Standing outside the tent where he spends his nights in Tahrir Square, the young activist looked around him, carefully scanning the place that had served as his home for the past week.
Signs reading “Down with the military,” listing protesters’ demands and spelling out the area’s laws, hang on poles and tents around him.
“We came with only one main demand,” said Mahmoud Yousef. “And that was for a national salvation government to be formed with full authority to manage the transitional period and oversee elections.”
Yousef came to demonstrate in Tahrir on Friday and returned to the square Saturday afternoon after learning of clashes between protesters and security forces.
When asked about Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s Tuesday evening speech – the first official statement from the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) since clashes began on Saturday – the young man smirked.
“It was identical to Mubarak’s speech,” he said, “which could mean he’s starting to bend just like Mubarak did.”
“Tantawi simply removed the line where Mubarak announces he’s the president and replaced it with his military title,” he added.
Yousef, along with about 20 fellow demonstrators, vowed to stay in the square until the SCAF stepped down.
Yousef said he supported the proposed formation of a presidential council to include would-be presidential contenders Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi, Abdel Moneim Abou El-Fotouh and Hazem Salah Abou-Ismail, along with a judge.
“I personally don’t support Hazem Abou-Ismail, but wouldn’t object to him being part of the presidential council,” he said. “The council would represent all Egypt’s political factions, and that’s the first step towards democracy.”
He stopped a young boy who was walking by – one of the street children who help activists with daily chores in exchange for food and shelter, as they did during the 18-day January uprising – and asked him if he had got the juice he was drinking from the army.
“After attacking us, the army is now throwing packaged cakes, candy and juice boxes at us,” Yousef said. “But we don’t want their charity. Demonstrators threw their juice boxes back at them.”
A nearby demonstrator pointed out that Salafist presidential hopeful Hazem Abou Ismail had visited the square on Wednesday night to distribute sandwiches and juice to the protesters. She said that the Islamists appeared divided about the ongoing demonstration, with some calling on Tahrir Square protesters to give the SCAF a “second chance” and others supporting the sit-in.
Several sheikhs carrying signs condemning the recent bloodshed paraded through the square to the entrance of the adjacent Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the scene of continuous bloody skirmishes in recent days.
Nasr Mohamed El-Ashry, a middle-aged Azhar sheikh, said he was going to the interior ministry to demand an end to the bloodshed and the use of teargas against unarmed protesters.
“Yesterday they listened to us and there was a truce,” El-Ashry said. “I don’t know why clashes started up again at night, but this must stop.”
The sheikh went on to say that he planned to stay in the square until the ruling military junta handed executive power over to a civilian government.
“The army’s job is to protect Egypt from foreign enemies. The armed forces can only come to the square if the people request their presence – but not to attack the people they should be protecting,” he said.
The sheikh expressed support for protesters’ demands, urging all Egyptians to join their cause.
In an attempt to curb clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads to the interior ministry building, the military closed off the street with barbed wire on Wednesday to prevent both security forces and protesters from entry.
According to the latest reports, this week’s violence has left at least 35 dead and over 1,000 injured.
Abdelrahman Gamal, coordinator of the Tahrir Square field hospital, said no injured protesters had been brought to the hospital for treatment on Thursday.
A concrete barrier was erected on Thursday, further barricading the street and providing some protection for the interior ministry.
Mohamed Mahmoud Street saw a fragile truce from Thursday morning until 3:30pm, when several demonstrators climbed over the concrete blockades in an attempt to cross over to the other side. Tahrir doctors convinced demonstrators to stay on their side of the cordon, however, thus maintaining the shaky ceasefire.
On Thursday, the SCAF issued Statement 86 on its Facebook page, asking protesters not to remove the barriers so as to safeguard the lives of Egyptians on both sides.