Exactly one year after the eruption of the uprising that eventually brought down the Mubarak regime, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, still demanding the fall of an entrenched regime – only this time replacing “Mubarak” with “the military” in the best-known revolutionary chants.
Tahrir Square was the ultimate meeting point for several marches that originated from all over the capital, but the flashpoint square was already packed even before marchers began arriving in the early afternoon.
As protesters poured into Tahrir, a bird’s-eye view of the square looked little different than it did at the peak of last year’s 18-day uprising – with demonstrators overflowing into adjacent streets.
One march that set out from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Cairo’s Mohandessin district, containing tens of thousands of protesters, arrived to the square’s Qasr Al-Nil entrance. Marchers, however, unable to push into the square, ended up filling Qasr Al-Nil Bridge. Notably, Mostafa Mahmoud Square had been the meeting point for one of the major mass protests that initiated last year’s uprising.
Other protest marches that entered the square at around the same time were those that had set out from the Ramses, Ghamra, Shubra and Giza districts. Each of the marches adopted the name of a protester slain during the uprising. A smaller march setting out from Cairo’s southern Maadi district also eventually arrived at the square.
Would-be presidential contenders, meanwhile, made their own appearances in Tahrir. Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, for one, headed straight to the square in a morning march with supporters. Moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abou El-Fotouh, for his part, attended the Mohandessin march, but departed before it reached the square. Islamist Mohamed Selim El-Awa also set out for Tahrir directly, while leftist Hamdeen Sabahi and Bouthaina Kamel – the only female would-be candidate for the presidency – arrived at the square with a march coming from Shubra.
Prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, led a march that began from Giza’s Istiqama Mosque, but had to bow out due to health reasons before reaching the square.
Notably, Higher Education Minister Hussein Khaled was also present in the square on Tuesday. In a statement to Ahram Online, Khaled stressed the importance of committing to a clear timetable for the transfer of executive authority to civilian rule.
By the early hours of the afternoon, the atmosphere in the square was not dissimilar to that seen and felt during last year’s uprising, with the number of people – of all ages and social strata – arriving in greater and greater numbers. Children and adults alike hoisted Egyptian flags, while a scattering of Muslim Brotherhood flags could also be seen.
Podiums were erected around the square’s central garden, most of them unaffiliated with particular parties or political movements. From atop the podiums, protesters shouted chants against military rule and called for a civil state.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s podium, meanwhile, was the only one holding celebrations and playing upbeat patriotic songs. At one point, a marriage ceremony was performed on the Brotherhood’s podium. Brotherhood members, along with their families, were situated mostly around the podium erected in front of the Omar Makram Mosque.
A number of large banners reading “Down with military rule” could be seen in different corners of the square. Many other signs condemning Egypt’s ruling military council – and its leader, Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi – were also in evidence, along with other signs condemning current Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri.
Faces of slain protesters could also be seen on the walls of buildings surrounding the square. One group of young painters drew portraits of killed activists. Large signs, also bearing images of slain protesters from the past year, were hung at the front of several of the square’s entrances, while a large mosaic composed of revolutionary slogans and protesters’ portraits rested against a wall near the adjacent Egyptian Museum.
A sign reading, “We demand retribution for the martyrs’ killers,” signed by the ultraconservative Salafist Front, was held aloft by a group of women, children and young men.
On the nearby Qasr Al-Aini and Mohamed Mahmoud streets, concrete walls erected by the army in recent months remained in place, although they were covered in spray painted anti-military slogans.
Some revolutionary groups are reportedly calling for an open-ended sit-in in the square until their demands – for an immediate handover of power and justice for slain protesters and activists – are met. As of 7pm, however, it remained unclear whether or not protesters would, in fact, spend the night in the flashpoint square.