The past week has hardly seen a moment of quiet. Starting on Friday, 4 March, Egypt witnessed the beginning of the end for the Mubarak-era State Security apparatus, the reigniting of sectarian tension after a church burning in Helwan, and a concerted effort by the army and counter-revolutionary civilians – thought to be the notorious government-hired baltageyya
(thugs) – to clear the peaceful Tahrir Square sit-in on Wednesday.
Revolutionaries have responded by calling for a million protesters to demonstrate against sectarianism in Tahrir Square on Friday. The call, which has been circulating among activists via Facebook and other social networking sites, urges a return to the kind of national unity witnessed in the early days of the January 25 revolution.
Protesters will highlight their as yet unmet demands and ask that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces acts quickly to see that these are met. Among these demands are the dissolution of both the National Democratic Party and the State Security apparatus across Egypt.
“The revolution is still on; we have to go on the streets to condemn all sectarian acts,” said Amin Iskander, head of Karama political party.
However, not all Egyptians stand behind these calls and some are against the continuation of any protests. These voices argue that the revolution is over and that it achieved its goals after the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“People don’t understand the definition of a revolution; a revolution continues until all its demands are met,” argued Malek Mustafa, a human rights activist and a blogger who is participating in today’s protest.
The planned protest is seen by many as crucial in light of the growing counter-revolution. Since the resignation in early March of interim prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, and for some time before, voices within Tahrir and without have been speaking of a counter-revolution. It began with little evidence and much speculation regarding the continued presence of relics from the former regime in power and the sudden, hushed departure of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Prominent figures, some part of the interim government and some external, have recently begun to acknowledge what many feared to be true – the existence of a counter-revolution aimed at subverting and sabotaging the country’s progress.
“Many critics and politicians agree that the counter-revolution is the reason behind all the brutal incidents taking place between Egyptian Copts and Muslims,” Amr Hamzawy, research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut told Ahram Online.
“Attempts at a counter-revolution are being witnessed within the current security vacuum, resulting in sectarian violence and the army and civilians being positioned at odds with each other,” Hamzawy continued.
“To find a way out of the current, crucial situation, different organisations in the country should work together to support Essam Sharaf’s current cabinet.”
In an interview broadcast Wednesday night on Online TV, interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf affirmed that his government was the government of the revolution and that there are those trying to undermine it. “These efforts to spread chaos are organised and systematic and are aimed at destabilising the state, but we tell them that the homeland is a red line and we will not permit anyone to cross it,” said the newly-appointed prime minister.
He continued, “We are the revolutionary government, but there exist genuine attempts to thwart this government, and I trust that the friends of the real revolution wholeheartedly stand behind the current government.”
Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa who announced his intention to run for presidency on Tuesday evening released a statement via Facebook today expressing his “shock at the return of these bloody events which cause suffering to Egypt’s Copts and Muslims” and stating that he considers that such sectarian incidents "defy the spirit of the January 25 revolution which brought together the entire nation.”
He added that “there still exist those who are nesting within the halls of corruption and conspiring to create chaos and divisions among the people in order to obstruct the march toward democracy and liberty.”
Moussa then called on police to quickly return to the streets and protect the citizenry. He also called for the perpetrators of these crimes, which constitute an assault on society and its institutions, especially its houses of worship, to be held accountable for their crimes.
However, redeploying the police force is no easy task as many Egyptian policemen remain reluctant to return to their duties, fearing further attacks by citizens still enraged at the harsh security crackdown witnessed during the 25 January uprising.
In the resulting security vacuum, many Egyptians have turned to the military, asking them to impose tougher punishments on those responsible for the prevailing violence and thuggery.
The military stance, however, on the current massacres and widespread violence taking place across Egypt, has given rise to conflicting opinions. “The army’s actions are too slow. If it had reacted quickly to the thugs, we would have been saved from a lot of trouble,” Gamal Fahmy, a political writer, told Ahram Online.
“The army does not have enough political experience and that explains their actions.”
There are those, nonetheless, who see the army’s actions as balanced, especially after their announcement yesterday, stating that those charged with thuggery could now be punished by execution.
“The army’s actions are balanced and measured,” believes Hamzawy.
Sharaf’s new cabinet, which met Wednesday, has accordingly approved altering the penal code, which could involve a death sentence, in order to impose harsher punishments on baltageyya and others responsible for terrorising the public.
Mansour El-Essawy, the new interior minister, announced that his main priority is to redeploy police forces across the country and present the government with a plan to restructure the security apparatus, building credibility between it and the people.
“This is a very good initiative; it has a deep meaning in terms of the equality between different groups of society,” said Hamzawy.
As the country readies itself for another million-protester demonstration in Tahrir Square, no single voice has emerged and, until now, Friday looks to be another organic movement with no unified message.