Tahrir Square’s demonstrators in Friday’s “correct the path” mass protest could barely be said to have had a unified “path.” The presence of political forces’ was curiously light too, unlike that of Ultras football fans who briefly stole the limelight after midday prayers.
From the early morning protesters started to rally in Tahrir, the epicentre of the January 25 Revolution and the venue of many demonstrations and sit-ins over the past seven months. "Correct the path" Friday was the first mass protest in the square since the 8 July sit-in, forcibly dispersed on the first day of August.
Flocks of people kept joining the rally as marches from different districts converged on the square after prayers, as planned. Yet by afternoon Tahrir was only half-full; added to the lack of common demands and focus, the heat and unforgiving sun had clearly dissuaded people from coming. As previously announced, the Islamists were the most prominent absentees.
Once again scattered street vendors took advantage of the weather to sell bottled water, sodas and juices. During prayers others sold cheap paper wraps for the devout to use instead of rugs.
Prominent Imam Mazhar Shain led Friday prayers and gave the sermon, which focused on the revolution from an Islamic point of view. His voice amplified by microphone and PA system, he criticised witnesses in Mubarak’s trial who have been accused of changing their testimonies. His words met applause several times.
The protesters and their banners hit out at a number of figures, among them Field Marshal and de-facto President Hussein Tantawi and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), lambasted for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most charges regarded Egypt’s “lame” reaction to Israeli's killing of Egyptian soldiers on their Sinai borders.
Other demonstrators pounded away at the SCAF for its practice of continuing to try civilians by military trials. Around 12,000 civilians have been tried before military courts over the past few months, just one of the controversies that spurred anger against the military rulers and increased calls for a definitive timetable for handing over power to a civilian government.
Crowds also demanded retribution against those who killed civilians during the uprising -- with many believing toppled president Hosni Mubarak was chiefly to blame. Several grieving parents were seen holding large images of their murdered sons, calling for justice to be served, in what has become a recurrent scene.
“My son was 10 years old when he was killed in 6th of October City on January 29,” the father of martyr Hassan Mohamed told Ahram Online. “I’m here because his killers haven’t yet been punished.”
Near the Mogamma, Egypt’s largest administrative governmental building, three huge banners were hanging, emblazoned with slogans calling for the fulfillment of farmers' demands -- the most serious of them, the sacking of the current Minister of Agriculture.
After prayers, some protesters took to the square's sole stage and chanted slogans. Demands were myriad on Friday, including the sacking of figures from the old regime who still hold government positions and the cancellation of a law forbidding demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins.
Protesters also demanded the trial of Gawdat El-Malt, the chairman of the Central Auditing Agency (CAA), for trying to cover the tracks of Mubarak’s alleged corruption.
About 2000 protesters congregated at about 5pm in front of the Israeli embassy in Guiza, set on dismantling the concrete wall which was set up by security forces around the premises.
Military police and state security forces are attempting to protect the wall as protesters, using everything from hammers to crowbars to their bare hands are trying to tear it down. Dividing themselves into groups, the protesters worked on dismantling different sections of the wall.
The local authority had built the wall last week in an attempt to secure the embassy after a series of protests were held in front of the building: protests highlighted by the actions of a protester, now dubbed “flagman”, who scaled 15 floors from the outside of the apartment building to bring down the Israeli flag and replace it with the Egyptian one.
Ultras groups steal the show
While most of the protesters lacked organisation and common demands in Tahrir Square, the football supporters groups – Ultras Ahlawy and Zamalek’s White Knights, both identified as Ultras – spoke with one voice, albeit one marked by its excessive use of swear words.
The first sign of the Ultras was the huge banners that suddenly appeared in separate parts of the square. On the grubby banners were daubed a variety of slogans: “Framing people is the habit of the interior [ministry]”; “I’m an Ultras [member] and I’m not a criminal”; “We freed our country from the thieves and Ultras are now paying the price of freedom”; “Freedom for the captured Ultras members”.
Their main demand was the release of their cohorts, arrested on Tuesday following clashes with Central Security Forces. The brawl took place after the final whistle of Ahly’s 4-0 drubbing of second division side Kima Aswan in the Egypt Cup.
Ultras Ahlawy’s seemingly marched into the square from the Kasr El-Nile Bridge, repeating their chants and synchronising their clapping exactly as they have done in football stadiums. Lighting their trademark flares also grabbed the crowd's attention, as did their waving of the group's logo and Egyptian flags.
As they said they would, Ultras Ahlawy merged with the White Knights to form one side comprising thousands. Together, they repeated much the same chants that are believed to have infuriated police forces during Tuesday’s match and prompted the altercation.
Mubarak and El-Adly bore the brunt of the cursing by vociferous teenage fans. Although some people expressed distaste for the Ultras’ use of swear words, many people marched and chanted with them out of sympathy.
The controversial Ultras later moved in packs towards the Ministry of Interior’s headquarters, which was protected by some members of the popular committees charged with protecting buildings in the absence of state forces.
No policemen were deployed on the streets in front of the ministry’s premises, although attacks from the Ultras were thought likely.
Ultras members chanted the same offensive slogans before the Ministry of Interior and swore at some of the policemen deployed in high vantage points. Eyewitnesses claimed some Ultras hooligans stoned the building but police did not react.
The popular committees’ members responsible for protecting the ministry eventually coaxed the Ultras forces into leaving and formed a human shield to protect the building.
The three major Ultras groups — Ultras Ahlawy, the White Knights and the Yellow Dragons — took part in the January 25 revolution and were at the forefront during bloody clashes between protesters and police forces.