old stressed that citizens need to pile up pressure every now and then to see their demands met, which from his perspective is quite normal in a democratic country. “We need to push for what we want every once in a while. Democracy means that you have to be proactive and influential, and that’s what we are doing now … That’s a responsibility we have to keep in mind as long as we want to live in democracy.”
The cry for retribution has been the catalyst for many, but it was not the only reason people took to the streets.
“I am here, along with many others, to make sure that neither the Muslim Brotherhood, nor the Salafists will dominate the political arena, which would be an indication that any of them might eventually assume power,” said Khaled El-Labban, the owner of a PlayStation and internet Café in Mohandessin.
“I got together with the young people who frequent the Café and asked them whether they want the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salfaists to rule. Of course they all said no, and we decided to come to Tahrir to see what’s going on,” the 40-year-old El-Labban said. “I am not into politics but I hate extremism in anything, it would lead the country to a catastrophe. I hope our next president to be a normal man like all of us.”
On the other hand, a Syrian man took one of the podiums to ask for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to support his strife-torn country. “Syrians are being murdered every day. The military council has to declare its stance towards what’s going on there,” he told the crowds, who started chanting “Egypt and Syria, one hand”.
In many other aspects the Friday of Determination was very similar to many memorable Fridays during the revolution. The entrances and exits of Tahrir Square were all secured by popular committees. In order to get in, one has to show his ID and is then body searched by extremely polite members of the revolutionary youth organisation committees, who always take care to apologise for the inconvenience. In the same vein, the protesters held on resolutely to the peaceful nature of the protest, just as they had done during the 18-day uprising that brought Mubarak down.
One noticeable difference between the Fridays of the revolution and this Friday is that the numbers of street vendors have greatly multiplied. Most of them sell water bottles and varieties of sodas, which were in great demand in the unbearable heat. Other street vendors sold food, cheap sunglasses, hats, Egyptian flags and even clothes.
To protect people from the scorching midday sun, a huge tent was raised to cover the entire, not quite so grassy anymore, central island of the square. The heat was beating down on the whole area but the hundreds of thousands of protesters squashed together in the square soldiered on.